At the 2004 North American International Auto Show, Ford introduced its new Five Hundred sedan. Mercury launched a closely related Montego sedan a month later at the Chicago Auto Show. Both models are manufactured at a Chicago-area Ford plant.
The Five Hundred has full-size dimensions and is considered Ford's new flagship. In fact, Ford claims to be "redefining the North American sedan" with this four-door, which the company calls "the first crossover-based car." One feature that is similar to "crossover" vehicles and sport utility vehicles is the high seating position. Ford says the Five Hundred rides on an "all-new purpose-built crossover vehicle platform." The new Ford Freestyle wagon is related to the Five Hundred sedan.
Ford promotes the Five Hundred's interior volume and cargo space. Optional safety technology includes side-impact and rollover protection.
Powertrain choices include either an all-new continuously variable transmission (CVT) or a six-speed-automatic transmission. A Duratec 3.0-liter V-6 engine is used in both applications.
Base SE, midrange SEL and upscale Limited trim levels are offered. The Five Hundred may be equipped with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Reacting within 50 milliseconds, the optional all-wheel-drive system can automatically distribute nearly all of the engine's torque to the rear wheels.
Ford promotes the "clean geometric lines and stately proportions" of the Five Hundred sedan. Clear headlights flank a trapezoidal-shaped grille that contains a diamond-mesh pattern. Fog lamps sit below the integrated front bumper.
Built on a 112.9-inch wheelbase, the Five Hundred is 200.7 inches long overall and 61.5 inches tall. It's about 3 inches longer than the Taurus and a foot shorter than the full-size Crown Victoria.
The Five Hundred features a fully independent suspension, and all-wheel-drive models have rear self-leveling. Low-profile windshield wipers use a strip of spring steel to press the rubber blade evenly against the glass. A power moonroof is available. Standard wheels measure 17 inches in diameter, but Limited models get 18-inch tires on eight-spoke alloy wheels.
Five occupants fit inside the Five Hundred and are greeted with a tall, upright seating position that Ford says is comparable to that of SUVs. The SE model has carbon-fiber appliqu�s on the doors and dashboard, while the SEL and Limited use a burled wood pattern. Powered leather seats are optional.
The front-row seats are mounted on a cross-car beam that Ford says strengthens the vehicle structure. The rear seats are slightly elevated to yield a better view and increase foot space. The 60/40-split second-row seat folds down, and a flat-folding front passenger seat is optional.
Dual-zone air conditioning, an electronic message center, a premium sound system, and leather trim on the steering wheel and shifter knob are included in the SEL. Limited models get an Audiophile sound system and leather seating surfaces that are heated in the front..
The front windows offer express up operation. An entry keypad is standard. A storage compartment with a pop-up cover sits at the top of the dashboard. The trunk holds 21 cubic feet of cargo, which Ford claims is 50 percent greater than the capacity of competitive models. It's bigger than the trunk in the Crown Victoria — Ford's full-size sedan.
Under the Hood
A Duratec 3.0-liter V-6 engine produces 203 horsepower and 207 pounds-feet of torque. A CVT is standard on all-wheel-drive models and also comes on select front-drive Five Hundreds. The gearless CVT unit uses two variable-size pulleys, connected by a metal chain, to transfer engine power to the drive wheels. The other available transmission for front-drive models is a six-speed automatic.
All-disc antilock brakes are standard. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags (packaged with a rollover Safety Canopy) and rear parking assist are optional.
Acceleration in a CVT-equipped Five Hundred isn't a strong point, but this sensible sedan performs adequately. Response is a trifle sluggish at start-up, but then speed rises steadily. Some engine noise is evident during hard acceleration.
The Five Hundred is largely similar to Ford's Freestyle wagon, but it's a little quieter. The sedan responds better to bumps and holes than the Freestyle, which means there's less commotion to affect ride comfort. The Five Hundred feels confident and secure. Body lean in curves isn't bad, but it's present.
Backseat riders get plenty of headroom, legroom and foot room on firm but amply cushioned seats. The firm front seats are comfortable.