Kicking off a two-pronged strategy to replace the Taurus after the 2006 model year, the larger 2005 Five Hundred offers a more sophisticated package that will be joined by the leaner Fusion in fall 2005. Sold in three series (SE, SEL, and Limited), the Five Hundred is offered only as a four-door sedan only--consider the Ford Freestyle crossover as a companion station wagon. The Five Hundred's other family relation is the Mercury Montego, a functionally identical sedan distinguished by minor trim and appearance changes. Recognizing that many auto buyers have gravitated toward sport/utility vehicles, Ford infused the Five Hundred with qualities people like in SUVs, specifically, available all-wheel drive, a higher-than-normal seating position, and a spacious interior.
Although the Five Hundred is an all-new car, it looks vaguely familiar. Where the Taurus was a fresh, even brazen design when it debuted, the Five Hundred body is derivative, sharing more than a few lines with the stately 2005 Volkswagen Passat, itself redesigned for 2006. While the competing Chrysler 300's styling is certainly distinctive--and has helped make that rear-drive sedan a hot-seller--its high window line and low roof make the car much harder to see out of than the more conventionally styled Five Hundred. By taking the conservative route, Ford designers have ensured ready styling acceptability, but we suspect the nicely proportioned Five Hundred may end up blending anonymously into the automotive landscape after a couple production years.
Generous cabin space and a command seating position are two of the Five Hundred's major strong points. In fact, despite it being a foot shorter overall than the full-size Ford Crown Victoria, efficient packaging makes the Five Hundred roomier inside, with the back seat particularly expansive. The car seats five--no front bench is offered--and is exceptionally comfortable in all places. Passengers sit much higher above the floor than is typical in a sedan (up to four inches higher than in some competitors), putting the seating position between that of a conventional sedan and a minivan.
Yet, the Five Hundred is not as tall as an SUV, so no big climb up is required to get inside. The comfortable perches and excellent ingress/egress make the Five Hundred a compelling choice for those with limited mobility and parents with small children. Short drivers should make sure the high seating position doesn't force them to sit too close to the steering wheel. If that's the case, a possible remedy would be to order the optional power-adjustable pedals, which move closer to or farther from the driver's seat. (The powered pedals are available on the Limited for '05 and all models for '06.) The elevated seating position also makes for excellent outward visibility, but those who need extra reassurance when parking can opt for the reverse sensing system (proximity sensors in the bumper trigger a beep when closing in on an obstacle).
In addition to the raised seating position and uncommon space, the Five Hundred has another interesting feature: on the SEL and the Limited, the front passenger seatback can fold forward to lie flat, as can the rear seatback in all models. With both seats in cargo mode, items up to eight feet long can be loaded through the trunk and into the interior. The trunk itself measures 21 cubic feet, or eight golf bags, making it truly cavernous.
The interior design has a simple elegance, though some dash materials manage to look cheaper than they actually are. Smooth metal trim and soft surfaces lend a luxurious ambiance, with leather upholstery available to further dress up the interior in all models but the SE. The SEL and Limited models add wood-patterned appliqus, completing the premium treatment.
Based on the well-honed Volvo S80 platform, the Five Hundred has earned five stars in government front and side crash tests--a noteworthy achievement. For the most safety-minded consumers, side and curtain airbags are available. A recommended feature, the curtain airbags are designed to deploy in the event of a rollover or side impact, adding a proven extra measure of safety. Anti-lock brakes and traction control are standard on all models. Stability control isn't offered.