By on August 16, 2010

As Arthur Dent once said, “I seem to be having this tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle.” Unless something bizarre happens at the dealership where it is being Audi CPO Certified, my infamous Lime Green S5 is sold as of last week. This means that I am down to — ugh! — Porsches for transportation. My 944 is locked in a garage and requires heroic measures to start. My 993 has rear tires so bald the tread pattern isn’t even visible any more, and the new Goodyears seem long in arriving. My Boxster seats two.

Therefore, when I had the chance to squire a couple of female friends around an amusement park this past weekend, I found myself unable to offer them a ride in any of my whips, yo. “Not a problem,” the younger one said, “we can take my Ford. It has 116,000 miles but it runs great.” Beggars can’t be choosers, so I agreed. Imagine my surprise when she arrived in said high-mile Blue Oval… and it’s a four-year-old Five Hundred! With the oft-derided CVT! “You’re the race driver,” she said, “so you have to drive.” Off we go!

I believe I’ve already stated my preference for the 3.5 Duratec/six-speed auto combination found in the facelifted “Taurus” variant of this car, but the earlier “Five Hundred” has a few things going for it on the used-car market. To begin with, it’s inoffensively stylish from all angles, hiding its considerable size and unusual proportions behind Passat-plus lines.

Some would disagree, but to my eyes the mid-cycle refresh to the Taurus badge was pretty much all bad news from an aesthetic standpoint. I also think, although I can’t prove it, that Ford cut a little cost out of the plastics in the later cars. The seats in the Five Hundred SEL I drove also seem comfier than the seats in the later Sable, an opinion shared by the other passenger in the car who had also been to New York with me in said Sable a few months ago.

Once you understand that it’s a CVT-equipped car, you can take advantage of that and simply hold throttle position to accelerate. The transmission will ratio-change you up the speedo at a leisurely pace while the rev counter sits unmoving at the 2K mark. This isn’t a particularly quiet car on the freeway mechanically but there’s almost no aero noise and the ride is top-notch. This is one of the most spacious family cars money can buy. The trunk swallowed everybody’s luggage and enough vodka to supply a company of Russian infantry.

It had never occurred to me that the Ford CVT could possibly last over 100K miles but a brief read of the owner forums confirms that honoring the 60K fluid change interval results in a very bulletproof driveline. Nor did the rest of the car betray the mileage; from the lightly worn seats and leather steering wheel to the alert way the Five Hundred tracked down two-lane roads, this felt like a nearly new vehicle. Only the paint, which had been nicked, dinged, scratched, and scuffed dozens of times across every panel, betrayed hard usage.

This being a pre-2008 model, there was no evidence of Ford’s current mastery of automotive info-entertain-omatics. A small two-line green LED display between the speedo and tach informed me that we were averaging twenty-seven miles per gallon during the trip, but if any of us had been seized by the desire to listen to an iPod, it would have been necessary to don headphones.

I noticed that the left pedal was a little soft, and I know from experience that D3-platform Fords simply munch brakes. If you can get 30,000 miles out of a set of front or rear pads on a Five Hundred, Freestyle, or Flex, you must be following the Neon racer’s philosophy of using any available Miata bumper ahead of you to slow the car. Oh well. If you want a car that doesn’t consume its consumables, buy an Accord. I hear you don’t even need to put gas in them.

Fifty miles out of sunny Powell, Ohio, we ran across a monster of a summer thunderstorm, blowing hard enough to make U-Haul drivers pull over and raining with such fury that traffic slowed to forty miles per hour. The big Ford required no such candy-assedness and I found myself slaloming through hazard-flashing Camrys and Grand Cherokees at a pretty good clip. Steering feel was perfectly acceptable. The Five Hundred could use a little more roll stiffness but it’s miles better than any Panther-platform car at maintaining foul-weather stability.

The rain never truly let up, which meant that we had to wait until the next morning to express our inner children at the amusement park. One of the perks of having a horribly scarred leg is that the kids working the rides won’t push the bar down on me, especially when I feign massive agony from their attempts to do so. I’m then free to leave the restraints loose and stand up on the Diamondback as it reaches eighty miles per hour down the hill. Top-notch fun.

Sunday afternoon and we are rolling along Interstate 71. “How do you like my Ford?” the owner asks. I think it’s a wonderful car, particularly for the ten grand or so these things fetch on eBay, and I’m pleased to communicate that opinion. Girl #2 is even more forthright. “This thing is soooooo much better than the Porsches, it’s even comfier than the Audi. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the Porsches are super-cute, but I really wish you had something like this too.”

I’d have been miffed at this had I not been already thinking along the same lines. They don’t know it, but I’ve just struck a couple of deals to put not one, but two authentic slices of full-size American iron in the driveway. I’ve looked at a lot of potential replacements for my S5, from the CTS-V Sportwagon to the Chrysler 300C SRT-8, but I think my next ride has a Blue Oval on it. Well, it has a Blue Oval in the engine bay, anyway.

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66 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2006 Ford Five Hundred SEL CVT...”

  • avatar

    My 944 is locked in a garage and requires heroic measures to start. My 993 has rear tires so bald the tread pattern isn’t even visible any more, and the new Goodyears seem long in arriving. My Boxster seats two.

    That’s a tough break. I know it’s embarrassing, but have you considered public assistance? There comes a point where you have to put pride aside and let others help.

    • 0 avatar

      That gave me a “Big-Ass Grin”.

    • 0 avatar

      Visit Rennlist and post what problems you are having with the 944. There the board can probably help address the issues you are having. My mechanic is very active on there and can help pinpoint issues pretty quickly.

    • 0 avatar

      The 944 isn’t exactly a people hauler anyway; I remember riding in the back of one when I was 7, and it was a tight fit. Unless Mr. Baruth’s second lady friend was either very small or very limber, I don’t think that would have worked out.

    • 0 avatar

      The 944 isn’t a people hauler? You’ve got a gift for understatement. I’m still looking forward to the day I can wedge my sister-in-law into the back seat of my 924S, just to drive home exactly how much I despise her.

  • avatar

    What i belive is Once you understand that it’s a CVT-equipped car, you can take advantage of that and simply hold throttle position to accelerate.

  • avatar

    The space in a 500/Taurus is incredible. As a transportation pod, they’re pretty sweet, especially used, where they’re cheap as dirt.

    Next car: Could it be an XJ8?

    • 0 avatar

      I bet it’ll be a Town Car. Not a bad choice IMO. They are the last of a long and proud American breed. Sad to see them go. Wish they could have benefited from some R&D and kept around for another decade. So long Panther, tell Elvis we said hi!

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on the Town Car bet.

      Although a 300C SRT8 or a Challenger SRT8 would be nicer.

      And considering those things gotta HEMI…

    • 0 avatar

      If he sold an S5, I’m going to bet he’s not getting something like a Town Car.

      If he likes this platform, I’m betting it’s an EcoBoost MKS. Probably not in lime green though.

      Heck, the ad is on the top right of this post (at least for me).

  • avatar

    In my first ad hominem comment on the interwebs ever…

    Powell, OH? Douchebag.

    I enjoy your posts, although now I won’t have the ability to not picture any of your cars accept waiting to make a left into Panera, or on I-270.

    The entire Dublin through New Albany north of 270 swath needs a good carpet bombing to solve the worst case of urban non-planing, non-cooperating local government induced sprawl, masquerading as respectability in the northeast.

    At least it isn’t Tartan Fields.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I know what you mean. For what it’s worth, I don’t live in Golf Village or anything ridiculous like that. I have a crappy little house on the cheap side of the railroad tracks.

      If somebody would fly a B-29 bomber over Tartan Fields I’d pull the switch to drop Little Boy on it.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Dublin, Powell, etc. just look like the higher income suburbs that develop at the edge of any city to me. Not a big fan of the slow speed limits in Shawnee Hills and insufficient lanes vs. population in some areas like OH-315 and OH-750, but it should be possible to fix with earth moving equipment and concrete.

      Regarding the Ford 500, I preferred the 500 name and styling and wish Ford had just put a larger V6 and conventional automatic in it. Never understood the attraction of changing the name to Taurus and adding chrome to the front.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree with that! I avoid that northern I-270 area like a zombie plague is loose there. I have to slog downtown C’bus and it’s not near as bad.

  • avatar

    $9,495 @ Little Charlie’s w/ 105k on the clock:

    • 0 avatar

      Good to see that Little Charlie’s web site adheres to the prime directive of car sales web sites: Provide only tiny photos, and make sure that it’s as infuriating as possible to look at the one you want to.

      In this case, the only way to look at different ones is to click through – and when you get to the one you want, it switches to another one within a few seconds anyway. Brilliant!

      Worst part: It’s by far not that bad compared to some other ones I saw in my search for my Saab 9-5.

      Baruth – that’s what you need. An ’05ish Saab 9-5 Aero. Hauls people in comfort, spacious, reasonably quick, amazing sound system, and you can get one loaded to the gills with half the miles and a CPO for less than that 500. They were pretty reliable by the time ’05 rolled around, and as someone who owned two Phaetons it’s obvious you can deal with unreliability anyway.

      You would have to get beyond the hard plastic b-pillars, though.

    • 0 avatar

      @ Perisoft: The B-pillar plastics really bug me on the 2005 9-5 Arc wagon my parents have. Beyond that, it’s a fantastic car. I’d recommend one any day of the week. Perhaps, however, Mr. Baruth might be a better candidate to buy the new 2010/11 9-5 Aero, with the 2.8t and XWD?

    • 0 avatar


      What exactly is XWD? I know 4WD, 4×2, 4×4, FWD and RWD, but I’ve never heard of XWD (if this even has to do with the driven wheels). The only thing I think of is that one wheel at the front is driven and one and the back is driven diagonally, but I know that can’t be right because it would make handling tricky and be difficult to maintain.


    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      XWD = fancy-pants name for a torque-vectoring differential. Compare to Acura SH-AWD.

  • avatar

    When I needed to get a second car that my girlfriend could drive, I checked out a Ford 500. I HATED IT.

    #1 it looks like a cop car. Everything ford makes looks like a cop car…too blocky.

    #2 the center console takes away my knee space and the steering wheel doesn’t come forward enough.

    I ended up getting a Chrysler 300 instead. FAR BETTER CAR FOR THE SAME MONEY.

  • avatar

    Why so much vodka?, isn’t Ron (the real Venezuelan one, that’s aged 2 years, caramel color, not that transparent stuff) available there?

    If you can find it over there, try Ron Antiguo de Solera. This one is a mix of very old rum

    raining with such fury that traffic slowed to forty miles per hour

    Standard fare of rainy season down here. Sometimes is so hard, you can’t see the car in front of you at about 50 mts, at which point everyone in the highway goes at 40 km/h.

  • avatar

    You didn’t think the extra hour or so was worth it to drive up to Cedar Point? I mean, just for the views it’s better. Atop the Mean Streak or Millennium Force you can see for miles out over Lake Erie. I mean, KI has always played second fiddle to CP.

    Back to cars; I’m quite happy with my P2 platform XC70. Wikipedia only makes mention of material differences (swap steel for Aluminum) to make the jump from P2 to D3. Can you (or any of the B&B) call out any other differences (or even similarities) between my AWD XC70 and an AWD 500/Montego? (body panels asside).

    Thinking about my own question I wonder why they didn’t make a D3 wagon 500/Taurus if the platform is so similar. Or maybe not, I’m the exception when it comes to buying a wagon. The market’s just not there.

    • 0 avatar

      They did — Freestyle.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I completely agree, but when two women ask me to go somewhere I don’t argue the finer points of amusement-park superiority. I’m trying to get them to go to Holiday World next time, which is the ne plus ultra of parks in my opinion.

    • 0 avatar

      Jack …. From someone that lives in the Holiday World area , you will enjoy the park , one of the best there is . Also if you have the time try out , another nice spot you might enjoy .And if your in the mood to gamble there is the French Lick Casino right up the road from it , but watch your need for speed . There is a state boy with a Mustang that runs that area and loves a speeding target !

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Taurus Wagon? Explorer

  • avatar

    Ever since about half-way through the 500’s run I’ve wanted to get one, and rip out the entire driveline and cram a 302 stroker under the hood. If you’re going to call a car The 500, it should have that much usable HP, minimum.

    Of course this is just one of those ideas that are contingent upon having the money and time to pull it off, which sadly, I don’t and won’t, for awhile.

  • avatar

    I’ve always had a warm place in my heart for the Ford 500. After some initial stumbles it turned out to be a great car. I have some concerns with the CVT, but later ones seem to do pretty good…at least anecdotally. If I was shopping for a large 4 door this car would be on my short list, though I must admit, I’d look for one with a few less miles….like, say, 50-60K. While U.S. cars have gotten better, the reliability delta between them and the Japanese, really starts to show up in the second 100K.

    • 0 avatar

      Over 150 Five Hundred and Freestyle owners have been participating in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. Though Jack doesn’t seem to realize it, the FWD SEL and Limited had a six-speed Aisin automatic. So I assume that the car he drove was either an SE rather than an SEL or AWD.

      So we probably have about 100 owners with the CVT. Among these cars we’ve had a couple reports of leaks and one replacement of the mechatronic control module. There have been zero reported failures for the CVT itself.

      Now, even the 2005s only average 62,500 miles so far. The real question is what happens after 100k.

      Details here:

  • avatar

    I test drove one of these when they first came out, complete with CVT and 3.0L. Even with the CVT constantly buzzing like a muffled alarm clock, the 500 felt completely gutless. In a straight line I got the impression it mgiht able to give a Toyota Echo a run for its money. However, if the echohad a stick, my money would be on the car with an engine twice as small.

    The worst thing about the 500 was trying to speed up to pass someone on the highway. I told the dealer who was along for the test drive that I was going to go WOT on the highway to see what kind of passing power this car had. I just remember slamming the gas down and ever so slowly creeping up from 65-80. It felt like a heroic effort for the hamstrung Duratec and entirely unrewarding at the same time. The steering felt completely detached and sucked the joy out of taking on and off ramps at any tire squealing speed.

  • avatar

    I tested and “reviewed” the Five-Hundred (shameless plug: I thought it was a marvellous car, and a great used buy. I was reviewing it with the student buyer in mind but the level of comfort and space for the dollar was undeniable. Plus, these things came with AWD, and are great in the snow (my friend’s brother tried one out on an no-winter-maintenced road. I couldn’t believe how confident and secure it felt on the road, with surprisingly good handling attributes.

    The example I found was a super clean, Limited AWD with about 118,000kms on it for $8,800 CAD. I would have purchased it for myself but I just didn’t need the space, and my import-friendly family would not have approved.

  • avatar

    RF’s original 500 review contained one of my favorite TTAC quotes of all time:

    “Like the themed restaurants in front of which it will inevitably park, the Five-Hundred is a blatant attempt to appeal to the lowest-common denominator, blueprinted to offend as few as possible.”

  • avatar

    The headlamps appear large enough for a bombardier to poke his head in and take aim at targets below.

    Might be a nifty way to entertain kidlings when traveling.

    Pardon any PC slips, herd.

    I entered the world less than a decade after the end of WW2 and that little affair still had a fairly large effect upon society at that time.

  • avatar

    The 500 I rented from Avis 3 years ago could not break the tires loose. On gravel. True story, the thing practically woofed.

  • avatar

    “Oh well. If you want a car that doesn’t consume its consumables, buy an Accord.”

    Pfft… my 2004 Accord ate brakes like crazy. Honda has notoriously weak brakes.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s odd. My ’04 Accord didn’t need new front pads until a year ago at 65K miles. And the drums in the rear look like they are good to go until 200K.

    • 0 avatar

      We’re a very low-use brake family:

      2000 Civic EX std (DC): 72k and no brakes.
      2000 Civic EX (II) std (Boston): 68.2k and no brakes.
      2006 TSX auto: 36k and no brakes.

      My folks’:
      1998 Accord LX auto (upstate NY): 87k front brakes – rears were fine when they junked the car two years ago at 145k.

      2002 CR-V EX auto (upstate NY): first front 45k; second front 88k; third front 132k; rears fine at 132k after one change at 88k, though they’ve always been a bit noisy. To my folks, brakes “every” 40k is horrid, despite living in the mountains. ;)

  • avatar

    I agree with Jack that the pre-2008 Five Hundred is much better looking than the ’08-’09 Taurus. That silly grille just doesn’t do anything to the car at all. (That said, the Sable was an improvement over the Montego, methinks.) I always liked these cars, in spite of all their blandness. After being in both a Five Hundred and a 2010 Taurus, I know which I’d take. At least you can see out of the 2005-2007 models!

  • avatar

    With only two passengers, a McLaren F1 would have also been a good choice…though you would’ve had to sacrifice some luggage and Vodka.

  • avatar

    Lots of vodka + Diamondback sounds like the receipe for a puke-fest. Did the Ford’s interior clean up easy?


  • avatar

    I understand why Mr. Baruth appreciated this ride in that circumstance…I had a similar epiphany driving 6 people from Toronto to Chicago in a rented Chevy Uplander. Luckily, I rarely have passengers who don’t want to be centrifuged (if I have passengers at all) so I can drive an RX-8 every day.

    Looks like Mr. Baruth’s next car will be a GT500 BTW…schweet!

  • avatar

    These are simply very good cars. Great riding, great visiabilty and great value for the money. I think Ford moved to fast to upgrade and change this ride. I could see replacing the engine to something bigger, the 05-07 had the Duratec V6 at 200hp. They replaced this engine in the 08 with the 260 hp one. They also changed the ride quality on the 08-09. THey made the new ones less tight and more mushy to drive.
    These cars were built to last and if you can find a used with low miles and you need a full sized sedan get one, they are worth the money.

  • avatar

    Didn’t you have a Flex? What happened to that?

  • avatar

    944/951/968/928s have two back seats.

    God love the Germans, they build cars that help you not make mistakes when you are in the land of judgment-impaired.

    If they are unwilling or unable to ride there, vell, vee know zat zhou don’t veesh to vake up mit zee fraulein een excess of feefty kilos.

    Zee loooks may be less than optimal, but at least zhou can pull zee arm out and leave razzer zan zee chewing, jah?

  • avatar

    The people who don’t like the Ford 500/Taurus X/Freestyle/Montego don’t appreciate them for what they are; Ford’s answer to the Impala that GM was selling like gangbusters.

    I love the early D3 cars for being safe, comfortable, having good head, leg, and trunk room (something you can’t say about the current Taurus) and trying their dammedest to wring maximum fuel economy. They ride nicely and handle better than a car that big and slow has a right to. I’m seriously considering pick one up used too. Ultimate FWD road tip car. Eat up the miles and forget your doing it. Sounds like Jack knows how to drive one exactly the way God and the Ford Engineers intended.

  • avatar

    The current Taurus has two problems. First, it’s unnecessarily heavy. It gained 200+ lbs during the redesign. Second, it doesn’t have the room that the earlier model did. Looks are subjective. I think the new one is no more attractive than the old one, although with the Gillete triple-edge grill, it looked too much like a Ford Tempo.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d add a two more items to your list. Poor backseat legroom and poor visibility due to the high beltline. The new Taurus design made many sacrifices for form, over function. IMHO, it does look good…but it isn’t good enough to buy.

  • avatar

    I rode in one of these, make no mistake as it’s a vanilla-bad car. Not as bad as the Crown Victoria, but still bad. Terrible materials, terrible styling, terrible corporate switchgear, terrible performance. It’s a car for seniors, without the charm of a V8 and RWD the Crown Vic and Marquis had.

  • avatar

    This being a pre-2008 model, there was no evidence of Ford’s current mastery of automotive info-entertain-omatics.

    So Jack, you weren’t able to impress your lady friends with your Highway Wiki Reading?

    You’re right about the 500. It’s a fine cruiser – a friend calls his ‘My Taxicab’.

  • avatar

    After driving a few of these, the ideal D3 is a Taurus/Sable with the 500/Montego’s steering and suspension. Then you’d get plenty of power with surprisingly nimble handling for such a large car.

  • avatar

    This is the first non-negative review of an ‘older’ CVT I’ve heard.

    Michael Karesh, Thanks for sharing that data point. Based on all of the negative reviews, I figured the percentage of failed CVT’s would be 10-15%.

    But to your point, we need to see how they do post 100k.

    The 2 CVT equipped cars I drove I didn’t care for – the Murano and Maxima.

  • avatar

    We have a 2005 Freestyle with the same powertrain as Jack’s friend’s 500. It has 92Kmi on the clock, and the CVT has been trouble-free. It’s gone through one set of brakes, and recently ate its alternator. Other than that, no problems with the car at all. I expect many more years and miles of service from the car.

  • avatar

    I’ve always admired the look of this car and the amount of space it has. Of course it is up my alley, my current car is a 1998 LS400 that I absolutely love. I always thought one of these might be a good replacement if it’s ever needed. One thing Ford did right that I’m surprised no one else has adopted: the entry keypad that enables you to lock the key and fob in the car (for example at the beach or when bike riding) and not worry about keeping up with them.

  • avatar

    If the Norhtstar doesn’t scare you, one can purchase a DTS, Bonneville GXP, or Lucerne CXS V8 with around 65K miles for $10K-$15K. You can even get a column shifter with the DTS.

    Then there is the exceedingly wonderful Lacrosse Super for about $17K.

    /likes GM.

    • 0 avatar
      mad scientist

      Ask my old man about his LaCrosse- there’s a lemon that you can’t even squeeze lemonade from. Never mind the rest of the GM cars he’s owned. Keeps buying them, yet they spend half of their lives in the garage. He’s already committed to an Accord for the next set of wheels.

    • 0 avatar

      If he has a Lacrosse Super that he wants to dump, he can have my number.

      Anyway, one car doesn’t condemn an entire model line, and IIRC even Consumer Reports gave the W-body Lacrosse decent reliability marks.

    • 0 avatar

      mad scientist: You can mount Accord wheels on a GM car? ;-)

  • avatar

    If it were only 1/2 hour difference for me, I’d take Cedar Point over Kings Island. Cedar Point is the best coaster park in the world. Since it’s a 2+ hour difference for me, Kings Island is great, because there’s plenty to do to fill up a long day, and I can make it a day trip. If both are convenient to you, since both are now Cedar Fair parks, you can get a season pass that’s good at CP and KI for a ridiculously low price.

    I was at Holiday World a week ago last Saturday. The secret must be out because it was packed to the point that you couldn’t enjoy the water park. The coaster lines were tolerable until the waterpark closed and the crowd was dumped on HW’s relatively few rides. Go on a weekday and have a blast.

    (Coaster tip: If you are old, skip the Mean Streak at CP, Son of Beast at Kings Island, and the Legend at Holiday World. All are rough wooden coasters that will leave you sore the next day. All the other coasters are a blast.)

  • avatar

    What about fuel efficiency. I am trying to find something made by Ford to compare to the VW Jetta TDI. I have a small boat and a utility trailer that I tow and would like something that gets over 30 MPG.
    My brother works for Ford so I looked at the Fusion Hybrid and Taurus.
    I thought the Taurus seamed nice but I would like to see Ford come out with a Diesel version or a Hybrid that they allow towing 1500 lbs.
    I was told I can’t tow anything with the Hybrid Fusion.

  • avatar

    The Freestyle has an undeserved reputation for being underpowered….underpowered compared to what…an Audi S5…maybe…compared to other CUV’s in its weight class…no! I just returned from a round trip between Tampa and Jacksonville averaging 80 MPH and 25 MPG. I had no problems passing when I needed to. As for the longevity of its CVT, mine has 83K and is running smoothly. Opinions are divided on scheduled maintenance on the CVT. The guide states 60K while Ford has a service bulletin out stating no maintenance until 100k. I was told by my mechanic that the less you open it up, the longer it will last. So I am waiting. All in all the Freestyle has been a great family vehicle.

  • avatar

    O.K., I’ve been away for a couple of days, but then I return to find a post that starts with a quote from Arthur Dent and find that none of the Best and the Brightest have have been able to respond with some Vogon poetry or a quote from Zaphod Beeblebrox or Ford Five Hundred. I mean Ford Taurus. No, I mean Ford Prefect.

    Well, anyway, this is just sad. You’re slipping, B & B.

    How about the time Ford asked, “Didn’t you think it was strange I was trying to shake hands with a car? I thought cars were the dominant lifeform. I was trying to introduce myself.”

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