Ford calls the Freestyle a crossover model because it blends the merits of a sport utility vehicle, a minivan and a sedan. Built on a unique platform, the "purpose-built" Freestyle can be equipped with front- or all-wheel drive. Its 3.0-liter V-6 engine drives a continuously variable transmission.
Ford notes that the overall design is "more sculpted than chiseled, more capable than rugged," so the Freestyle is "definitely not a minivan." To head off such comparisons, Ford points out the Freestyle's long hood, high belt line and flared wheel arches.
Like the related Five Hundred sedan, the Freestyle has midsize dimensions that approach full-size. It comes in base SE, midrange SEL and top-level Limited trim levels. A navigation system is available in 2006 models.
Designers intended to evoke the aura of Ford SUVs, starting with the wagon's trapezoidal mesh grille. 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 200.7 inches long overall. SE and SEL models ride on 17-inch aluminum wheels, and the Limited gets 18-inch wheels. Limited models have a monochromatic exterior. All Freestyles have a fully independent suspension.
Three rows of seats hold six or seven occupants. Ford says upright "command" seating eases entry and exit and produces maximum visibility. The third-row seat folds flat into the floor. Either reclining and sliding bucket seats or a 60/40-split, folding bench can be installed in the second row.
A dashboard-mounted grab handle for the front passenger adds SUV style to the Freestyle. A covered storage bin sits atop the dashboard. The gearshift lever is mounted on the console.
A six-CD changer and leather-wrapped steering wheel go into the SEL. The Limited gets heated front seats, an Audiophile sound system and perforated leather seating surfaces.
With all the seats folded — including the front-passenger seat — the Freestyle offers more than 9.5 feet of pass-thru storage. Cargo space totals 21.2 cubic feet behind the third-row seat.
Under the Hood
Ford's Duratec 3.0-liter V-6 produces 203 horsepower and 207 pounds-feet of torque. A CVT is standard. Operating without any gears, the CVT unit uses two variable-size pulleys, connected by a chain, to transfer engine power to the drive wheels. The Freestyle can be equipped with front- or all-wheel drive.
All-disc antilock brakes are standard. Ford's optional Safety Canopy side curtain-type airbag system provides head protection in all three rows.
Ford's V-6 and CVT work beautifully to deliver eager acceleration with utter smoothness. Overall performance might trail vehicles with a conventional automatic transmission, but the Freestyle passes and merges with quick responses.
Ride comfort is generally good, though it's closer to that of an SUV than a traditional wagon. Handling is ordinary but satisfactory.
The wide console creates a slightly tight feeling in an otherwise ample front seat. Second-row space — even in the center position — is snug but satisfying. Reaching the third row is more of a battle.
Visibility is good despite thick rear pillars, and the controls are conveniently positioned. 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 rows of seats fold down easily.