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2006 Freestyle

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San Francisco:  A sharp body on Ford's Freestyle crossover vehicle looks too tall to be a station wagon but too squatty to be an SUV. Just like the rest of the vehicle, the styling is a compromise. The 2006 Freestyle's cabin is laid out like an SUV with three rows of roomy seats, but it has the high-quality materials and construction you'd normally expect in a nice sedan.

Most cars, if they inspire any emotion at all, are polarizing. People either love 'em or hate 'em. Take Chrysler's PT Cruiser. The people who buy PTs are passionate about them, talking about their car like they'd talk about their loyal golden retriever that died in 1974. They absolutely love their car and want everyone to know it.

On the other hand, you've probably met people who hate the PT just as passionately, saying it ought to be tossed in the compost pile with raunchy bananas and moldy grass clippings. They think it's the ugliest car on the road. Rarely, though, do you find a vehicle that's wildly contradictory within itself.

That's the problem I faced while driving the Ford Freestyle, a so-called "crossover" vehicle that's half SUV and half station wagon. As an SUV, I absolutely love it because of its smooth ride, refined handling, good gas mileage, practical interior and ease of entry and exit. It's an SUV that doesn't behave like one.

At the same time, I hate the Freestyle whenever I think of it as a station wagon. It feels bloated and sloppy compared with other unibody cars, and the ride and handling that I think are so great compared to SUVs seem downright mediocre - if not disappointing - compared to most passenger cars.

The overall experience left me lukewarm, but not in an "I really don't care" kind of way like you experience behind the wheel of a boring family sedan. It was an odd sort of thing where I'd go from elation one moment to loathing the next, never deciding if I ought to lust after the Freestyle as a terrific SUV or toss it on the trash heap as a cruddy car.

This Ford simply has an identity crisis. If you can look beyond the nebulous emotions inspired by the Freestyle, though, you'll see it's actually a wonderful vehicle for anybody with a family. While it can't do serious off-road driving or heavy-duty towing - things most SUV drivers don't do anyway - it's a downright perfect vehicle for fulfilling its primary mission of moving people and their masses of stuff in relative comfort.

Inside, the Freestyle is configured like an SUV with three rows of roomy seats and a nice size cargo area in the back. The back seats easily fold flat for hauling really big stuff, and the overall appearance is much more like a sedan than an SUV, complete with high-quality materials and tight construction tolerances. Also, thanks to its low ride height, getting in and out is a breeze.

Driving the Freestyle is remarkably similar to driving a regular family sedan, albeit one that's a couple of years old. There's nothing truly spectacular about its performance other than its totally smooth, continuously variable transmission that never shifts.

My only complaint is that it lacks the crispness and sense of being attached to the asphalt like today's best new sedans offer, instead settling for a fairly mushy, uninspiring ride. It's great as an SUV but lackluster as a car.

Only one engine is offered in the Freestyle. It's a 203-horsepower V6, which is a good compromise between performance and efficiency as it gets up to 27 miles per gallon on the highway according to EPA ratings. It doesn't have the grunt of a V8 or the utter efficiency of a wheezy four-banger, but it does its job well enough to scoot the Freestyle comfortably though city traffic.

Pricing starts at $25,105 for the SE model with front-wheel drive or $26,955 with all-wheel drive. This includes more standard equipment than you'd expect, including a six-way power driver's seat, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and traction control, along with the regular goodies like power windows, power locks and air conditioning. That's a lot of car for the money.

Add about $1,500 for the SEL model, and you get a six-disc CD changer, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, built-in garage door opener, extra sound insulation and a few other luxuries.

At the top of the range, the Limited ($28,530) and Limited AWD ($30,580) add a better stereo system, heated front seats with memory, adjustable rear seats and woodgrain trim. Options include leather seats, dual-zone climate control, a rear-seat DVD player, power moonroof, reverse sensing system and adjustable pedals, all of which can combine to make it feel more like a full-blown luxury car than a simple family hauler.

All in all, despite my mixed emotions, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Freestyle to anybody who wants an SUV but doesn't want to live with the downsides. While it's not quite as refined as you'd expect a station wagon to be, it does offer a great alternative to the big, lumbering SUVs and is a great value for the money.

What was tested: a 2006 Ford Freestyle Limited AWD ($30,580). Options: auxiliary climate control with heat ($650), navigation system ($1,995), reverse sensing system ($295), safety package ($695), memory adjustable pedals ($195) and a DVD player ($995).  Price as tested: $35,405.

Why buy it? It offers the advantages of an SUV without many downsides. It gets decent gas mileage, handles well and has a wonderful, versatile, high-quality interior.  By James E. Bryson   AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name: 
 Ford crossover is great as an SUV
 2006 Ford Freestyle Limited AWD
Word Count:  
Photo Caption: 
 2006 Ford Freestyle Limited AWD
Photo Credits:  
Ford Internet Media
Series #:   2006 - 02

Download the Microsoft Word version here:   2006 Ford Freestyle

Download the Original Image File here:   2006 Ford Freestyle








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