You can bet that a few years ago in the design studios of Chrysler and Ford, the 300 was seen as a big risk and the Five Hundred was seen as a safe bet. Ironically, at this point in the American market, fielding a blandly styled vehicle is actually riskier than taking a stand. A J.D. Power and Associates report last year revealed that polarizing car designs sell better than those that evoke no strong emotion in either direction.
Perhaps the Five Hundred's assets will become apparent as furor over the 300 dies down. The Five Hundred is roughly as roomy inside as the 300 and roomier than the Ford Crown Victoria despite being smaller from bumper to bumper.
|Exterior Specifications Compared|
|Chrysler 300||Ford Five Hundred||Ford Crown Victoria|
|Curb Weight (lbs.)||3,700||3,643||4,057|
|Steering Diameter (ft.)||38.9||40.0||40.3|
The Five Hundred has pleasant ride quality and competent handling. The car's platform is derived from that of Volvo's S80 sedan. Overall I'd say the Five Hundred's ride is similar perhaps softer than one finds in European cars but nowhere near the mush we've come to expect from American road barges. The steering improves upon the current S80's numb, somewhat heavy steering.
Models equipped with the optional all-wheel drive include automatic leveling that employs self-leveling rear shock absorbers, which are similar to air shocks but don't require a compressor. When the rear end is loaded and sits too low, the shocks restore the correct level when they rebound after absorbing bumps in the road.
Have you ever climbed into a subcompact car, something like the Chevrolet Aveo, and been surprised by how roomy it is inside? If so, imagine attaching an air hose to it and pumping it up a couple of size classes and you have the Five Hundred. The interior volume is far superior to the current Ford Crown Victoria, which makes up most of the police cruisers and taxicabs in the country. The Five Hundred provides a compromise between cars and sport utility vehicles by locating the front seat cushion 4 inches higher than that of the average midsize sedan. The height improves legroom in addition to the driver's vantage point. The backseat legroom is heroic.
Ford has delivered on its promise of higher-quality interiors. Both the design and the materials quality in the Five Hundred are impressive.
Unfortunately, our preferred resource, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, hasn't crash-tested the Five Hundred at the time of this review. It scored a quadruple-five-star rating in the government tests, which are less reliable (learn why in the Guide to Interpreting Crash Tests). Side-impact and side curtain-type airbags are optional and include the Safety Canopy feature, whereby the curtains deploy in the event of a rollover.
As of its intro, the Five Hundred comes with one engine, the 3.0-liter Duratec V-6, which is rated as follows.
|Duratec 3.0-liter V-6|
|Horsepower||203 @ 5,750 rpm|
|Torque (lbs.-ft.)||207 @ 4,500 rpm|
|Required Gasoline||regular unleaded (87 octane)|
The standard transmission is a continuously variable type in its first mass-market application. Ford also offers a conventional six-speed automatic on the front-wheel-drive versions of the SEL and Limited, the higher two trim levels. I drove the CVT-equipped all-wheel-drive Five Hundred SEL.
Close behind consumers' styling complaint is one about power. Some say the Five Hundred is underpowered, a term that is too carelessly thrown around. I'd categorize it as modestly powered. The CVT behaves differently than do conventional step-gear transmissions, with a slower launch as the CVT adjusts to maximize acceleration. Many conventional automatics introduce delays of their own in the form of hunting and/or kickdown lag it just happens at a different time. For a new technology, the CVT is capable and has logged few complaints.
All the same, if I were to load up an all-wheel-drive model with people and cargo and then take to the hills, I suspect I'd find the power lacking as well. The Chrysler 300 with a 3.5-liter V-6 has more guts, and the 300C with its 5.7-liter V-8 is in another league. I'm often asked if Ford will offer a V-8 in the future. The company doesn't discuss such plans, but I'll be very, very surprised if a V-8 doesn't come along within the next year or so.
I think all-wheel drive is being overhyped and oversold these days in part because rear-wheel drive better justifies it. In most urban and suburban areas that have decent snow removal, front-drive cars like the Five Hundred should be just fine, especially when equipped with standard traction control and ABS. That said, if you intend to resell your car in a region where four-wheel drive is valued (rightly or wrongly), you might be better off shelling out the extra cash now for the feature that the next buyer thinks he needs.
Unfortunately, Ford doesn't offer an electronic stability system at this time.
It's not notable for a large car to have a large trunk, but the fact that the Five Hundred's 21-cubic-foot trunk joins a commodious cabin in such a compact shell that's notable. Ford conservatively claims the Five Hundred's trunk can hold eight full-size golf bags. Also of note is the split, folding backseat, a feature that remains rare in full-size cars. One drawback to the car's front-drive layout is a towing capacity of 1,000 pounds. The Chrysler 300 can hack 2,000 pounds.
Let the Five Hundred's slow start work to your advantage: Ford has been offering zero-percent financing to some buyers, and factory-to-dealer incentives also have been available at times during the year. Check our Incentives before you buy.
I believe that if the Five Hundred were more interesting looking, it would be a hit. Currently it's a lot like a minivan: roomy and both space and fuel efficient, but not compelling to look at. It's possible that, in time, this model will attract similar buyers practical people who don't feel their image is tied to their car.
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