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Story and photos by Paul Williams
Chicago, Illinois – Unlike the 2005 Ford Freestyle, which blends attributes of a car, station wagon, crossover, and SUV, there’s no confusing its sedan sibling, the Five Hundred, for anything but a car. It is, however, an unusual car in that the Five Hundred uses the same crossover platform as the Freestyle.
Starting at $29,295 for the front-drive SE, the Five Hundred is a premium-priced sedan, described by Ford as “nothing less than the reinvention of the family car.”
“The idea,” says Ford Canada executive Bill Rowe, “is that the Five Hundred is a sedan that offers the desirable attributes of an SUV.”
Consequently, it too, sits higher than the typical car, with command seating that permits an elevated view of the road. Unlike its Chrysler 300 competitor, the Five Hundred has a low beltline intended to create a bright interior that enables drivers to comfortably rest their elbows on the door.
Following (or contributing to) current trends, the Five Hundred is a large vehicle. It’s 10-cm longer than a Ford Taurus, and 24-mm, about one-inch, longer than the Freestyle.
Interior dimensions, especially headroom, rear seat room and trunk capacity, set new standards for spaciousness in a car.
The 203 horsepower V-6 engine, all-wheel drive system (which is available across the range as a $2,750 stand-alone option) and transmission are identical to the heavier (by 144-kilograms for the FWD) Freestyle’s, except that front-drive models receive a choice of six-speed automatic or CVT. All-wheel drive models receive CVTs only.
Like the Freestyle, the Five Hundred comes in SE, SEL and Limited versions, with the top-of-the-range Limited AWD priced at $38,845.
In a special off-road demonstration the AWD Five Hundred (and Freestyle) had no trouble ascending a sandy, rutted, 35% grade that left comparable vehicles struggling. On a slalom course, the big Five Hundred easily handled rapid lane changes, emergency stops and other challenges.
After more than 400 kilometres of highway and city driving, the Five Hundred proved a capable performer. Corners came and went without appreciable body roll, and kilometres disappeared under the smooth ride. In the city, the car didn’t feel its size and was easy to manoeuvre. Seats are comfortable, gauges easily read, everything tailored and tidy with pleasant interior surfaces throughout. Parking, however, will require your full attention as the Five Hundred fills up most parking spaces.
Other important attributes that may be overlooked on both vehicles: the exterior mirrors are big, SUV-size, and very effective; the windshield wipers are a new, low profile spring steel design that promise to be an improvement in winter compared with conventional wipers; the brake rotors are big: 12.5″ front, and 13″ at the rear.
Ford describes the Five Hundred’s design as “clean, stately, authoritative, elegant, well-proportioned.” This is a fair characterization, but what it lacks in my opinion, is pizzazz. This is a very understated car, as restrained as the Chrysler 300 is audacious. The grille seems almost pasted on to the front; the lines, while evoking a European (maybe a VW Passat-like) character, are not particularly exciting. I don’t think this is a car that anyone will lust after.
That being said, both the Freestyle and the Five Hundred offer desirable features from cars and SUVs. According to Ford, these features – safety, elevated driving position, available all-wheel drive, fuel economy, interior volume (it has a giant trunk), flexibility, and available luxury appointments – are what consumers in this vehicle segment are looking for. Not daring looks or radical design.
Although Ford’s Five Hundred aspires to reinvent the car, it won’t be what the industry calls a “volume seller.” Annual Canadian sales are estimated to hit 20,000.
Look for Five Hundreds to be available in November, as Ford attempts to stock all dealerships across the country for their simultaneous debut.