After all but ignoring sedans for the better part of a decade, Ford hopes to make a big impression with the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego four-doors and the Ford Freestyle wagon (plus an unnamed Mercury wagon to follow).
Having trained mid-size-car buyers to look elsewhere with its easily overlooked Taurus and Sable (which continue, incidentally), the company hopes to get its new car line onto shoppers' lists and has adapted ideas from its beloved SUVs to do so. Both the sedan twins and the wagon-excuse us, "crossover utility vehicle"-offer outstanding interior room, high seating positions, and available all-wheel drive. The Freestyle, additionally, has three rows of seats, all of which can seat adults and most of which fold essentially flat, while the sedans have a huge (21 cubic feet) trunk. All three vehicles use the 3.0-liter DOHC Duratec V-6, which delivers a mediocre 200 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel-drive sedans, all of the Freestyles, and the base-trim, front-wheel-drive Five Hundreds have a continuously variable transmission, while two-wheel-drive Montegos and up-level two-wheel-drive Five Hundreds get a six-speed automatic. The chassis, which was derived from that in the Volvo V70/S80, uses a strut front suspension, a multilink rear, and disc brakes with ABS at all four wheels. Cars with all-wheel drive get load leveling and a one-inch-greater ride height. Wheels are seventeen or eighteen inches, de-pending on trim level. All levels have a generous helping of standard equipment, although side and side curtain air bags are optional. Interiors are attractive but conservative, much like the exteriors. Whereas Ford's last major new mid-size car, the '96 Taurus, featured wacky styling but no innovation, the Five Hundred, the Montego, and the Freestyle offer worthwhile innovation but no styling-priorities correctly re-ordered, we'd say.
ON SALE: Fall 2004PRICE: $24,000-$32,000 (est.)ENGINE: 200-hp, 3.0-liter V-6BOTTOM LINE: Ford's comeback car packs some SUV appeal.