By WES RAYNAL/ AutoWeek
2004 FORD FREESTAR SEL
ON SALE: Now
BASE PRICE: $29,995
POWERTRAIN: 4.2-liter, 201-hp, 263-lb-ft V6; fwd, four-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 4406 pounds
0-60 MPH: 8.5 seconds (est.)
NEXT TIME YOU WALK by Fordís new minivan, the Freestar, you are liable to, well, walk right on by. But get inside one and have a good look around. Then drive it.
Ah ha... it really is new.
Last year 113,465 of you bought, or more likely leased, Ford Windstars, the minivan the Freestar replaces, ranking it fourth in minivan sales behind the Dodge Caravan, Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Town & Country. But that 113-large is down almost 24 percent, 35,410 copies, compared to 2002. So Ford felt a redo was in order.
The 2004 model is more than just a name change, even though the styling is in no way daring. There are only subtle changes to the front end, with a new hood, fenders, grille and bumper. The doors and rear quarter-panels are
The major changes are inside and they mark a significant improvement over the Windstar. The dash is new, well laid out, good-looking, and appears high quality, as does the rest of the interior. The new center console looks nice and has easier-to-decipher heat/vent controls than the Windstarís. But perhaps the slickest thing is the new
third-row seat. The Freestarís folds flat into the floor with a simple operation for those inevitable trips to the grocery store, and you donít have to take out the headrests to do it as you do on the competition. Or it can be flipped the other way for tailgating. There is 25 cubic feet of storage space behind the third-row seat.
Two V6s are available. The base engine displaces 3.9 liters and develops 193 hp at 6500 rpm and 245 lb-ft at 3500. Our test car, a top-of-the-line Freestar SEL, had the more powerful 4.2-liter, 201-hp, 263-lb-ft engine, mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Ford says this 4.2-liter is the largest engine you can get in a minivan.
The new minivanís interior is handsome. Third-row seats fold into the floor without the headrests having to be removed.
Our two-week stint in the SEL was spent buzzing around town on errands, hauling people and taking a drive to Chicago and back with six passengers aboard and a weekendís worth of luggage for each.
The van proved to be a nice and quiet highway cruiser with plenty of grunt from the 4.2-liter, even hauling all those people. It got up to freeway speeds quickly and cruised at a steady 75 mph. There was plenty of room inside, tooóa five-foot 10-inch woman sat in the third row with no complaints about legroom.
We averaged 18.5 mpg in a combination of city driving and the one long highway trip.
Around town, the SEL is no sports car but handles stop-and-go duty as well as most other minivans. The front suspension is MacPherson struts with a torsion beam axle out back. The ride was compliant but not too soft, a problem with some of the competition. Detroitís notorious potholes didnít trip up the suspension, and the steering actually had some on-center feel and felt properly weighted, both serious deficiencies in earlier Ford vans. The Toyota Siennaís ride and handling trounced the old Windstar, but the Freestar is a lot more competitive, comparable to the Toyota.
Our test carís $33,715 sticker included a six-CD changer, cargo net, first-row console and safety canopy side airbags, which protect all three rows if the Freestar rolls over.
So, is the Freestar a breakthrough? No. An exciting, inspiring driver? Hardly. But we can say it is a practical, useful tool, a major improvement over the Windstar it replaces. And really, isnít that a big part of what this whole car-building thing is supposed to be all about?