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Five Hundred marks a new direction for Ford

June 25, 2004|by RICHARD RUSSELL/Wheelbase Communications

The Five Hundred is the new face of Ford family transportation, but just the tip of company's fast-moving automotive iceberg.

Yes, your local Ford store will be a happening place by the end of the year as almost every car there will be either brand new or heavily revised. Ford is calling 2004, its 100th anniversary, "the year of the car," during which time it will unveil a brand new family sedan, a new wagon, an all-new Mustang platform and a heavily revised entry-level Focus.

The most significant of these in many ways is the front-/ all-wheel-drive 2005 Ford Five Hundred sedan, a car that Ford hopes will reinvent the family hauler when it arrives this fall alongside a wagon sibling called Freestyle. As the company's flagship sedan, and an indication of future design direction, the Five Hundred will carry significant burden on its four rubber contact patches, especially after the Taurus's eventual phaseout.

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With a tall and blocky physique, a big part of the design goal was to maximize interior passenger and cargo space. Key is the "H" point, the pivot point of the human hip. In the Five Hundred, occupants sit as much as four inches higher off the floor than in traditional mid-size cars. The vertical distance between the "H" point and the heel point - where the foot rests on the floor - has been raised to 12.7 inches, which not only improves comfort, but provides better visibility.

At 128 cubic feet, the Five Hundred offers 25 cubic feet more room inside than the Taurus and 17 more than the Crown Victoria with notable improvements in rear legroom (but slightly less front legroom) over both. The trunk offers a whopping 21 cubic feet of room, more than even the Crown Vic.

Make no mistake, The Five Hundred is a big car. Outwardly sized between the Taurus and the Crown Vic, the wheelbase measures 113 inches (close to that of the Crown Vic), which tips you off as to where all that interior space comes from.

It's also a heavier car, weighing about 300 pounds more than a similarly equipped Taurus. Lugging around the extra 10 percent in weight, however, is a revised version of the of the double-overhead-cam 3.0-liter Duratec unit that's used in the Taurus. It's rated at 200 horsepower.

However, the Five Hundred will receive significant upgrades in the remainder of the drivetrain - including available all-wheel drive - with two all-new transmissions.

Front-drive variants will get a six-speed automatic, while all-wheel-drive versions will come with a continuously variable transmission (optional on front-drive models). The all-wheel-drive system is a proven Volvo design (Volvo falls under the Ford umbrella).

To complement the fully independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock and standard traction control, the "base" Five Hundred SE will ride on 17-inch wheels and tires while the SEL and Limited will come with 18s.

Even the SE comes fully equipped including a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, tilt wheel, cruise, power folding mirrors, remote keyless entry, air and power windows.

You'll also find distinctly upscale appointments with heavy emphasis on texture and tone. Interior surface treatments range from smooth metal to soft-touch plastics, wood accents and carbon-fiber-look materials on some models.

Making the most of the expertise and testing facilities of its wholly-owned Volvo subsidiary, Ford engineers say they have developed a complete safety package that ranges from a new energy channeling frame and body structure, to leading-edge side-impact and rollover air bag protection.

But the Five Hundred and its features shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone.

Ford has a history breaking new ground, from the Model T early in the last century to the then-radical Taurus in 1986. The company appears set to equal those performances with a big new package firmly planted on a new architecture and in its 100-year-deep roots in automaking.

Copyright 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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