Ford calls the Freestyle a "crossover" model, noting that it blends the merits of a sport utility vehicle, a minivan and a sedan. As a result, the seven-passenger Freestyle "fits every lifestyle," according to Ford.
The automaker says the Freestyle is "purpose-built" on a unique crossover platform rather than derived from another body style. It may be equipped with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Its 3.0-liter V-6 engine drives a new continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Ford notes that the overall design is "more sculpted than chiseled, more capable than rugged," so the Freestyle is "definitely not a minivan." Like other manufacturers these days, Ford appears to be shunning any suggestions that a new model might resemble a minivan due to the tame image associated with that body style. Instead, Ford points out the Freestyle's long hood, high belt line, large wheels and tires, flared wheel arches and large side mirrors.
Like the new and related Ford Five Hundred sedan, the Freestyle has midsize dimensions. It comes in base SE, midrange SEL and top-level Limited trim levels. An optional safety package includes seat-mounted side-impact airbags and a three-row Safety Canopy side curtain-type airbag system. Sales began in early fall 2004.
The Freestyle's designers intended to evoke the aura of Ford SUVs, starting with the wagon's trapezoidal-shaped mesh grille. Ford says the lower fascia is suggestive of a grille guard. The rear features a split hatch and step bumper.
Fog lamps and body-colored door handles are included on the SEL and Limited. Built on a 112.9-inch wheelbase, the Freestyle is 199.8 inches long overall and 68.2 inches tall. The roof rack offers tie-down points for bulky cargo. The SE and SEL models ride on 17-inch aluminum wheels, and the Limited gets 18-inch wheels. Limited models have a monochromatic exterior. All Freestyle wagons have a fully independent suspension.
The Freestyle's three rows of seats provide space for six or seven occupants. Ford says upright "command" seating eases entry and exit and produces maximum visibility as well as long-range comfort. The third-row seat folds flat into the floor.
Ford says that dozens of seating configurations to suit varying numbers of passengers and quantities of cargo are available. Either reclining and sliding captain's chairs or a 60/40-split, folding seat may be installed in the second row. A raised "greenhouse" above the third row helps increase passenger space.
A dashboard-mounted grab handle for the front passenger adds SUV style to the Freestyle's interior. Ford says the air registers in the center stack recall those of the Ford Expedition SUV. A covered storage bin sits at the top of the dashboard. The gearshift lever is mounted on the center console, which has dual cupholders and a storage bin. Fabric upholstery is standard. Leather upholstery and an overhead console are optional.
Dual-zone air conditioning, an electronic message center, premium sound, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob go into the SEL. The Limited gets heated mirrors and front seats, an Audiophile sound system and perforated leather seats.
With all the seats folded, including the front passenger seat, the Freestyle offers more than 9.5 feet of pass-thru storage space. Cargo space behind the third-row seat totals 15.8 cubic feet.
Ford's Duratec 3.0-liter V-6 engine produces 203 horsepower and 207 pounds-feet of torque. A CVT is standard. Operating automatically without any gears, the CVT unit uses two variable-size pulleys, connected by a metal chain, to transfer engine power to the drive wheels. The Freestyle may be equipped with front- or all-wheel drive.
All-disc antilock brakes are standard. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags and Ford's Safety Canopy system, which provides head protection for passengers in all three rows of seats, are offered as part of an option package.
Ford's 3.0-liter V-6 and CVT work beautifully and deliver eager acceleration from a standstill with utter smoothness. Overall performance might fall short of vehicles with a conventional automatic transmission, but the Freestyle passes and merges with quick responses.
Ride comfort is generally good even if it's closer to the characteristics of an SUV than a sedan or traditional wagon. Handling is ordinary but satisfactory.
The wide console creates a slightly tight feeling in an otherwise ample front seat. A big grab rail sits ahead of the front passenger. Second-row space is snug but satisfying even in the center; the Freestyle has a modest floor hump. Reaching the third row is more of a battle.
Visibility is good all around but the vehicle has thick rear pillars. The controls are solid and well-placed. The easy-to-read gauges are green-lit at night and ordinary in size and appearance. Facing a very low cowl, the driver gets the sensation of sitting high off the ground. Cargo space behind the third-row seat is modest, but both the second- and third-row seats fold down easily.