Anyone looking for a comfortable, roomy sedan with all-weather traction capability and lots of trunk space
Comparable models in this class:
Buick LaCross, Chevrolet Malibu or Impala, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, Nissan Altima, VW Passat
Another name pulled from Ford's past... sort of. In the '50s and '60s, Ford would tack on a 500 after a model name to show that it was more dressed up then the previous year's offering. The plain Fairlane became the Fairlane 500 and the Galaxie became the Galaxie 500. I believe that in one subsequent year, they even had a Ford Galaxie 500 XL. But then again, Ford's name for this new offering is the "Ford Five Hundred," not "Ford 500." Could it be because "Five Hundred" begins with an F like many of the other Ford car models (while most of their Truck models begin with anE), or is it that "Five Hundred" just looks more upscale on the trunk lid. I'll leave these questions to the philosophers out there and stick with the nuts and bolts, which I understand a whole lot better than marketing strategies.
On the surface, the 2005 Ford Five Hundred looks like just another conservatively styled family sedan. But peel away the Passat-like sheet metal and you will find a well engineered, highly competent chassis, much of it lifted from the Ford-owned Volvo S80. The Five Hundred sedan will be sharing this new Volvo-derived platform with the Ford Freestyle, the latest in a series of "Crossover" vehicles seeking new, untapped markets. In the case of the Freestyle, Crossover implies a cross between a station wagon and an SUV. Ford has targeted the Chrysler Pacifica as the primary competition for the Freestyle. I mention the Freestyle here because the Five Hundred will share most of the mechanicals with it, even though the Five Hundred Sedan is a few hundred pounds lighter than the Freestyle. This lighter weight should give the Five Hundred a distinct advantage in stopping power and, presumably, durability. Time will tell. We will have more information on the Freestyle in an upcoming article.
The EPA classifies the Five Hundred as a large sedan with a combined interior/trunk volume of 128.1 cubic feet. It is still a foot shorter than the Ford Crown Victoria which, by the way, it is not meant to replace. The Five Hundred is a roomy, comfortable sedan that has plenty of space for 5 adults with room to spare for their belongings in the cavernous trunk. In fact, one of the things that ford proudly stated at the press introduction was that the trunk could hold 8 golf bags. They even had 8 bags full of clubs to prove the claim. (they all fit).
Fit and finish on these pre-production cars was quite good. The interior was roomy and comfortable with various trim levels depending on the model selected. The three models are SE, SEL and Limited, designations that are becoming standard among the Ford product line.
Despite being the base model, the SE is fairly well trimmed with standard 6 way power driver's seat (with a manual recline and lumbar adjustment) and 17 inch Aluminum wheels among other higher end features. The interior is cloth with trim panels on the dash and console that imitated the look of carbon-Fiber.
Move up to the SEL and you get an 8 way power seat, Dual Zone climate control, wood-look trim on the dash and console, leather wrapped steering wheel and other niceties. Pop for a Limited and you get leather seats (an option on the SEL), Audiophile Sound System Heated Memory seats and other luxury touches.
The car handled any road surface we encountered on our 100 mile drive with nary a squeak or rattle. Road noise was as well controlled as a car costing twice the price. The driving position was higher than usual for a sedan and provided a good view of the road and easy entry and exit with the chair-high seats. The Pirelli tires, which these cars were equipped with, were well suited for the spirited driving that we put these cars through in our own inimitable way. We found the steering to be responsive and predictable in most driving situations.
There is an all-wheel drive option for both the Freestyle and the Five Hundred that has also been lifted from the Volvo parts bin. When the Five Hundred is equipped with the AWD option, it runs primarily as a front-wheel drive car until the extra traction of all-wheel drive is needed, at which time it will kick in quickly and send additional power to the rear wheels.
We had a chance to put this new all-wheel drive option through its paces. We drove to an area with some steep, loosely packed dirt roads to see how well the all-wheel drive could keep us out of trouble and were suitably impressed. We had a chance to drive up a 35% grade with a loosely packed dirt surface in the Five Hundred as well as an assortment of car-based SUVs that also had all-wheel drive. The Ford had the advantage due to the HALDEX AWD Coupler that provided an instant switch from front-wheel drive to all-wheel drive as soon as one of the drive wheels began losing traction. This is the same unit used on the very capable Volvo XC90.
We also had a chance to drive the Five Hundred on an autocross track to see how well the car handles on a precision driving course. Ford felt confident enough in their new pride and joy to provide us with a few cars from competing manufacturers. This gave us the chance to compare the handling back to back. It was no surprise that the new Ford aced the competition with a car that felt very stable and controllable during cornering, stopping and emergency lane change maneuvers. We also noted that, for it's size the ford felt light on its feet.
On the down side, power was notably lacking with only one engine being offered, the old standby Ford Duratec 3.0 liter V6 packing a measly 203 horsepower. Oh, the engine was smooth and responsive at light and medium throttle, but it lacked the oomph that we have grown to expect from cars in this class. Please remember that automotive journalists always want more power, but for the average person who would be interested in this type of car, the power output of this engine is more than adequate for any type of driving they might do. Since most of the competition for the Five Hundred has available engines with more power and torque than this engine possesses, I expect that Ford will remedy this shortcoming in the next year or two.
Another feature that is new and different is the transmission offerings that are available on this car. There are two transmissions available, both automatic and each one very distinctive. The first transmission is a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) that does not have distinct gear ratios. Instead, it seamlessly goes from low gear to high gear as you accelerate maintaining the optimal engine rpm while the car continues to pick up speed. Very smooth, very comfortable. This transmission is standard on the SE as well as all models equipped with the all-wheel drive option. The other transmission, also new, is a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission. This unit comes in the SEL and Limited with front-wheel drive. Most other cars in this class have either a 4 speed or a 5 speed automatic.
There are a lot of thoughtful touches in the interior, especially as it applies to interior storage. For instance, there is a flip-open compartment on the top center of the dash that is easily reached by the driver and front passenger. There are also bottle holders in each of the four doors as well as cup holders in the console and rear armrest (the rear armrest also contains a good sized storage compartment). The rear seat folds down in a 60/40 split in order to extend the trunk into the rear seat area. As a bonus, the front passenger seat will fold flat so you can carry 10 foot long objects without having to leave the trunk or windows open.
Safety has not been overlooked on the Five Hundred. Standard safety equipment includes: dual-stage airbags up front with safety belt pretensioners, driver's seat position sensor, crash severity sensor, safety belt usage sensors and front passenger seat occupant classification sensor. Optional safety features include front side air bags for front seat passengers and side curtain airbags for front and rear outboard passengers. The curtain bags can also be triggered by a rollover sensor.
The Five Hundred and Freestyle are the first in a series of cars that will eventually replace the Ford Taurus sedan and wagon. Next year, Ford will introduce the 2006 Ford Fusion, a smaller Sedan that will be built on the excellent Mazda6 platform and have a clean, contemporary look. The Fusion will be smaller and less expensive than the Five Hundred and will fill the slot between the Focus and the Five Hundred.
There are rumors that Ford may stretch the Five Hundred platform and use it for the next generation Crown Victoria. That will take the ancient Crown Vic. body-on-frame, rear-wheel drive platform to a more modern unit-body all-wheel drive car.
Ford tells us that this is the Year of the Car and will be introducing a number of new car models this year and next. From the looks of it, they have quite a few winners coming. Way to go, Ford.