Playing it Safe
There are two ways to approach life - you can be conservative or you can take risks. Opportunity for risk is everywhere, whether it be skydiving, applying to be a contestant on Fear Factor, eloping with a stranger, or buying a Yugo. Should things go well, there's an intense sense of satisfaction and fulfillment when a risk pays off. But, if they go badly, there are broken bones, divorces, the stigma of driving a really bad car, or in the case of Fear Factor, uncontrollable vomiting. Not good.So, maybe it's better to be conservative, or at least that's the thinking at Ford Motor Company, as evidenced by the 2005 Ford Five Hundred. No sirree, no risks taken here, and the result is a perfectly capable and comfortable vehicle that offers a long list of attractive features, yet suffers for its mediocre engine and forgettable styling. But, Ford can't be blamed for taking this approach. Back in the mid 1980s, the company took a big risk with the first Taurus, an exercise in styling that instantly dated the competition and drew praise for years. But then Ford tried to replicate that success with the bubbly 1996 redesign of the Taurus, and quickly saw the flipside of taking risks. And it's that resulting mindset, one of going to the edge and then paying the price, that's behind the new Five Hundred.
Shoppers considering the 2005 Ford Five Hundred will be able to choose from three different models, ranging in price from the low $20,000s to more than $30,000 when fully loaded. The SE is the least expensive model, with a $22,845 price tag (all prices include a $650 destination charge). Standard on this base model are a keyless entry system with a remote and a driver's door keypad; traction control; power windows, power door locks, and power mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; a power driver's seat with manual lumbar support; a single-disc CD player; and 17-in. alloy wheels with 215/60 tires. Optional on the SE are the Safety and Security package, complete with side head curtain airbags, front side airbags, a rollover sensor, and an anti-theft alarm.Next up is the SEL, priced at $24,795, with features including chrome bodyside moldings, automatic headlights, front foglights, an anti-theft alarm, heated body-color mirrors, an electrochromic interior rearview mirror, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Also included are steering wheel-mounted audio controls, a six-disc CD changer and MP3 player, a trip computer with compass and exterior temperature gauge, woodgrain interior trim, a power passenger's seat, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Should buyers wish for a bit more, there are the optional front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags, and a rollover sensor provided in the Safety package; leather seats; a power moonroof; and a rear parking aid, which uses sensors to detect objects in the vehicle's path.
At the top of the lineup is the Limited, which heaps on a memory function for the mirrors and driver's seat; chrome exterior mirror caps; 18-in. alloy wheels with 225/55 tires; an Audiophile sound system with a subwoofer; a second row fold-down center armrest; heated leather seats; a manual front passenger's lumbar support; and a fancy analog clock. The retail price for this model is $26,920. Unique to the Limited are an optional Homelink universal garage door opener and adjustable pedals with memory.
Each model may also be equipped with an all-wheel-drive system, which replaces the standard front-wheel-drive setup. Included with all-wheel-drive are self-leveling rear shocks, and the system requires outfitting the Five Hundred with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Overall, Ford expected the majority of models sold to be front-wheel-drive SELs, followed by front-wheel-drive SEs and front-wheel-drive Limiteds, so they've been caught a bit off guard by the overwhelming demand for all-wheel-drive versions. Based on its long list of features and attractive price, shoppers will likely find the SEL model to be the best value.
We spent a week piloting the mack daddy of them all, a 2005 Ford Five Hundred Limited with all-wheel drive. Our top-of-the-line tester, equipped with the optional power moonroof, Safety Package, Homelink, adjustable pedals, rear parking aid, and traction control came in just under $31,000.
Unlike the interior, with its array of standard and optional features, there is but one choice for what lies under the hood of the 2005 Ford Five Hundred. In charge of motivation is a 3.0-liter, dual overhead cam (DOHC), 24-valve V6. Horsepower for this small six-cylinder is rated a lowly 203 at 5,750 rpm, and 207 lb.-ft. of torque is available at 4,500 rpm. In front-wheel-drive attire, that motor is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission; when the all-wheel-drive system is bolted on, that traditional automatic is swapped out for a continuously variable transmission (CVT). CVTs allow for a nearly infinite number of gear ratios, ensuring that the engine is always delivering optimum power. In addition to and because of its seamless shifting, this type of transmission can usually provide better acceleration and increased fuel efficiency, though our all-wheel-drive Limited test car achieved only 18.9 mpg in mixed driving; the EPA ratings for this model are 19 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway, and 21 mpg in mixed driving. Regardless of whether it's in the city or on the highway, controlling the ride is a fully independent suspension, with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in the rear. Self-leveling coil-over shocks are standard on all-wheel-drive models, and front and rear stabilizer bars are bolted onto every 2005 Ford Five Hundred. Liberal use of specially tuned and soft suspension bushings aim to isolate road imperfections and provide a comfortable ride and stable handling. Front vented and rear solid discs supply stopping power, backed up by the safety of four-wheel antilock brakes and an electronic brake force distribution system.
Another feature designed to keep drivers safe and in control, the optional all-wheel-drive system has been borrowed from one of Ford's other divisions, Volvo. Using an electronic Haldex coupling unit mounted next to the rear differential, power is transferred to the rear wheels within milliseconds if the front wheels begin to slip, or to any of the four wheels that has the best grip.
As with the all-wheel-drive system, many of the 2005 Ford Five Hundred's other safety features come from Volvo. In the event of a side impact, a SIPS (Side Impact Protection System) tube located under the front seats deforms upon a hard impact and moves crash energy away from the occupants. Overhead is a roof cross-member that works with the lower SIPS tube to dissipate energy away from the passengers. The fuel tank is located under the rear seat, surrounded by a steel safety structure and placed in front of the rear wheels, a move designed to avoid spillage or fire in the event of a rear impact. As a result of this focus on safety, the 2005 Ford Five Hundred has achieved the highest possible crash test ratings, five stars, for both front and side impacts.
At first glance, many people mistake the 2005 Ford Five Hundred for a Volkswagen or an Audi. And there's a good reason for the confusion - the same designer who helped usher in the latest Volkswagen Passat and Audi A4 is now in charge of design at Ford. So it looks like Ford "borrowed" some styling cues from a few fine-looking German competitors. Unfortunately, the Five Hundred's front end has been Fordified with large headlights and an oversized grille, albeit with a sharp looking honeycomb insert. Even the lower foglights are big, and the result is a face that's rather generic. But, it does grow on you, and the overall look is helped by an understated front airdam. Move beyond the front end and it is easy to see that the 2005 Ford Five Hundred, with a 113-inch wheelbase and 200 inches of length, is a large car. In fact, it's basically a crossover vehicle disguised in sedan garb. While it shares a platform with the Volvo S80, it also shares that platform with Ford's new crossover vehicle, the Freestyle. But, sometimes big is beautiful and, indeed, the Five Hundred carries its size and weight with grace and subtlety. Our Limited tester included an added touch of class thanks to eight-spoke alloy wheels and chrome trim on the mirrors and window frames. While the design may not be striking, a dressed up Five Hundred does border on attractive…especially if that nondescript face is ignored.
While the design has its pros and cons, comments on the exterior craftsmanship of our test vehicle were mostly positive. There were minor gaps around the front bumper, the trunk lid was slightly misaligned, and quite a few of the plastic pieces had lines visible from where they had been cast in molds at the factory, giving them an unfinished look. These are all relatively insignificant concerns, but as a whole, they make the 2005 Ford Five Hundred look like it should've spent a few more minutes with the quality control guys.
Like the exterior, the interior of the 2005 Ford Five Hundred is marked by its highs and lows, though with more of the former and less of the latter. Covering the dash, doors, and center console are textured, soft materials that are pleasing to the touch, with hard plastics reserved for the lower doors, lower dash, and the pillars. All blend together well, and feature identical grain patterns and colors. Accenting the shift plate, door handles, gauges, and air vents is alloy trim, and the doors feature subtle two-tone panels. The dash is shaped with gentle curves and very few sharp edges; SEL and Limited models are spoiled by the application of shiny fake woodgrain, a mistake that could've been avoided with either matching plastic or more of the alloy trim found elsewhere. Despite that faux pas, the design of the Five Hundred's interior is tasteful and almost upscale - take away the blue oval on the steering wheel, and most shoppers would likely mistake it for a more expensive Lincoln or Mercury. And, with the exception of a headliner and a few pillar covers that could've been tighter, the interior of our test car appeared to be well built.Not only does the 2005 Ford Five Hundred look nice, it's also comfortable. Engineers were intent on providing drivers with a commanding view of the road, like they would enjoy in an SUV or a minivan. Therefore, the seats in the 2005 Ford Five Hundred sit high and offer a good hip point, which means there is no need to climb or fall into the seats. Once inside, occupants will find that the seats are well contoured and firm, though the leather feels as though it came from a synthetic cow. Thanks to the power seat, tilt steering wheel, and the optional power foot pedals it's easy to find a suitable driving position. Unfortunately, the steering wheel does not have a telescoping adjustment. A padded center armrest is large enough to be shared by the driver and front passenger, and a center fold-down armrest dissects the rear bench seat, which is fixed in a slightly reclined position. Those large car dimensions are clearly evident here, resulting in more than 41 inches of legroom. And thanks to a contoured headliner that rises near the back window, second-row passengers are provided with almost 39 inches of headroom.
For times when it's more important to carry cargo than passengers, the Five Hundred proves to be spacious and versatile. With 21.2 cubic feet, the illuminated trunk offers more cargo space than the Chevrolet Impala, the Chrysler 300, and the Ford Crown Victoria. A wide opening facilitates easy access to the trunk; however, the liftover height is high, so getting heavy items up and into the vehicle may be a challenge. The trunk lid is lined and has integrated grab handles. If trunk space isn't sufficient, the split rear seat can be folded down and the front passenger seat folds flat, allowing for long objects to be carried securely within the vehicle. In addition, there are a number of storage compartments littering the cabin, most of which are lined to keep items from sliding. Included are front and rear armrest storage bins, large door and seatback pockets, and a sizeable cubby on top of the center dash. And a total of eight cupholders are located in the doors, front console, and rear fold-down armrest.
Adding to the comfort and utility of the 2005 Ford Five Hundred's interior are intuitive controls. Standard on SEL and Limited models is the automatic climate control system, and it's a breeze to use thanks to clearly marked buttons for the driver and front passenger and simple controls for fan speed and temperature. Cruise and remote radio controls are mounted on the steering wheel (SEL and Limited only), which allows for quick access and keeps the stalks less cluttered. Within easy reach on the left of the dash are the buttons for the adjustable foot pedals and the trunk release. On the driver's door, and within easy reach, are controls for the power windows and door locks, but the power mirror toggle is affixed to the A pillar - a bit of a stretch for drivers with short arms. The audio system is simple in its operation, and provides good sound quality. Its basic menu is easily navigated, and controls an equalizer, speed-sensitive volume, and speaker settings.
With only 203 meager horses under the hood, drivers will be surprised by how well the 2005 Ford Five Hundred accelerates. No, it's not an earth-scorcher, but the 3.0-liter V6 puts out adequate power for everyday city and highway driving - although high-speed passes on the freeway might require a little extra space. While it gets the job done, this motor does not lend itself to spirited driving. Under full throttle, the engine gets a bit raucous, but little of that noise enters the cabin. To put the Five Hundred's engine into perspective, consider the 2005 Chrysler 300, a car that weighs about the same as the Five Hundred but has four available motors with power ranging from 190 to 425 horsepower. And while some of the Five Hundred's other competitors come standard with less powerful four-cylinder engines, most of their optional six-cylinder offerings better the Five Hundred's power ratings by a wide margin. Equipped with the CVT, power delivery is smooth, but for those who have never operated one of these transmissions, they do take some getting used to. In the Five Hundred, there is a point where the accelerator is near the floor that power delivery comes on immediately, and that's where drivers will want to plant their foot when the engine's full potential is needed in a hurry.
Backing up the acceptable powertrain are competent braking and suspension systems. Whether in stop-and-go traffic or coasting down a mountain road, the front and rear discs do their job without hesitation or fade, and the antilock feature operates unobtrusively. During routine driving, the 2005 Ford Five Hundred absorbs road abnormalities quite well, and provides a comfortable and quiet ride, although there is some tire noise when traveling on the highway. But, what is most surprising is the Five Hundred's ability to carry its weight through challenging corners. There is minimal body roll and the Pirelli tires on our tester refused to give up any grip. Drivers get the sense that this chassis is capable of accommodating a much more powerful engine. Unfortunately, our excitement was tempered during aggressive driving by an unnerving whine coming from the steering system, and steering effort, which also became noticeably stiffer.
On a final positive note, visibility is excellent thanks to a large greenhouse and small rear headrests. Huge side mirrors help, too, but they're so big that they can obstruct the driver's view at times.
With the 2005 Five Hundred, Ford has created an impressive car. It is unlikely that the styling will offend anyone, but nor will it burn its image into shoppers' minds. However, styling is subjective, and an equal number of people may find the look contemporary as those who find it passé. That small V6, lacking any true verve, is the Ford Five Hundred's only real negative - there needs to be at least a more powerful option.But, the car is safe, and not just because of great crash test results and multiple airbags. Nothing about the 2005 Ford Five Hundred pushes the envelope - not the way it looks and not the way it drives. So, it does everything that it's asked to, yet it doesn't do anything "above and beyond." And for a good number of shoppers, that may be more than enough for a well-priced family sedan.
Test Vehicle: 2005 Ford Five Hundred Limited AWD
Engine Size and Type: 3.0-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 203 at 5,750 rpm
Engine Torque: 207 at 4,500 rpm
EPA Fuel Economy: 19 city/26 highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 18.9 mpg
Curb Weight: 3,815 lbs.
Max. Cargo Capacity: 21.2 cubic feet
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Warranty: 3 years/36,000-miles for basic and powertrain; 5 years/unlimited mileage for corrosion; and 3 years/36,000-miles of roadside assistance protection
Competitors: Buick LaCrosse, Buick LeSabre, Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, Ford Crown Victoria, Honda Accord, Hyundai XG 350, Kia Amanti, Mazda 6, Mercury Grand Marquis, Mercury Montego, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Nissan Maxima, Pontiac Grand Prix, Pontiac Bonneville, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Avalon, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat
What's the best thing about the 2005 Ford Five Hundred?
It provides a comfortable ride and some nice standard features at a reasonable price.How does the 2005 Ford Five Hundred compare with the similarly-sized Ford Crown Victoria?
The Crown Victoria is based on a decades-old platform and features a V8 engine and rear-wheel-drive. It has a wheelbase that's about two inches longer, and total length is about 12 inches more. The Five Hundred is more than three inches taller, but the Crown Victoria is three inches wider. Interior dimensions are similar, with the Five Hundred scoring higher in rear legroom, but the Crown Victoria ranks higher in front legroom.
Since the 2005 Ford Five Hundred is a new car, will Ford wait to offer any rebates or incentives?
Unlike the redesigned Mustang, the Ford Five Hundred isn't in extremely high demand, so Ford is already offering minimal incentives on the vehicle. At the time of this writing, incentives consist only of low interest rates, but it's safe to assume that it won't be long before cash rebates are offered.
Automotive journalists like cars that make them giggle, and dislike cars that make them yawn. Sometimes these professional auto reviewers remember that most Americans have simple needs when it comes to their choice of conveyance, that many consider driving a task rather than a treat, and that only a select few make a purchase decision based upon acceleration times and at-the-limit handling capability. That's why the Toyota Camry doesn't receive a thorough drubbing from every car writer in the country.Driving excitement is not the new 2005 Ford Five Hundred's reason for existence, so consumers requiring an entertaining family sedan would do well to examine the Nissan Altima SE-R for that purpose. Rather, the Five Hundred, and its slightly upscale twin the Mercury Montego, are designed to perform 90 percent of the tasks that 90 percent of American consumers require of a large sedan, at or above the class standard. Evaluated from this standpoint, the Five Hundred is clearly one of the best models in its segment, and proof that Ford understands what a 21st century family sedan must be.
Built to carry as many Americans and their belongings as possible in a quiet, comfortable, appealing environment, the Ford Five Hundred is quite a capable vehicle. After four hours in the saddle, battling city traffic, driving mountain roads, cruising four-lane coastal highway, and blasting down the freeway at speeds up to 90 mph, I arrived at my destination fresh and with a deep appreciation for the Five Hundred's unfettered performance as a daily driver.
Yes, engine power could be better, but unless drag racing on city streets is a current hobby, the Five Hundred's 3.0-liter V6 serves competently. If its 203 horses aren't enough for you, a new 3.5-liter V6 is coming in a couple of years, and should be making more than 250 horsepower. The CVT transmission on our all-wheel-drive test car manages to make the most of the power, and is a far more agreeable CVT to use than what Audi supplies on A4 and A6 models. People unaccustomed to a CVT's characteristic tendency to hold revs steady under hard acceleration may initially be put off by this transmission, but acclimation comes quickly.
Aside from the underwhelming but adequate motor, I have few complaints about the Ford Five Hundred. The stereo lacks a tuning knob, and the design lends itself to placement of one opposite the volume knob. Instead, a circular rocker button for the stereo's menu of functions occupies this space.
Interior materials are decent, soft where occupants are likely to come into contact with surfaces. The headliner and visors are too fuzzy; the plastic bezel surrounding the power window controls emitted a cheap, tinny noise when my metal watchband scraped across it; and the leather in our Limited test vehicle was rough and deeply grained, the opposite of supple and smooth.
Seating up front is comfortable, but I'm surprised by the lack of seat track travel given how much legroom is provided in the back. People taller than my six-foot frame might have trouble finding an acceptable driving position. The rear seat is positively huge, but the rear doors don't open very wide and the rear door panels are thick, providing less clearance for entry and exit than expected. The trunk is gargantuan, and with the rear seats and front passenger seat folded down, the Five Hundred can easily swallow a ladder, or something like it.
Styling will age well, and despite obvious design forms lifted from a hodgepodge of European sedans that came before it (greenhouse by Volkswagen, taillights by Mercedes, etc.), the Five Hundred is a handsome piece of work. I particularly liked the multi-spoke wheels and Pirelli P6 tires on our test model. Inside, the cabin is thoughtfully laid out, controls are right where you expect them to be, at night all of the switchgear is illuminated, and the fake wood compliments the beige interior décor quite nicely.
At this price, with equipment such as all-wheel-drive, reverse park control, a power sunroof with one-touch open and close, and traction control, the only obvious missing pieces are stability control and a navigation system.
As it stands, the 2005 Ford Five Hundred is an appealing alternative to other full-size sedan on the market, such as the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala, and Pontiac Bonneville. Toyota's Avalon is a direct competitor, too, a car duller than the Five Hundred but benefiting from a durability and quality track record that Ford cannot match. Aside from the Avalon, the most compelling alternatives are the Chrysler 300 and the Nissan Maxima, both of which offer more style and performance.
Which brings us to the fundamental problem with the Five Hundred and Montego. Automotive journalists like cars that make them giggle, and don't like cars that make them yawn. Oftentimes, consumers feel the same way, and neither the Chrysler nor the Nissan serve as rolling Sominex the way that this Ford does. - Christian J. Wardlaw
Photos courtesy of Erik Hanson and Ford Motor Company