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By Jan Wagner - syndicated weekly columnist/photojournalist
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2005 Ford Freestyle

 

Something happened this week that jogged my memory way back to the 60s. I developed my passion for automobiles long ago. Even before I could legally drive, my dad began to prepare me by encouraging me to sit on his lap and steer the car. Safety was not the consideration it is (rightfully) now.

Every year in the fall was new automobile introduction time. My dad favored Chryslers in the early to mid-60s. Since he was a traveling salesman, he bought his fair share of them. I’m sure the local dealer (Renfrew Chrysler-Plymouth in Calgary, Alberta) appreciated his frequent new car purchases and invited him to a ‘secret’ new car introduction every year. I went along and really looked forward to seeing all of the exciting new models.

Fast forward to this past week. I was at Kearny Mesa Ford getting the last of several repairs done on my 2001 Ford Focus station wagon. I was discussing my car with Dale Smith, the dealership’s Service Manager, and mentioning that it was time for me to start thinking seriously about its replacement. With a glint in his eye, Dale invited me out back. He said he had something new to show me, tucked away in the recesses of the dealership. Always game to learn about new vehicles, I followed him.

What he had to show me was the new-from-the-ground-up, 2005 Ford Freestyle. The protective plastic was removed and we brought it out front.


2005 Ford Freestyle

At first glance it seemed similar to Ford’s Explorer. However, as I was about to learn with the help of salesman Rick Lambert, sharing a similar appearance is about all the two vehicles have in common.

The Freestyle is much more car-like – a crossover between a car and an SUV. As I quickly realized when I drove it, compared to a typical SUV the handling of the Freestyle feels more secure and not at all tippy. Available all-wheel-drive adds to the secure grip on the road. For some unknown reason Ford buried this important distinction back on pages 16 and 17 of its brochure. I think that they should have put it front and center. It is that important. SUVs have earned a poor reputation over the years for their propensity to rollover in extreme driving situations, as compared to cars in similar situations. The Freestyle capably addresses this serious concern.


2005 Ford Freestyle

So how does the Freestyle achieve this balance between car-like handling and SUV practicality? To start with, Freestyle has a multi-link, independent rear suspension for optimized suspension performance.

Just as I learned about their new Ford GT, Ford has made the chassis of the Freestyle very stiff. This enabled them to make the ride softer and more comfortable, without compromising stability. It really works.

Traction control, rack and pinion steering and large brakes further aid on-the-road control.


Freestyle interior

The driver sits lower in the Freestyle than in an average SUV. This helps to afford both rows of rear passengers a much better view ahead. Furthermore, in stadium seating style, each of the two rear rows is slightly higher up than the row in front of them. The roofline has a slight rise rearward, to facilitate this.


Spacious, versatile interior

While I’m on the subject of seats, you may not believe their incredible adjustability without seeing them for yourself. Fold flat, split every which way – you name it. With room for up to seven passengers, they are very, very versatile and really open up the interior of the Freestyle to whatever you need to carry.


Shift lever for the CVT transmission

One of the really neat things about the new Freestyle is its transmission. Typically, to get good acceleration SUVs have large engines. V8s have seemed to be the way to go. Unfortunately, especially with today’s high price of gas, this is a problem that faces drivers every time they fill up. Once again, Ford addressed this problem with technology. Earlier this month Ford sold its first hybrid SUV – the Escape Hybrid. For the larger Freestyle, Ford chose to install a state-of-the-art Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

Instead of fixed gear ratios, the Freestyle’s CVT uses a strong steel-link belt to connect two variable-size, high strength steel-alloy pulleys. One pulley takes output from the economical V6 engine. The other pulley sends power to the drive wheels. The result is a simple, yet elegant solution to the seemingly conflicting demands of maximum power sometimes, maximum economy at other times and everything in between.

Consider my experience in the Freestyle. Getting on to the freeway, I floored the gas pedal. Engine RPMs climbed almost instantly to a little over 5,500 RPM – and remained there, while the CVT adjusted to provide seamlessly smooth, continuously optimized acceleration. As I approached my desired speed, I backed off a little bit and the engine RPMs dropped to a steady 4000. Once I reached my desired speed the RPMs dropped again and held at a steady 1,500. This is a great solution through technology to a variety of demands on the engine, and eliminates the need to install a gas-guzzling V8. Oh, and in case you’re worried that the technology is not proven, don’t. CVTs have been around for years. Does anyone remember Subaru’s CVT-equipped Justy from many years ago? Don’t worry.


2005 Ford Freestyle

Because of their similarities in appearance, the Freestyle almost begs comparison to Ford’s Explorer, and there are additional, major distinctions. The two-wheel-drive version of the Freestyle is front-wheel-drive, whereas the comparable Explorer is rear-wheel-drive. The Freestyle is about ten inches longer and two inches wider. It is also lighter, especially as compared to the two-wheel-drive Explorer, which weighs about 350 pounds more. Towing capacity in the Freestyle is only 2000 pounds, whereas the Explorer’s range is between 5,380 and 7,000 pounds, depending upon the equipment level. The Freestyle is definitely more car-like.

While I was looking at the Freestyle a customer was doing so as well. We ended up sharing a test drive. She had been shopping a competitor’s vehicle and seemed to be on the verge of purchasing it – until she spied the Freestyle. I suspect that she’ll return with her husband, checkbook in hand.

 

According to Greg Smith, Ford Motor Company Executive Vice President, “we are in the middle of the most aggressive 90 days of new product introductions in Ford history.” The Freestyle joins the Ford 500, Mercury Montego and Mariner, Ford Escape Hybrid and Ford GT as one of six new nameplates for 2005, as well as the all-new Ford Mustang. With the Freestyle, it looks like Ford has another winner on their hands. Perhaps it is a good time to invest in Ford stock.


Kearny Mesa Ford in San Diego

At any rate, if you’re in the market for a very roomy yet reasonably economical vehicle, you really should check out the new 2005 Ford Freestyle. To do so you can visit Kearny Mesa Ford online at www.kearnymesaford.net or in person at 7303 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. in San Diego. Their phone number is (858) 560-5544.

As always, please share your stories and send your comments to AutoMatters@gmail.com. Enjoy the archives and more at www.AutoMatters.net. Drive safely and do join me again next time.

 

Copyright © 2004, 2006 Jan R. Wagner – #119r1 AutoMatters

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