EXPERT REVIEW

Star-Telegram.com's view

The all-new Five Hundred, one of Ford’s two replacements for the once-popular midsize Taurus sedan, was rolled out last fall as part of Ford’s “Year of the Car.”

A full-size model that falls in size between the Taurus and the Crown Victoria, the Five Hundred is one of the first all-new vehicles to arrive in Ford’s big push back into the car market after years of concentrating on trucks and sport utility vehicles.

During that time, Ford (and Big Three rival General Motors, for that matter) pretty much ceded the car business to the Japanese, losing out in the lucrative midsize sedan market to the likes of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

As for replacing the Taurus, the Five Hundred is part of a two-vehicle strategy that Ford says will “bracket” the Taurus (which is being discontinued this summer, Ford announced recently).

The Five Hundred is on the upper end of the bracket, larger than the Taurus, while the all-new Fusion, coming this fall as a 2006 model, will be slightly smaller than the Taurus.

The reason Ford didn’t design just one new midsize car to replace the Taurus is that the company borrowed the architecture for both of these new sedans from two of its subsidiaries/partners, probably because those partners know how to design and engineer cars better than Ford does, and because adapting existing vehicle platforms to make new vehicles is much cheaper than starting from scratch.

The Five Hundred is based on the chassis of the very nice Volvo S80 luxury sedan, while the Fusion will be based on the chassis of the Mazda6 sedan. Ford owns the Swedish automaker Volvo outright, and has controlling interest in the Japanese automaker Mazda.

The Fusion will be just one of several new products that Ford and its subsidiaries/partners will be developing from the Mazda6 chassis; Mercury will get one of those, known as the Milan, about the same time Ford dealers get the Fusion.

Mercury already has a clone of the Five Hundred — known as the Montego. In the Mercury lineup, the Montego and the new Milan will bracket the departing Sable in the same way the Five Hundred and Fusion will with the Taurus (the Sable is a near clone of the Taurus).

The Five Hundred and Montego are designed for consumers who want something a bit more modern and upscale — not to mention larger — than the Taurus/Sable, yet not as large and stodgy as the Crown Vic and its clone, the Mercury Grand Marquis.

At first glance, the Five Hundred and Montego look like slightly smaller versions of the Crown Vic/Grand Marquis.

These new sedans have a nice appearance, but nothing cutting edge, for sure. To their credit, these cars aren’t quite as bland as the generically styled Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, either. Ford avoided going with radical styling, though, probably because of its negative experience with the radical redesign of the Taurus/Sable in 1996.

The design turned off a lot of Ford’s then-current Taurus/Sable owners, who apparently were not ready for a drastic new look for their family sedan. Taurus and Sable customers have tended to be older, empty-nest consumers whose tastes are far from extreme. Within a couple of years, the cars had been toned down, but they never recovered from the slump in sales that occurred after the redesign.

But despite its rather conservative appearance, the Five Hundred doesn’t handle like a stodgy Taurus or Crown Vic. There is nothing bland about the car’s performance and handling. On twisty roads, the car handles like a sport sedan or coupe, quite surprising for a car whose back seat offers more passenger room than a new Rolls-Royce.

As with my earlier test of the Montego, after just a few hours with the Five Hundred, the styling seemed less bland — probably because it was hard to believe there could be anything bland about a family sedan that handles this well.

Our test car for this report was the midlevel SEL front-drive model (base price $24,145 plus $650 freight), The least-expensive model is the SE, with a base price of $22,795 (including freight) for a front-wheel-drive model, while the all-wheel-drive version’s base price is $24,495. That compares with a base price of just under $20,000 for the 2005 Taurus, but it’s hard to compare these cars — the Five Hundred is just so far ahead of the Taurus.

As for the Five Hundred, even at the base price it comes with a long list of standard equipment, including “Command Seating” for the driver and front-seat passenger, which means the seating positions are roughly four inches higher than in a conventional sedan for a better view of the road, yet five inches lower than a midsize SUV such as the Ford Explorer for easier entry and exit, Ford says.

Ford says the Five Hundred has “best-in-class” rear headroom and legroom, plus the largest trunk in any sedan.

Under the hood is a 3.0-liter V-6 engine, connected to a six-speed automatic transmission on most front-drive models, or a continuously-variable transmission on all-wheel-drive and some front-drive models.

Other standard features include four-wheel antilock disc brakes; 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels with all-season tires; AM/FM stereo with single CD player; power door locks with remote keyless entry and door-mounted keyless entry key pad; power windows with driver’s door one-touch up/down; and five-passenger seating with a six-way power driver’s seat with manual lumbar adjustment.

The upgrade to the SEL adds dual-zone automatic climate control, six-disc CD changer with MP3 capability, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and a fold-flat front passenger seat with two-way power adjustment.

Top of the line is the Limited, with standard 18-inch wheels and Pirelli P6 tires, an audiophile sound system with subwoofer, and leather seating surfaces with heated front seats. It begins at $26,795.

Options offered on all models include all-wheel drive ($1,700) and side-curtain air bags with rollover protection ($595-$795, depending on model). If you opt for all-wheel drive, you’ll get the continuously variable automatic transmission, rather than the conventional six-speed. No manual gearbox is offered in either model, at least for now.

The interior has 107.5 cubic feet of passenger space, which is huge — especially when you consider that the exterior of the car is almost the same size as most of the popular midsize sedans. This is a case where Ford designers, using the Volvo platform, were able to optimize interior space without a correspondingly large increase in exterior dimensions.

The Five Hundred is 200.9 inches long, with a wheelbase of 112.9 inches. It stands 61.5 inches tall, and is 74.5 inches wide.

The trunk is cavernous, with a whopping 21.2 cubic feet of space. With the rear seat folded (it’s a 60-40 split) and the front passenger seat also folded to increase cargo space, an eight-foot ladder can be carried inside the car with the trunk lid closed. You’d have to leave your passengers at home to do so, though.

The 3.0-liter V-6 engine — the only one offered on the Five Hundred or Montego for now — cranks out 203 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque.

Steering is a precise power rack-and-pinion setup, and the brakes are impressive four-wheel discs with antilock and electronic brake-force distribution standard.

Extras included on our SEL model were a safety package ($595), which added driver and front-passenger side air bags, as well as side-curtain air bags for front and rear; a reverse-sensing system to warn of objects in the vehicle’s path while backing up ($250); and leather seats ($895).

Total sticker on our test car was $26,535, including freight.

Because the Five Hundred’s chassis and body structure are borrowed from the S80, the car comes with the same crash-safety engineering features found on the Volvo, which have made that car one of the safest on the road.

Fuel economy ratings for our test car, with front drive and the six-speed transmission, were 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, impressive for a car this large. With all-wheel drive and the continuously variable transmission, those ratings are 19 mpg city/26 highway.

The tank holds 19 gallons of fuel, and unleaded regular is acceptable.

G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; chambers@star-telegram.com.

————–

At a Glance – 2005 Ford Five Hundred

The package: Full-size, four-door, five-passenger, front- or all-wheel-drive, V-6 powered sedan.

Highlights: All new for 2005, this is the new large sedan from Ford Motor Co. It’s also sold as the Mercury Montego. Derived from the chassis of the luxury Volvo S80, the Montego/Five Hundred offer a roomy interior, a host of regular and optional features, and a cavernous trunk.

Negatives: No engine upgrade available for sportier performance.

Engine: 3.0-liter V-6.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic standard on most front-drive models; continuously variable automatic standard on all-wheel-drive versions and some front-drive models.

Power/torque: 203 hp./207 foot-pounds.

Length: 200.9 inches.

Curb weight: 3,680 (front drive); 3,930 (all-wheel drive).

Trunk capacity: 21.2 cubic feet.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock and electronic brake-force distribution standard.

Fuel capacity/type: 19.0 gallons/unleaded regular.

EPA fuel economy: 21 miles per gallon city/29 highway (front drive); 19 city/26 highway (all-wheel drive).

Major competitors: Toyota Avalon, Buick LeSabre, Pontiac Grand Prix, Chrysler 300, Chevrolet Impala, Hyundai XG350, Kia Amanti.

Base price range: $22,145-$26,080 (plus $650 freight).

Price as tested: $26,535 (SEL front-drive model, including freight and options).

On the Road rating: ***** (five stars out of five).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail. Actual selling price may vary according to manufacturer and/or dealer rebates, incentives and discounts, if any.

Latest news

nissan-z-2023-02-exterior-dynamic-rear-red
2023 Nissan Z Starts at $41,015, Undercuts Toyota Supra
nissan-z-2023-03-exterior-blue-front-angle
2023 Nissan Z Review: Relatively Affordable, Lots of Fun
202205-cpo-basics
The Basics of Buying a CPO Vehicle