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Freestyle will add versatility to Ford lineup

July 30, 2004|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

No matter how some people try to classify it, the 2005 Freestyle is a versatile performer with an attractive profile and a catchy name.

It's yet another in a growing group of vehicles that escapes conventional definition. That means we either don't know what it is, or that it combines the virtues of several vehicle types between its four wheels.

We choose the latter.

So, instead of taking the lazy way out and painting the Freestyle with the ambiguous "crossover" brush, we're going to actually tell you the specifics about what the vehicle does, which is better than slapping it with a mere label.

The exact recipe is a complex mixture of all-new sheet metal and 21st-century technical prowess. The primary ingredients include a wagon body style with the seating capacity of a minivan, the all-weather capability of a sport-utility vehicle and the solid reputation of a European-designed foundation.

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The result is actually not so complex, but rather friendly: a capable, roomy and good-looking, multi-purpose vehicle.

The Freestyle is also the alter ego to the Five Hundred four-door sedan, another of Ford's fresh faces arriving this fall. It joins redesigned Mustang and Focus models.

Both Freestyle and Five Hundred share their double-overhead-cam, Taurus-derived 200-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 engines, continuously variable transmissions and optional Volvo-based all-wheel-drive systems (the same one used in Volvo's XC70 Cross Country) that can send up to 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels whenever the fronts lose grip. Under ideal road conditions, only the front wheels are under power. Front-wheel drive is standard.

In terms of form and function - and size - however, the Freestyle appears to have more in common with Ford's sport-utility vehicles than the Five Hundred, which is meant to appease Taurus buyers when that model is phased out.

Inside, the Freestyle bristles with convenience and innovation. Three rows of seats are standard with your choice of second-row 60/40-split bench (for three passengers) or optional high-back bucket seats (for two people), which are geared for maximum comfort.

Third-row riders will enjoy ample foot room, the result of using a space-saving independent rear suspension similar to that found on the Explorer and much larger Expedition. The front-passenger seat as well as the second and third rows all fold to create a bowling-lane-sized load floor that gives the Freestyle amazing carrying capacity.

Storage bins are provided atop the instrument panel, floor console and in the optional overhead console.

When it comes to market this fall, Freestyle will be available in three trim levels: SE; SEL; and Limited. Starting-point content includes air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, 17-inch wheels and carbon-fiber-look interior trim. Mid-range SEL models add dual-zone air conditioning, better audio system, steering-wheel-mounted stereo controls, electronic message center and various upgraded trim bits. The top-end Limited takes the content level up a final notch with a premium sound system, monochromatic front and rear fascias, heated outside mirrors, perforated-leather seat coverings, heated front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels and wood-grain interior pieces.

Among the many available items is Ford's Safety Canopy air bag system that's designed to protect the heads of passengers in all three rows in the event of a side impact or rollover.

However it's used - as a traditional sport-ute or minivan substitute, handy cargo hauler or a combination of both - the Freestyle's launch a few months from now will mean even more choice in Ford's increasingly specialized product lineup.

Copyright 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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