A new model in 2005, the Ford Freestyle enters 2006 with only very minor changes. Silver Birch Metallic exterior paint replaces Silver Frost; and a navigation system with Audiophile Sound is available on the Limited. It includes GPS navigation, a six-CD/MP3 player, multi-speaker audio with powered subwoofer, and a touch-screen display. The Limited in front-wheel-drive configuration will not be available until later in the model year. Prices on all 2006 models rise by $200 over 2005.

The 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’s a good choice for those who like the convenience and driving position of an SUV, but without the bulk.

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