2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL AWD
2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL AWD. Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

By Jil McIntosh
Photos by Paul Williams and Jil McIntosh

Introduced as an all-new model for 2005, the Ford Five Hundred full-size sedan is already scheduled for a makeover in 2006, due to sales that haven’t measured up to the numbers Ford was expecting.

The Five Hundred’s platform is a corporate one shared by the Volvo S80, as well as the Ford Freestyle, a “crossover” vehicle that’s a tall wagon version of the sedan, but with beefier styling.

There are three trim levels available. In front-wheel-drive, the SE starts at $29,295, the SEL at $31,795 and the Limited at $36,095. In all-wheel-drive, the SE is $32,045, the SEL is $34,545, and the Limited is $38,845.

2005 Ford Five Hundred Limited

2005 Ford Five Hundred Limited
2005 Ford Five Hundred Limited. Photos: Jil McIntosh. Click image to enlarge

All models come well-equipped; the SE includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control, 17-inch aluminum wheels, fixed variable wipers, CD player, manual climate control, six-way power seat and power windows. The SEL adds an alarm system, automatic headlamps, fog lamps, six-CD player, automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather-wrapped wheel with audio controls, heated mirrors, fold-flat passenger seat and eight-way power driver’s seat. The Limited adds 18-inch aluminum wheels, reverse sensing system, six-CD/MP3 player, power-adjustable pedals, power sunroof, leather interior and four-way power passenger seat.

Delivered in a package that bears no relation to any previous Ford models, the Five Hundred’s styling is definitely in the eye of the beholder. I’ve heard plenty of people belittle it, but I like its looks; it’s strong, sturdy and has an understated elegance to it. It’s nicely proportioned, even with its tall crowned roof, and with much-needed chrome accents to break up the wide expanse of colour.

2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL AWD

2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL AWD

2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL AWD
2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL AWD. Photos: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

That high roof is part of the Five Hundred’s unusual seating arrangement. Ford’s engineers wanted a car that had the smaller footprint and lower centre of gravity of a sedan, but with the popular high seating that sends so many buyers into SUVs and minivans. It takes a bit to get used to the very tall position – at first, you feel like there’s too much window beside you – but before long, it becomes second nature, and getting out of the Five Hundred and into a regular sedan made me feel like I was sitting unnaturally low.

That tall position makes for superb visibility, plenty of headroom, a very comfortable seating position, and ease of parking, although it’s compromised by a driver’s side foot well that’s too narrow. The inability to stretch my foot out just an extra inch or two proved very frustrating. Power pedals are standard equipment on the Limited and very helpful for shorter drivers; oddly, they’re not available on the two lower models, even as options. The window ledge is very wide and makes for a great armrest.

Rear-seat passengers also enjoy the excellent visibility, along with a great deal of legroom. The seats are supportive and very comfortable; this is a car for long hauls.

Power comes exclusively from a 3.0-litre Duratec V6 engine, making 203 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque; it’s available in front-wheel-drive or with an all-wheel-drive, torque-on-demand system that runs in front-wheel until it slips. Should that happen, up to 100 per cent of torque is seamlessly transferred to whatever wheels have traction. In FWD models, a six-speed automatic is standard equipment; a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) is optional on the base SE in FWD, and is the only transmission available with all-wheel-drive models.

2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL AWD

2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL AWD

2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL AWD
2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL AWD. Photos: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

I had the six-speed on my FWD Limited tester. If the Five Hundred has a glaring fault, it’s here; this transmission seems to have been chosen for its fuel economy, with an annoyingly short first gear and a tendency to downshift whenever the engine’s asked to provide even a little passing power, since it spends most of its time in overdrive. The result is that when you want to speed up a little, you either get leisurely acceleration with a light pedal, or a downshift when pressed a bit harder. My mileage, in real-world combined driving, was 11.3 L/100km.

The Five Hundred’s handling is much nimbler than one would think. Sitting high in this fairly large sedan, you almost expect it to wallow around corners like an old LTD; instead, response is more akin to the smaller Focus. There’s no torque steer, and there’s enough input through the wheel that you feel like you’re driving instead of merely pointing it on the straightaway. The brakes bring it down quickly and smoothly, and performed very well in a simulated panic stop.

In previous years, I’d found a lot of minor build-quality issues on Ford test cars, but the Five Hundred, made in Chicago, seemed screwed together very well. There’s a lot of plastic in the dash, but it’s textured and the entire package is quite elegant. A central clock is more ornamental than functional, being a bit tough to read with its silver hands on a beige face, but there’s a digital one in the radio, and the analogue version adds a nice finishing touch to the dash and glows attractively at night.

Ford’s designers believe that simple is good, as do I; you shouldn’t be fumbling for tiny controls at 100 km/h. To that end, the cluster is large and highly visible; the radio is easy to use, with big knobs for volume and tuning; and my tester’s automatic climate control, standard equipment in the SEL and Limited, is intuitively-designed, with pushbuttons to increase or decrease temperature, and an override if you want to adjust the fan settings yourself.

2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL AWD
2005 Ford Five Hundred SEL AWD. Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

Keyless remote can be augmented with an exterior key pad; my tester was, and fortunately it’s blended into the dark contours of the B-pillar rather than stuck onto the door panel, but it still looks like a leftover from the 1970s. You’d think this dinosaur would have disappeared eons ago with the almost universally-offered remote, but a Ford spokesperson says that the company still receives enough requests to keep it in production.

The Five Hundred is expected to take over the Taurus’ spot; with its huge trunk, tourist-friendly seating positions and simple controls, it’s a natural for the rental fleets where Taurus currently reigns. It may eventually usurp the Grand Marquis as well, replacing both with a single model, although the popularity of that car’s Crown Victoria sibling with police units may have an effect.

The Five Hundred deserves more respect than it’s currently getting; it should be interesting to see what changes Ford has in the pipeline for it. It’s roomy, comfortable, and gets good mileage for its size; a better transmission choice would be icing on this nicely-baked cake.

Technical Data: 2005 Ford Five Hundred Limited

Base price $36,095
Options $995 (“Safety Package” of driver and passenger side air bags and curtain air bags)
Freight $1,085
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $38,275
Type 4-door, 5-passenger full size sedan
Layout Front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.0-litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 203 @ 5750 rpm
Torque 207 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Tires P225/55R18 all-season
Curb weight 1652 kg (3643 lbs.)
Wheelbase 2867 mm (112.9 in.)
Length 5099 mm (200.7 in.)
Width 1873 mm (73.7 in.)
Height 1527 mm (60.1 in.)
Cargo capacity 600 litres (21.2 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 11.2 L/100 km (25 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 7.5 L/100 km (38 mpg Imperial)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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