01-13-07: We reported last April that Ford was reviving the slow selling Five Hundred sedans by giving it a dramatic facelift and adding more power. The two major areas of critique were the overtly bland styling and lack of power from the Duratec 3.0 V6. It was a major marketing disappointment that the new sedans debuted with such a thud.
What was missed in all the ho-hum road tests and reviews that branded the Five Hundred as being underpowered and sleep inducing on the styling front was that the car is one of Ford’s most refined and advanced vehicles on the road today. The platform that Five Hundred, Mercury Montego, and Ford Freestyle ride on is derived from Volvo’s higher line models. With both front and all wheel drive, they offer impeccable handling and road manners. In fact they are more refined than most Fords of recent memory.
The problem for Ford has been that they cant get customers past the stodgy image and behind the wheel. Once people drive the cars they have much positive to say. Those who have purchased the cars have surveyed to have a high levels of customer satisfaction.
To stem this tide, Ford took the wraps off of a restyled Five Hundred at Detroit that shares a bold new face also seen on Fusion and the Edge. Other new styling treatments include chrome appearance tail lamps and unique fender ornamentation that we heretofore call gills.
Inside, the Five Hundred received a number of finish refinements including new wood appearance pieces, shift handle, and chrome trim in lieu of satin finish. New door panels give a two-tone look which is far more contemporary. The overall appearance is richer indeed but you really have to look to find the changes. Ford also touts a 20% quieter interior with a higher level of sound deadening material and chassis stiffening.
"Customers love the Five Hundred's ride and package, and its safety reputation is excellent," says Cisco Codina, Ford's group vice president of North America Marketing, Sales and Service. "For this year, we've dialed up the appeal with a new, more expressive look, a more powerful engine and more than 500 changes to make this great car even better."
The big news is under the hood where the new Ford corporate 3.5 liter DOHC Duratec V6 resides. Attached to a new 6-speed automatic transmission the new engine gives a much welcome 260hp which is up from 203 from the previous engine. Gone is the CVT transmission. All wheel drive continues to be an option with front wheel drive being standard.
Ford continued its tradition of late, making many engineering changes and upgrades you can't actually see. Significant structural changes that improve road feel, stiffen the chassis, isolate engine noise and improve safety were made to the frontal area of the Five Hundred. Front suspension travel was increased by 10% which should help to reduce the current car’s tendency to bottom against jounce bumpers too easily over speed bumps and dips.
The Advance Trac stability control system has also been added for 2008. The software program uses the vehicles anti-lock braking system to prevent unintended over-steer or under-steer conditions by automatically applying braking pressure to a selected wheel or wheels. The system has proven invaluable on ice, gravel and other sufaces that provide little traction while maneuvering.
Five Hundred will also offer a DVD entertainment system, factory-installed Sirius satellite radio, and the all new Ford Sync operating system that offers a variety of connectivity options for hand held gadgets.
Overall, Ford has come off with a better looking and more contemporary Five Hundred. But we wonder if the changes are dramatic enough to get customers to change their perception of the car. The roofline and canopy of the car are unchanged, and present a major component of the car’s “yesterday” character. Furthermore, from a distance it is hard to really notice any significant change. Of course, these are only our opinions. We will wait and see the story the sales figures tell. The new 2008 Five Hundred should be on showroom floors later this year.