- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2005

When Ford set out to replace the venerable Taurus, it knew very well it must exceed expectations. It was imperative the Five Hundred sedan be more than just a replacement, it must provide owners with an experience that would keep them returning year after year. Taking a different direction in development and construction, Ford gave the Five Hundred a more refined feel. This is noticeable in the atmosphere of the passenger compartment, as well as in the handling and ride. Ford designers also added a slightly higher seating position to aid in visibility. Though powered by an engine similar to the Taurus, the Five Hundred brings a different approach to getting power to the wheels. Gone is the front-wheel drive used on Taurus. On the base Five Hundred we have rear-wheel drive. After being told for decades that front-wheel drive is the best way to drive a motor vehicle, we are seeing a change in thinking. It isn’t that one configuration is better than the other; each has its individual benefits. Each also has a few drawbacks. Front-wheel drive allows you to be pulled through turns rather than pushed. Rear-wheel drive allows the driver to use the power channeled through the rear wheels to set the vehicle into the turn. It is a matter of individual tastes. Though rear-wheel drive is the basic setup for the Five Hundred, Ford has designed its new sedan to be equipped with all-wheel drive, which gives drivers a whole different driving scenario. All-wheel drive brings many benefits to a vehicle, the major one is stability in a variety of weather conditions. The popularity of all-wheel drive even caught Ford off guard. It is finding it must add more all-wheel-drive production to keep up with the increased demand of all-wheel drive in the Five Hundred sedan and the Freestyle crossover vehicle. A situation Ford is quite happy to have. This new sedan also brings a whole new application of a innovative type of transmission. Developed many decades ago, the continuously variable transmission (CVT) has never really found its place in the industry. That is, until gasoline prices in the United States began their steep climb. This type of transmission uses two variable-sized pulleys and a drive belt running between them to transfer power from engine to drive wheels. A CVT never shifts gears; it changes the size of each pulley according to demand, virtually making a seamless transition of power. Driving a vehicle equipped with a CVT for the first time can be a bit unsettling. You get no sensation of shifting gears. In fact, many service departments receive visits from concerned owners feeling something was drastically wrong with their new cars. I feel this technology needs to have a way the driver can select a more interactive mode, one where we can make manual adjustments to the ratio of the drive pulleys via the shifter. Essentially, I would like to see a manual mode as in more traditional automatic transmissions. The exterior design of the Five Hundred is a touch of contemporary mixed with a bit of nostalgia. The car sits more upright, gaining more visibility for driver and passengers. The view from all seats is quite good without the feeling of being in large truck. The interior is a remarkable change from the typical domestic automobile. Ford has produced a nice mixture of Asian and European character with an interior that is both comfortable and inviting. Though there are a few hard plastic bits I would like to see replaced, the general feeling of the interior is one of quality. Loaded with features, the Five Hundred makes a worthy addition to the sedan category. Through listening to their previous customers and keeping a close watch on what owners of other vehicles want in a car, Ford has preformed an admirable job in adding another important vehicle to its lineup.

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