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2004 Ford Freestar

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San Francisco: Ford would love for me to write, "The new Ford Freestar minivan is better than the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna!" Too bad I can't write that. It's the newest minivan on the block, but it's still not the best.

However, I can say the Freestar is a heck of a lot better than the minivan it replaces, the Windstar, and that its price undercuts the Japanese competition. Even its quality seems to be close to that in the Odyssey, which is still the minivan benchmark.

First, the good stuff: Ford's new 4.2-liter V6 engine, the biggest available in any minivan, is especially nice. It has a lot of low-end grunt, almost like a truck engine, but it still feels fairly smooth, quiet, and responsive. Even with the minivan filled to the brim with people and luggage, it has power to spare.

The interior is pretty much perfect, too, with comfortable seats, nice materials, and cup holders everywhere you look. It has plenty of space in the front- and middle-row seats, but the back row feels fairly cramped for adults.

One of the Freestar's neatest features is a back seat that can easily fold flat without any fuss or strain. Even better, you can quickly turn it into a rear-facing tailgate seat, just right for watching parades or soccer games.

There are also plenty of storage bins inside, including a deep well in the rear that keeps groceries from sliding around. There's even a compartment on top of the dash for neatly storing papers and pens.

Finally, Ford knows minivan buyers are usually interested in safety features, and the Freestar doesn't skimp. Most notably, it offers what Ford calls a "safety canopy" that deploys side airbags in a rollover or side-impact crash. Very handy.

Now for the downside: While it's better than the old Windstar, the Freestar's ride and handling are unimpressive. It doesn't have the precise, crisp feel of the Odyssey, and its steering is a tad sloppy. The overall driving feel isn't bad, but it's not as refined as some of the imported competitors.

Second, the features in the Windstar are merely playing catch-up with the competition, not offering anything new and exciting. While Honda, Toyota, and even Nissan have been coming up with new innovations that make minivans more practical and comfortable, Ford has really been left in the dust.

Even stodgy Chrysler, which recently announced it will offer middle-row seats that disappear into the floor, appears to be coming up with new and creative ideas. Ford needs to get with the program.

Nonetheless, the Freestar is substantially better than its predecessor, the outdated Windstar. It's improved in virtually every way, from power and handling to interior quality, which could possibly pave the way for Ford to someday leapfrog the competition.

Also, it's important to note the Freestar's pleasant price. It starts with the well-equipped Freestar S at $23,775 and tops out with the luxurious Limited model at $32,945, and incentives will likely bring the transaction price even lower.

The totally loaded model AutoWire.Net tested cost around $36,000 with options, including a fancy DVD player to keep the kids happy, leather seats, dual power sliding doors, and a bunch of safety equipment.

While the Freestar may not be as good as the Odyssey or Sienna, it's still a big leap forward for Ford and is better in many ways than the current minivans from Chrysler. For current Windstar owners, think of it as an affordable step in the right direction.

Why buy it? If you liked the old Windstar, Ford's new Freestar minivan is a nice step up. It has a great interior, powerful engine, and plenty of available safety features.  By Derek Price AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  Ford minivan better, but not the best
Topic:  The 2004 Ford Freestar
Word Count:   681
Photo Caption:  The 2004 Ford Freestar
Photo Credits:  Ford Internet Media
Series #:   2004 - 16

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Publisher - Editor:   Tony Leopardo
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