Review: 2006 Ford Freestyle

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Portions of the Freestyle's underbody structure are shared with the Volvo S80, giving the Ford a solid pedigree for both refinement and safety. Side and curtain airbags are optional. The curtain airbags, which cover all three rows of seats, are designed to deploy not only in a side impact, but also in a rollover accident. Anti-lock brakes and traction control are standard on all models. Stability control is not available. The Freestyle has earned coveted five-star ratings in government crash tests for both front and side performance, and it claims four-star rollover ratings for both 2WD and 4WD iterations.

The Freestyle is offered with either front- or four-wheel drive. Designed for slippery conditions, not for extreme off-road use, the full-time 4WD system is always on duty and requires no input from the driver. There is no low range. The Freestyle has a single engine and transmission combination: a 3.0-liter/203-horse Duratec V-6 mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Unlike conventional transmissions, which have a fixed number of ratios (usually four, five, or sometimes six), a CVT has an infinite number of ratios, making it much more efficient, aiding performance and, particularly, fuel economy. Even so, the engine is seriously challenged by the Freestyle's curb weight and provides marginal acceleration, especially with a full load of passengers and their stuff.

Within your first few minutes of driving the Freestyle, it's immediately apparent that this vehicle drives differently than a typical SUV. The Freestyle reacts to steering inputs as a car would, promptly and without delay. It doesn't suffer the head tossing side-to-side ride motions also common to truck-based sport/utes, and it has a comfortable, mannered ride. The cabin is a quiet and pleasant, with respectable comfort for nigh all passengers. Ford tries to get the most out of the engine with the CVT, but the Freestyle remains sluggish. The CVT, although very efficient, exacerbates the perception that you're waiting for the engine to catch up to your performance demands. During acceleration, the engine revs don't climb then drop with each shift; they quickly climb then stay constant as the car's speed increases, which some drivers may find disconcerting. Unfortunately, the 3.0-liter engine isn't the most refined powerplant and therefore calls greater attention to itself. The Freestyle was developed to launch with a more powerful 3.5-liter powerplant that simply wasn't available in time. The 3.0L is the Achilles heel for this otherwise well-conceived and -executed family vehicle.

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