The Ford Freestar is a solid, highly capable minivan that performs well and offers all the latest safety features. Though introduced as a new minivan with a new name for 2004, much of the Freestar's structure and design came from the Windstar it replaced. Windstar offered class-leading safety and solid performance for its time. But while the improvements that inspired the name change moved Ford's minivan closer to its competitors, they did not leapfrog it ahead of them. Ford says the Freestar is the highest quality minivan it has ever built. That contention is backed up by the J.D. Power and Associates research firm, which found Freestar's overall quality and mechanical quality better than most. Freestar is quite capable. It can haul seven passengers or four passengers and a heck of a lot of stuff. Freestar's third-row seat disappears into the floor when not needed, leaving a big, flat cargo space and seating for four people. When the third row reappears, it opens up seating for three more and leaves a deep well in back that's perfect for keeping groceries from rolling around. A new Class II towing package boosts trailering capacity to 3,500 pounds, enough to handle personal watercraft, snowmobiles, light boats, motorcycles, small campers and other toys. Out on the highway, the Freestar is smooth and quiet. It glides over rough pavement. It's easy to drive, with responsive handling and a big, powerful V6 engine. We didn't think the Freestar felt as refined as the best and newest of the minivans, however. But Freestar's strongest suit is safety: Freestar earned five stars in the government's front-impact crash testing, and was named "Best Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety following rigorous crash testing for the insurance industry. To help drivers avoid crashing in the first place, the Freestar comes standard with anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution. A tire-pressure monitor is standard and self-sealing tires are available. Options further improve the safety of the Freestar: AdvanceTrac electronic stability control helps drivers maintain control when swerving to avoid something or when entering a slippery corner too fast. Ford's Safety Canopy can help protect against head injuries in a rollover or side impact; unlike curtain airbags from other manufacturers that protect people in the first two rows, Ford's system is designed to offer protection to passengers sitting on the outboard sides of the third row as well. Dual-stage driver and front-passenger air bags come standard and are designed to deploy at full or partial power depending on the severity of the crash. Freestar's seat belts use pretensioners and energy-management retractors to improve their effectiveness and reduce the chance of belt-related injuries.