2008 Ford Five Hundred
– Limitless cabin space
– Pretty decent engine
– Comfortable ride
– Baby-soft suspension
– Too big for some places
– As anonymous as a mailbox
Just when you thought oversized cars were on their way out thanks to rising petrol prices, Ford drops this bomb onto an unsuspecting public, aiming squarely at people who’d otherwise buy a midsize car. Very competitive in terms of price and size in comparison to the high-end versions of the usual Japanese appliances, it was up to us to determine whether there was anything else to the Five Hundred that would put office-going family-men back into cars as big as this without moving up to a 4WD vehicle.
The most noticeable thing about this Volvo-platformed car is how it manages to look like a midsize from far away, but walking up to it reveals its overwhelming size. In pure numbers, it is only slightly smaller than the submarine-looking Chevy Caprice, but the Ford is a good bit taller so overall it ends up giving the illusion of a smaller car. The styling is completely anonymous, except for the unique chrome grille, the 17-inch alloy rims, the fake side-fender slits and the colourless tail-lights. It is good to note that this American-built Ford has the American corporate face, just like the Edge crossover, with its three-bar chrome grille and all. The European-built Fords, such as the Focus and the Mondeo, have a different corporate face.
Thankfully, the Five Hundred has a more “European” feel to the cabin than the plasticky Edge. Surprisingly high-quality pliable materials covered the dashboard and the door sills, all pleasantly soft to the touch. Combined with the leather interior and the solid build quality, we were left wondering if this is the same company that put together the Edge. The overall design is tasteful, but ultimately rather bland, with smatterings of faux wood brightening things up.
But the main attraction of this car is the space. There’s just too much of it. Thanks to the tall roof and high seating positions, front passengers feel like they’re riding a crossover 4WD, while the rear passengers have room to stretch out their legs. The big leather seats are only mildly bolstered, offering the comfort of a living-room sofa. With various cup-holders and storage spaces spread about inside, the cabin is practical enough. But the real shocker comes when the rear luggage-trunk lid is opened. The cargo room is astonishingly large, deep enough to stuff a 30-inch TV in there, and long enough for 10-year-olds to sleep in. The big fire-extinguisher kit in the centre of the cargo floor comes in a little bag for easy removal, while the space-saver spare tyre allows for all that luggage volume.
In our well-optioned Limited tester, the feature set was generous, including a rather good CD stereo, a decent automatic a/c, power front seats, sunroof, auto-dimming mirrors, cruise control, and a multitude of airbags. Standard features in all models include power windows, electric mirrors and keyless entry. Our car even had that unique-to-Ford keypad on the door for unlocking the doors without a key.
The refined engine residing under the Five Hundred’s boring hood is unusually peppy for a car designed by accountants. With 263 hp at 6250 rpm, and 337 Nm of torque at 4500 rpm, acceleration is strong enough for most purposes, especially for passing slower traffic. We turned off the traction control on our front-wheel-drive tester, held the brakes, brought up the revs, and launched the car for a 0-to-100 kph time of 7.4 seconds. The first 3 seconds of the launch went up in tyre-squealing wheelspin, since the front tyres lose grip when the nose of the car points upward on take-off. The smooth 6-speed automatic has no manual capability, and downshifts multiple times when the throttle is floored while cruising. Obviously the gearbox likes to loaf in the higher gears, so our fuel consumption was reasonable, at 13.2 litres per 100 km.
The car is a perfect highway cruiser, with only moderate noise of any sort at 140 kph, while the grunting engine is muffled well, and bumps on the road are soaked up without drama. Enter city streets, and it remains easy to drive, with its soft steering and decent all-round visibility. However, try to parallel park, and things get complicated quickly. The car barely fits in any standard space, and there is a good chance of climbing footpaths or bumping into parked cars, especially since our tester did not have parking sensors.
Ride comfort takes priority over handling. While the car has only a bit of obvious floatiness over uneven surfaces, it wobbles like jelly with harsh steering inputs, even more so than the perennially-jiggly Toyota Camry, almost feeling like a softly-sprung 4WD. The body roll is enough to unsettle your stomach, but we quickly realised that this 1656 kg Ford has more grip than its 215/60 tyres would suggest, especially since their high-profile chunkiness make the 17-inch alloys look small. The tyres grab the road up to a decent limit, before understeer creeps in, so the excessive body roll is misleading enough to make its limits seem lower. Even then, the car offers a drive that is far from sporting, and it remains purely a comfort-cruiser. For instance, the ABS-assisted brakes are very good, but the pedal feel is as lifeless as the steering, to accommodate the most casual style of driving. That’s why every Five Hundred even comes standard with stability control, which is non-existent in any comparable Toyota unless you pay extra.
The Ford Five Hundred is a big step up in quality for the American manufacturer, and the fact that this large car offers so much to its target demographics for a competitive price should be its main selling point. Be advised though, that no one will mistake you for a businessman just for driving a big car, as we got harassed by cops, security guards and even Saudis during our run. It is strictly a luxurious, and very capable, alternative to comparable mainstream midsize cars.
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