Neither fish nor fowl, the new-for-2005 Ford Freestyle occupies that grey area automakers like to call “crossover”. Sharing its Volvo P2 platform with its sibling Five Hundred sedan, it’s a sort of wagon version of it, competing with such vehicles as the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. It offers the ability to carry up to seven passengers, but is sized more intelligently than an SUV.

The Freestyle comes with a 3.0-litre V6 that mates exclusively to a chain-driven, continuously variable transmission (CVT). This allows better performance with lower fuel consumption, especially when using a small V6 to haul around a vehicle that weighs as much as 1,865 kg.

The Freestyle is available in front-wheel-drive, or with a Haldex electronic all-wheel-drive system borrowed from Volvo, which senses wheel slippage and redirects torque to the gripping wheels to compensate for lack of traction.

The Freestyle comes in three trim lines, all of them FWD with AWD as an option. The base SE includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, 17-inch aluminum wheels, air conditioning, power mirrors, power locks with keyless entry and driver’s door keypad entry, power windows, six-way power driver’s seat, fixed intermittent wipers, CD player, cruise control and a third-row bench seat that folds flat into the floor (it can be optioned up to a 50/50 split seat).

The mid-line SEL adds heated mirrors, six-CD/MP3 player, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and leather-wrapped wheel.

The top-line Limited adds dual-zone climate control with auxiliary rear controls, 18-inch wheels, reverse sensing system, memory seats, power sunroof, power-adjustable pedals, leather seats, and vinyl 50/50 split third-row seat. Also included is a “Safety Package” of side-impact air bags and Ford’s Safety Canopy System, which inflates the curtain air bags for an extended period in case of a rollover for enhanced head protection.

The Freestyle lifts the Five Hundred’s enhanced seating position even higher, to give the vehicle more of an SUV feel. The third-row seating is fairly accessible, and is more comfortable than expected. Both the second and third rows fold to form a flat cargo floor.

Lower-slung than many similar vehicles, the Freestyle is easy to enter and exit, and drivers of all heights are easily accommodated. It should prove popular with those who like the convenience and driving position of an SUV, but not the bulk. Longer and lower than the Chrysler Pacifica, and almost as wide, the Freestyle’s starting price is $2,770 less and without the rearward visibility problem that plagues the Chrysler crossover.

The Freestyle is built in Chicago, Illinois.

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