2004 Freestar New Car Test Drive
Freestar is the new name for Ford's minivan. It previously was the Windstar, but Ford marketers claim the minivan was so radically changed that it warranted a new name. However, the Freestar is really a Windstar, albeit a much improved one.
The improvements move the Ford Freestar closer to par with its prime competitors, the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, but do not leapfrog it ahead of them.
Ford also renamed the Freestar to fit into its new naming structure. Ford's car-like vehicles start with the letter F: Focus, the upcoming Freestyle crossover vehicle and the Futura sedan. Sport-utilities will start with an E: Explorer, Expedition, Escape.
On the road, the new Ford Freestar is smooth and quiet. It glides over rough pavement, it offers responsive handling and the availability of a big V6. The Freestar's best feature is its interior ambience, an elegant cabin trimmed in high-quality materials. A clever third row that disappears into the floor, a cargo well behind the third row to contain groceries, and lots of interior storage add convenience.
Ford has revamped its minivan line to five models: the base Freestar S; the mid-level SE and SES, expected to be the most popular; and the up-level SEL and Limited, which are designed to compete with the luxury Chrysler Town & Country.
The Freestar S ($23,775), likely to represent only about 10 percent of all Freestar sales, comes standard with a new 3.9-liter V6 engine, four-speed automatic transmission, 16-inch wheels and tires, air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors, remote keyless entry, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution and a third-row seat that folds into the floor or turns backward to form a tailgate bench seat. The entry-level price for Freestar is $705 more than a comparable 2003 Windstar.
The SE ($26,245) adds: remote keyless entry system; cruise control; roof rack; privacy glass; and an AM/FM stereo with CD player. The SE is nearly equivalent to the 2003 Windstar LX but is priced $70 less.
The Freestar SES ($28,065) includes all the SE equipment plus air conditioning with tri-zone temperature control, driving lamps, power driver's seat, five-spoke aluminum sport wheels, and a unique grille, bumpers and trim treatment. Freestar SES is nearly equivalent to the 2003 Windstar LX Deluxe but is priced $195 more.
The Freestar SEL ($29,310) includes many SES features plus a 4.2-liter V6 engine, first- and second-row bucket seats, keyless entry keypad, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with built-in audio controls, cornering lamps, an overhead console with a compass and outside temperature display and an AM/FM stereo with cassette, CD player and rear seat audio controls. The Freestar SEL is priced $80 higher than a 2003 Windstar SE.
The top-of-the-line Limited ($32,945) includes all SEL equipment plus power sliding rear passenger doors, electronic automatic climate control, power-adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, unique interior trim, including leather seating surfaces, two-tone exterior treatment and power heated signal mirrors with puddle lamps. The Freestar Limited is priced $1,880 less than a 2003 Windstar Limited.
Prices listed do not include incentives that were included as soon as the vehicles were launched. Initially, Ford was offering customers the choice of $1,000 in cash or financing rates as low as 2.9 percent for 60 months. Those incentives could fluctuate through the year, however.
Available individual options include: a DVD rear-seat entertainment system with wireless headphones ($1,395); and a six-disc CD changer ($150). Options for late-2004 models include a power liftgate and a Class II towing package ($335) that will boost the towing capacity from 2,000 pounds to 3,500 pounds. A Memory Package is available that includes adjustable pedals and a memory system for the driver's seat, pedals and exterior mirrors.
Safety features include dual front airbags and standard anti-lock brakes on all versions of the Freestar. Ford's optional Safety Canopy ($695) curtain airbag system runs the length of the minivan on both sides and includes sensors that monitor a rollover. If a rollover is detected, the air bags deploy from the headliner and stay inflated for up to six seconds and can protect the heads of occupants in all three rows. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the front passengers complement the Safety Canopy.
While the Freestar has not yet been crash tested by the federal government, Ford anticipates it to perform well as did the Windstar. The Windstar had two top five-star ratings for front passengers and two four-star ratings for rear passengers.
Anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) come standard on all Freestars. Other active safety features available include Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control ($395), Panic Brake Assist, and a Reverse Sensing System that detects objects behind the vehicle when backing up. Self-sealing tires ($280) and turn-signal indicato.