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2005 Ford Freestyle

Ford Free of Style?

    The suits must have finally tired of watching paying customers bypass the Blue Oval store on their way to make a down payment on a Chrysler Pacifica, because it didn’t take long for Ford to jump onboard the crossover train. It may be a few years late to the party but Ford’s entrant is here nonetheless. The Freestyle is the vehicle that the bean counters hope will claim a piece of the ever-expanding crossover pie for the house that Henry built. But to do that it will have to offer generous doses of comfort, value, safety and drivability. A bit of style wouldn’t hurt either.
     Unfortunately, that leads us to the Freestyle’s most noticeable fault. It has none. Style that is. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The Freestyle has some style and if it were 1995 it would verge on groundbreaking, but it’s 2005, and it verges on comatose-inducing. The Pacifica, the Freestyle’s chief competitor, sports such upscale details as subtle chrome trim, stylish jeweled headlights, inspired greenhouse design and a strong character line running the length of the vehicle. My non-scientific running tally confirms that the Freestyle has exactly none of these. The front end is to blame for most of our contempt. The rectangular grille and headlights combine to create a degree of yawn-inducing dullness that should carry a government-mandated “May Cause Drowsiness” warning. NyQuil can only wish for results this potent. Ford would be wise to schedule a facelift sooner rather than later because consumers are flocking to crossovers, in part, to escape the monotonous image of minivans. Accordingly, they won’t be seeking out Ford’s monotonous crossover, either.
     Although the Freestyle’s shape is anything but exciting, it does allow for a functional interior with the coveted fold-flat 3rd row of seats that are a must in this category. Also helpful to anyone who has to spend time in the way back is the rise in the roof that allows for decent headroom. It’s well masked from outside thanks to the roof rack and it’s a welcome improvement from the competition. The rest of the interior also proves to be an improvement from the Freestyle’s sister car, the Five Hundred. Many pieces are shared between the two cars but the Freestyle does get unique air vents and a grab handle built into the passenger side dash set off by some brushed aluminum. Most everything else is sourced directly from the Ford parts bin, which means the ergonomics are good and functionality is high. Our Freestyle had the optional rear-seat DVD player and for $995 we don’t have to elaborate on how helpful that feature can be. As in the Five Hundred, the 6-disc CD changer stereo system was weak and could produce only flat, lifeless sound. The second row seats were roomy with reclining backrests but some complained that the seat’s bottom cushion was too hard. Thankfully, the interior is well insulated from wind and road noise and less engine drone makes it into the cabin than in the Five Hundred.
     What noise does make it inside is sourced from the very same 3.0-liter Duratec V6 as in the Five Hundred sedan. It produces 203hp and 207lb-ft of torque which you’ll note is well below the Pacifica’s 250hp rating. When asked to move the Freestyle’s 4,100-plus pounds the motor responds, but not very quickly. The CVT is partly to blame for exaggerating the Freestyle’s slow start out of the blocks. We did, however, find the CVT worked better in the Freestyle than in the Five Hundred—it was far quieter too. In the Five Hundred we so eloquently stated the CVT sounded like a “dying buffalo”, in the Freestyle’s it’s not nearly so bad—more like a wounded camel.
     Our Freestyle was an all-wheel drive model, which uses an electronically controlled electro-hydraulic Haldex limited-slip coupling just ahead of the rear axle to control torque flow to the rear wheels. Power can be seamlessly redistributed in as little as 50 milliseconds. When all-wheel drive traction isn’t needed the Freestyle acts like a front-drive vehicle. If this system sounds familiar, it’s because Volvo uses it. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Freestyle’s Volvo-derived architecture leads to good crash-worthiness with energy-channeling zones throughout the frame. The frame is also to be commended for handling well over Michigan’s roads and even with 18” wheels and tires on our Limited model, bumps, no matter how severe, never made a substantial impact on passengers.
     Our Freestyle Limited started at $30,245 and finished at a reasonable $32,005. For that price, you get a comfortable cruiser for seven and the security of all-wheel drive. But you’ll have to do without the upscale looks of the Pacifica and power will always be scarce. Is it finally worth the crossover shopper’s time to stop at a Ford store? Unfortunately, for the bean counters, not yet.

The Good:
Plenty of passenger space, CVT goes easy on the fuel, easy to fold third row seats.
The Bad:
Barely adequate power, styling less exciting than watching paint dry.
The Verdict:
Finally in the race, but not in the lead.


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