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Vehicle Previews Last Updated: Aug 16th, 2006 - 11:01:00

Ford Five Hundred: Here Comes the Savior?
By Mike Cervantes
Aug 8, 2004, 23:37

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Courtesy: Ford Motor Company
It’s no small secret that Ford’s car division has been often overlooked by company executives on their way to SUV-sized profits from their truck division. The only mainstream Ford car that can be considered even somewhat competitive with the best of the market is the compact Focus. Sure, they had the niche-market Thunderbird, but that hasn’t exactly been a major sales hit despite all of the initial buzz.


That could all change as Ford declares this the “Year of the Car.” New models about to be launched from the Blue Oval include the Mazda6-based Fusion sedan, the newly retro Mustang, the crossover Freestyle, and the large Five Hundred Sedan. The last two are based on a version of the Volvo platform that underpins the front-wheel-drive S80 sedan, the largest in Volvo’s lineup. With these new vehicles, Ford hopes not only to increase profits and reduce incentives, but prove to buyers that American car companies can make cars that are just as desirable and competitive as their trucks. In the first part of an ongoing series on Ford’s “Year of the Car,” AutomotiveArticles.com shines the spotlight on the new Ford Five Hundred.


This all-new sedan is meant to replace the Taurus on the higher end of the market while the Fusion picks up the slack on the lower end. Incidentally, it appears that the Taurus will live on, though sold mostly to fleet buyers. In any case, the Five Hundred is about three inches longer than the Taurus, though still a full foot shorter than the Crown Victoria sedan.


Courtesy: Ford Motor Company
One of the Five Hundred’s main selling points will be the way it was designed to meet SUV owners half way, so to speak. This is not a small car, by any stretch. What Ford calls “Command Seating” will only enhance that feeling. Front seat passengers sit upwards of four inches higher in the Five Hundred than if they were in an average sedan. The rear seat passengers are even higher. This gives occupants the more upright feeling of being in an SUV with the lower step-in height of a sedan. Ford claims that “Command Seating” affords driver and passengers a commanding view of the road, pardon the cliché. Overall legroom is best in class for front and rear passengers.


Ford is also expecting the Five Hundred’s versatility to win over some SUV loyalists. For instance, the rear and front passenger seats fold flat allowing for a space large enough for an eight foot long item like a surf board or piece of plywood. The trunk has a downright huge 21 cubic feet of space, large enough for eight golf bags. Why a five-passenger vehicle needs to hold eight golf bags, we’ll let you decide. Personally, we’re still wondering how many bodies “large enough for eight golf bags” translates to...


On top of the ample storage space, Ford is counting on optional all wheel drive to convert current SUV owners. Now one of the hottest trends in the market, Ford will advertise the all-season abilities of AWD as one of the premium features available on the Five Hundred yet not offered on key competitors like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.


Courtesy: Ford Motor Company
A premium image is directly what Ford is aiming for, inside and out, with the look of the new Five Hundred. Designed under the direction of Ford’s J Mays, the Five Hundred has a distinctly Volkswagen Group flair. Whether looking at the exterior or interior, one can see similarities to VAG favorites like the Audi A6. This is not a coincidence, as J Mays is the former design leader at Audi when the company developed its current design direction. While it may not be entirely original, the Five Hundred does have a flavor of classic elegance about it. This is thanks largely to the trademark-Ford diamond-pattern grille, large jeweled headlights, and cleanly arched roofline on the outside and the restrained geometric shapes on the inside.


Perhaps one of the main areas where the Five Hundred is lacking is in the power department. The only engine offered, at least initially, will be the “Duratec 30” 3.0L V6 engine. While not bad on its own, the 203hp and 207ft-lbs begin to look a bit weak when you check out competitors like the Accord and Altima, both of which offer at least 240hp from their V6 engines. One can only begin to imagine the performance numbers when this engine is mated to the extra weight of an AWD model, 3815 lbs to be exact. Helping matters, however, will be the choice of a 6-speed automatic or a continuously variable transmission.


Ford promises that the fully independent suspension will provide for an entertaining ride, though one has to believe the Five Hundred will lean more towards “competent and comfortable” than “canyon carving.” Interestingly, AWD models will feature self-leveling shocks that “use energy from the vehicle’s motion to raise the shock to the desired ride level.” It should be of note that the AWD system is also a Volvo-sourced component, like the platform itself. Dual piston aluminum front brake calipers and large rotors front and back should haul the large sedan down from speed in a hurry.


Courtesy: Ford Motor Company
Being based on a Volvo platform could make for strong performance during a collision, as will multiple crush zones, a boatload of airbags, and newly designed safety systems. Take, for instance, a steering column design that tailors its collapse during an accident to the driver’s size and seat-belt usage. Rear-impact protection is designed to meet proposed future federal regulations, not ones currently in existence. The cross-car “Space Architecture” is designed to send the forces of a collision away from the passengers to engineered failure points under the center console. Ford’s “Safety Canopy” uses a rollover sensor and two-row curtain airbags to protect passengers from the forces of a rollover and side-impact collisions.


As expected, the Five Hundred will come with the full array of luxury options like power leather seating with driver’s side memory, “Audiophile” sound system with 6-disc CD changer, power windows and door locks, wood-grain, power mirrors, alarm system, and perimeter lighting.


The Chicago-built Five Hundred is very important to Ford’s future. The company desperately needs a hit sedan to reestablish the dominance it once held with Taurus models in the past. The midsize market is extremely competitive, however, and a company must have every detail spot-on or risk becoming yesterday’s news before they can even say “rebates.” Time will tell if Ford’s Five Hundred has the stuff to win over a jaded market.

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