Ford Freestar -- 2004 Review: Though growth in the minivan market has stagnated in recent years, stalling at about one million vehicle sales annually, competition within the segment has been intense since the release of the 1999 Honda Odyssey, which redefined what a minivan should be. Since then, domestic automakers have steadily lost sales against Asian models from Honda, Kia, Mazda and Toyota. In fact, Honda went from almost zero to more than 150,000 unit sales in just a few short years. Kia and Mazda have each found moderate success with the Sedona and MPV. And for 2004, Nissan and Toyota have debuted new versions of the Quest and Sienna that are further eroding Chrysler, Ford and GM market share.
Same van, different name
How has Ford chosen to meet this challenge? Witness the 2004 Freestar, a significantly upgraded and updated version of the outgoing Windstar (itself a significantly upgraded and updated version of the original 1995 model).
Ford hopes that an alliterative naming strategy, among other changes, will boost the blue oval back into the hunt for minivan supremacy. The company knows that it takes more than fresh styling, a new interior, and a big motor to entice minivan buyers into the showroom. More than ever before, safety and utility determine what minivan sells the most, and Ford intended to prove that it’s got what it takes with the 2004 Freestar.
Ford has seemingly made every safety device it has ever created available on the 2004 Freestar. The standard Personal Safety System includes smart dual-stage airbags for the driver and front passenger that deploy based on factors such as crash severity, driver seat position, the existence and size of the front passenger, and seatbelt usage. Each of the Ford Freestar’s seven seating positions is equipped with a three-point seatbelt, and four-wheel-vented-disc brakes with ABS and EBD are included on all models.
Optional safety equipment includes Ford’s patented Safety Canopy side curtain airbag and rollover protection system. With the Safety Canopy, passengers in all three rows are protected, and the bags can remain inflated for up to six seconds to guard against injury in a rollover accident. Side-impact airbags designed to protect the chest are also optional. Additionally, Ford is making AdvanceTrac stability and traction control available on the 2004 Freestar, and when the system is ordered the brakes receive a panic assist feature. Other safety options include a reverse sensing system, adjustable pedals, and side signal mirrors.
Other safety items of note include a new fail-safe engine cooling system that allows the engine to run for a short time in the event of a complete loss of coolant, meaning the driver could limp the Ford Freestar to a service station rather than stop at the side of a busy highway. Self-sealing tires prove impervious to minor punctures, and in the event of a flat tire, Ford offers a full-diameter, radial temporary spare tire that can withstand higher speeds and longer trips than a conventional temporary donut. A full-size spare tire is available.
No longer the crash test king
With stiffened front structural rails, the 2004 Ford Freestar was designed to exceed the Windstar’s already competent performance in crash tests. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Freestar, and it’s corporate twin the 2004 Mercury Monterey, a “Best Pick” rating for safety. The only minivan to rate better than the Freestar is the Toyota Sienna. In National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) testing, the 2004 Freestar receives five-star ratings for all crash tests except the front door side impact event, for which the Freestar scored four stars. Unfortunately for Ford, the Honda Odyssey with side airbags, the Kia Sedona, the Mazda MPV, the Nissan Quest with side airbags and the Toyota Sienna all received five-star ratings across the board.