Ford Freestyle Limited Review
My first car was a Pontiac Parisian Safari station wagon. Not only could it cruise I-5 all day, but I once hauled eleven people and a drum set from Sonoma County to Sacramento and back. When one of the cylinders lost compression, the attempted engine rebuild was a testimony to the strength of our relationship. Before the block cracked, the Safari provided my family, friends and I with nearly three hundred thousand miles of motoring bliss. Sadly, the SUV craze and seat belt legislation killed off the full-size American station wagon. Aside from the chop top, third row deficient Dodge Magnum, Ford’s Freestyle is the closest the Big 2.5 has come to reviving this classic, all-American ride.
I remember reading about Ford’s new “cross-over” when it was co-launched with the Five Hundred. And then, nothing; it simply disappeared off my automotive radar. Turns out Freestyles abound. Trouble is, they don’t look like anything. It’s not a wagon, nor an SUV, nor a weird-ass people mover like Chrysler's Pacifica or Mercedes' R-Class. The Freestyle is more of a metal lump with doors. In terms of design, buff book fans will recall the never-ending string of “future” haulers from the mid-80s. Ta-da. Ford did a nice job with the humongous wheels that mask the Freestyle’s super size. And the Freestyle’s front is the best interpretation of the Focus/Five Hundred design language yet. Pity the pretty Fusion showed up and rendered all of them obsolete…
The inside is a revelation. Props to Ford for dipping into the tough luxury bin and extracting a first-class, mass-market interior. From fingertip-friendly buttons, to materials that don’t make you yak, to ergonomics that are faultless to the point of invisibility, the Freestyle’s cabin is a huge step forward for Ford. OK, the overall design is about as bold as David Hasselhoff, but there are plenty of compensatory joys. The Freestyle’s touch-screen nav system is a generation ahead of BMW/DCX/Audi in terms of usability. The stereo sounds as good as the Germans', encroaching on Lexus/Infiniti type sonic-sweetness. Plus, there are enough bins and cubbies to hold all your stuff.
Although I rarely risk a torn MCL to check out a vehicle’s third row, the Freestyle’s way back was the exception that proved my flexibility. A full-sized adult will find the rear-most seats as comfortable (or not) as any domestic airline seat. Passengers in both the middle and way out yonder enjoy their own AC vents and controls. Even better, you can sit yourself in the third row, drop the middle seat, prop your feet up and watch a DVD. That, my friends, is righteous American luxury. Alternatively, you can use an empty second row as a kind of de-militarized zone; let little Jimmy and Sally beat each other senseless in back as you concentrate on the task at hand.
With MacPhersons up front and multi-link with trailing arms out back, the Freestyle is a long-haul commuter's dream come true: smooth, refined and, well, American. Although you could say the same thing about Volvo’s SUV's (which share both a platform and the Ford’s optional AWD system), the Freestyle’s greater proximity to terra firma adds an extra level of confidence. I dare the Germans to do it better. Sure, the Freestyle is a station-wagon trying its hardest to be a minivan, but even as a very-single dude, I don't care. I love driving this, um, car. Corners? Yeah, you can go around corners, but why bother? Better to maintain a leisurely pace and enjoy the waft, rather than attempt anything laterally ambitious.
I’ve got two major gripes with the Ford Freestyle. First, there‘s no possible justification for making the third row “safety canopy system” optional. That’s both bad business and bad joss for a company selling itself as family-friendly innovator. Second, the Freestyle’s powerplant is pathetic. Ye olde 3.0L Duratec V6 pits 203hp and 207 lbs. feet of torque through a not-ready-for-primetime CVT against 4150lbs. Guess who wins? The oil companies. I averaged 16.6mpg. (Getting on the freeway is getting on the freeway.) Not keeping up with the Jones’ minivan is embarrassing, annoying and, lest we forget, unsafe. A $37k vehicle with so little power underhood is a sad reminder that, beneath all the good stuff, the Freestyle is still a bean-counted Ford.
Even so, Ford's Freestyle is a winner: a latter-day family truckster that’s comfortable, practical and, um, practical. So where’s the next generation prototype? Where’s the high output model? Where are the Super Bowl ads? Despite the dreadful mileage, the Freestyle is the answer to America’s misguided love affair with the SUV. Perhaps Ford didn’t want to bite the Explorer/Expedition hand that is/was feeding it? It’s a new ballgame, Billy Boy. Time to bring in the family station-wagon.
Cleanup driver for Team Black Metal V8olvo.
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