$25,000 - $30,000 Front-drive (or AWD) 7 passenger High Wagon
Who should buy this car:
Anyone looking for a comfortable, roomy 7 passenger SUV or wagon with all-weather traction capability and car-like ride and handling
Comparable models in this class:
Buick Rendezvous , Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Highlander
Fords Freestyle is a crossover SUV that marries a sedan chassis with a tall body, seating for seven and a flat cargo floor. Thats an attractive proposition that more and more buyers find appealing.
The Freestyle shares its solid chassis platform with the Ford Five Hundred sedan. This chassis is derived from the Volvo XC90, which is one of the benefits of Fords ownership of Volvo. A strong foundation provides good handling, not to mention crashworthiness, and the Freestyles body structure feels tight and solid. Power comes from Fords 3.0-liter, Duratec V-6, and it is mated to a CVT continuously variable transmission.
There are three trim levels, SE, SEL and Limited. All have front-wheel drive, and all-wheel-drive is optional. Prices start at $24,945 for the SE, $26,345 for the SEL and $28,545 for the Limited. All-wheel drive adds $1,700.
The test car was an all-wheel-drive Limited.
The Freestyle and Five Hundred are part of a product blitz that also includes the redesigned Mustang, Mercury Montego and Mercury Mariner. The Montego is similar to the Five Hundred, while the Mariner is derived from the Escape.
The Freestyle is looks like a carbon copy of the Explorer in many ways. The body is not quite as tall, and it sits lower to the ground. The 112.9-inch wheelbase enables it to have three rows of seats. Compared to the Explorer, the Freestyle is 10 inches longer, two inches wider and four inches lower. Head and legroom is roughly the same as the Explorer. The cargo space behind the third seat is actually greater than the same space in the Explorer.
Folks who buy crossover SUVs want flexible cargo space, and the Freestyle is excellent in this regard. Creating a flat load floor is a snap. The third-row seat is a clever design. The seatback folds down and then the whole seat pivots backward to make a load floor that aligns with the second-row seat. Even the front passenger seat can fold forward to accommodate something 9.5-feet long. The only drawback to the cargo space is that it isnt very high.
When the seats are upright, getting into the third row is easy because the second-row seat tips forward. Legroom in the third row is passable for adults and excellent for children. The third seat is available as a single bench or 50/50 split. The split-folding seat is the most useful configuration.
The Freestyles interior design borrows many design cues from the Explorer, most notably the round air vents on the instrument panel. Soft-touch paint finishes, leatherlike textures and well-shaped seats sweeten the package. The instrument panel has simple, chrome-trimmed gauges. Audio and climate controls adorn the center stack that blends into the console. Buttons are large and easy to use, while the console has two cup holders and the gearshift.
Storage compartments abound. A small lid atop the instrument panel is a great space to keep a map or other small items.
Wood grain trim gave the SEL test car an upscale look. Fingertip controls on the steering wheel are handy for operating the radio and cruise control.
Although the steering wheel tilts, it doesnt telescope. Even with the adjustable pedals all the way forward, I felt a little far from the wheel when the seat was adjusted to be comfortable for my legs.
The Freestyle uses Fords 3.0-liter, Duratec V-6 coupled to a CVT continuously variable transmission. The CVT uses a steel link belt and two variable-size pulleys for a nearly infinite choice of gear ratios. Because the CVT has no perceptible shifts, the engine rpm doesnt vary as much as it would in a regular automatic, so it sounds a little different when youre driving. I averaged almost 19 miles per gallon in mostly city driving.
The V-6 produces 203 horsepower. The Freestyle accelerates well, and the engine is fairly smooth. More power would be a welcome addition, especially if youre hauling seven people.
The Freestyles optional all-wheel drive system is a Haldex unit currently used by Volvo. The beauty of this system is that it only drives the rear wheels when the fronts slip. It would be nice to have a switch to send power to all four wheels continuously in snow, however.
Side-curtain airbags and a rollover sensor are part of the Freestyles safety package. Antilock brakes and traction control are standard.