01/25/05 — Ford Five Hundred agreeable companion

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Ford Five Hundred agreeable companion

Ford Five Hundred (2005)

Livable.

That word more than any other sums up the new Ford Five Hundred, one of the Blue Oval’s two replacements for the long-running and once-popular Taurus mid-sized sedan.

Livable as defined by our old, tattered Webster’s means “pleasant to live in.”

Ford Five Hundred, 2005

The Ford Five Hundred is, indeed, a pleasant place in which to reside. We lived in it for two long days through sun, rain, snow and ice.

We encountered virtually every type of road condition and every aspect of winter weather on a round trip from North Carolina to Detroit where we attended the North American International Auto Show.

The Five Hundred — ours was equipped with all-wheel drive — answered the call, and we were sorry to see it go. Usually after spending hundreds of miles behind the wheel and in the passenger seat of a vehicle, we are ready for the next offering.

But the Five Hundred was indeed livable, and we could have endured its spacious and quiet interior, pleasant ride, predictable handling, respectable performance and unobstructed view outward indefinitely.

The Ford Five Hundred, even with one downside we will discuss later, is the best big sedan Ford has ever built. It could have been better, but it’s as good as it has to be in a crowded and competitive market, and it’s good enough to put Ford back in the family sedan mix.

You wouldn’t be missing the mark to consider the Five Hundred when shopping for a family sedan. Visit the Toyota, Honda and Nissan stores. But give the Five Hundred a spin, too. It will not be a waste of your time.

Perhaps the word is already out. Or maybe it’s the steady bombardment of TV ads. But we had several requests once back home to open the car and let curious folks take a look inside.

Maybe the one thing that people who enjoy researching their next car purchase need to know is that the Five Hundred is based on the respected Volvo S60 and S80 platform. This gives the Five Hundred some great traits including Volvo’s safety technology, its all-wheel drive system, an excellent ride quality and responsive handling.

And the new Five Hundred feels more sophisticated than any sedan in Ford history with a solidness that is pleasing with each drive around the block.

Ford has also done a good job in isolating outside wind and road noise. While we wouldn’t go so far as to say the Five Hundred is Lexus quiet, it is relatively sedate for a sedan in the 25-to-30-grand category.

The styling — some say it looks like a bigger version of the Volkswagen Passat — is handsome in a conservative way. The styling is more in the tradition of the Lexus LS 430, understated but fashionable.

It’s in the interior that the Five Hundred shines. It might be the most spacious car for its exterior size in the world. Its 200-inch length puts it in the same class as the Buick LeSabre, the new Buick LaCrosse, the Pontiac Bonneville and the Chevrolet Impala. But the Five Hundred blows away those cars with stretch-out room in front AND stretch-out room in back.

It’s a spectacular use of available space. And the space story doesn’t end with the passenger compartment.

The Five Hundred has a massive trunk. In a demonstration last year, Ford officials unloaded eight sets of standard-sized golf clubs from the trunk of the Five Hundred. One auto journalist wag wondered where the eight golfers would sit.

But Ford made its point. You can count on one hand and probably have fingers left over the number of sedan trunks that can hold four sets of clubs as well as overnight bags and coolers.

Although there are a few trunks on big sedans that equal the Ford’s 21 cubic feet of storage, most are not configured to accept more than a couple of golf bags.

We gave it a real test coming back from Detroit with four or five duffel bags loaded with press materials, three suitcases and other assorted items. No sweat.

The first-rate interior living conditions don’t stop with space. The dashboard area is attractive and well laid out. Materials are above average and the seams fit neatly. There’s nothing so grating on the nerves as to get in a car every day with sloppy fit and finish. Pride in ownership evaporates. That won’t happen in the Five Hundred.

Another noteworthy achievement of smart-thinking Ford engineers is the commanding view of the road. This was accomplished with seats positioned to raise the H-point (the position of the driver’s hip joint) and through the use of a big area of glass.

The higher seating area also allows for easier entry and exit. All these things make the Five Hundred a truly modern entry in the mid/big sweepstakes.

But all is not quite well with the new Ford. We are speaking of the one lone engine option, the 3.0-liter Duratec V-6 found in several other Ford products in recent years including the departed Taurus.

It generates 203 horsepower mated to either a 6-speed automatic or a CVT (continuously variable transmission). It’s amazed us since we first learned about the Five Hundred 18 months ago how an auto company could develop an all-new, high-quality sedan without developing a new engine, or at least making available a larger powerplant.

It’s not necessarily a deal breaker. Drive the Five Hundred and you might be surprised by the performance and sophistication of the transmission options.

But if the Five Hundred falters, it will be because of the lack of engine options. Virtually every competitor in the 25-to-30-grand class has bigger engine options including the Chrysler 300 (250-horsepower V-6), Honda Accord (240 horsepower) Nissan Maxima (265 horsepower), Mitsubishi Galant (230 horsepower) and even the 2005 Chevy Impala (240 horsepower).

That being said, the Five Hundred did not disappoint us on our extensive journey.

The all-wheel drive models are mated to the CVT, which is designed to always be at the optimum point in the rev band.

We found the performance, even through the West Virginia mountains, acceptable. For comparison purposes, the Ford V-6 will take the Five Hundred from 0 to 60 in 8.6 seconds. That’s certainly acceptable even in this day of rapidly escalating horsepower.

Like we said, the engine is not a deal breaker to us. But you can’t help longing for a little more power at times, particularly when you know it’s out there to be had for about the same cash outlay.

Will Ford offer another engine option in 2006? We don’t have the answer to that question.

The Five Hundred comes in three trim levels — SE, SEL and Limited — and well equipped even in the base car. All Five Hundreds get power driver’s seat, air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, CD player, 17-inch wheels, traction control and ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution for $22,795.

The mid-level SEL starts at $24,795 and the Limited begins at $26,920.

All models can be ordered with side-impact airbags and head-curtain airbags that protect both front and rear passengers.

Our test car was an SEL with all-wheel drive carrying a price of $26,495. A few options including leather seating, dual-zone climate control and the full compliment of airbags brought the bottom line to $27,985.

We think Ford has done a lot of right things with the Five Hundred. And we think many folks will feel the same way once they’ve experienced it on the road.

If Ford would just find some extra horsepower in the coming months, the Five Hundred would be a sure-fire hit.

A footnote — the other vehicle denoted as the Taurus replacement is the smaller Ford Fusion to be introduced this fall as a 2006 model.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on January 25, 2005 2:22 PM