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The Ford Freestar is a capable minivan that performs well and offers all the latest safety features. Packages and pricing have been simplified for 2006 models, and prices have been lowered.
The Freestar is a solid performer, but it isn't the sharpest saw in the shed. It's now in its third year since being redesigned and is outclassed by newer entries. However, the J.D. Power and Associates research firm has rated Freestar's overall quality and mechanical quality better than most. It's better than any previous Ford minivan, so if you liked the Windstar, you'll love the Freestar.
Freestar is well-equipped to do minivan things. It can haul seven passengers and has a deep well behind the third row that's perfect for securely stowing a week's worth of groceries. Fold the third-row seat into the floor, and the Freestar holds four passengers and offers a big, flat cargo area behind the seats. Also, the third row can flip around to function as a tailgate seat, a neat trick for parking lot parties. A power rear liftgate and dual power sliding doors are available. Tow ratings of up to 3,500 pounds are possible, enough to handle personal watercraft, motorcycles, or other trailer toys.
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. It doesn't feel as refined as the best and newest of the minivans, however.
Freestar's strongest suit is safety: Freestar earned five stars in the government's (NHTSA's) frontal impact crash testing, and is a "Best Pick" for frontal offset crashes by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Freestar received a five-star rating from NHTSA in driver and passenger front impact as well as passenger side impact. It received a four-star rating in driver side impact and roll-over resistance.
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. Ford's optional Safety Canopy can help protect against head injuries in a rollover or side impact; Ford's system is designed to offer protection to passengers sitting on the outboard sides of all three rows. Freestar's seat belts use pretensioners and energy-management retractors to improve their effectiveness and reduce the chance of belt-related injuries.
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. The optional AdvanceTrac electronic stability control helps drivers maintain control when swerving to avoid something or when entering a slippery corner too fast.
Two engines are available in the Freestar. The 3.9-liter V6 that comes standard on the SE generates 193 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque and gets an EPA-rated 18/23 mpg City/highway. The 4.2-liter V6 that comes with the SEL and Limited delivers 201 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque, yet surrenders only 1 mpg to the smaller engine. Freestar's larger 4.2-liter V6 is the largest in any minivan, and is likely the better choice for highway cruising, passing on freeways, and light towing.
The Freestar's torque (the force you need for merging on the freeway or climbing steep grades) is competitive with both engines when compared with the 242 pound-feet of torque from the Toyota Sienna and the Nissan Quest. However neither Ford engine matches the Nissan's 240 horsepower nor the Toyota's 230 horsepower. So the Freestar engine won't be as responsive at higher speeds.
The four-speed automatic transmission that comes in all Freestar models shifts smoothly and quickly.
The Freestar is extremely quiet, incorporating thick front windows, a noise-absorbing dash panel, and sound-blocking construction. Nevertheless, the overhead-valve engine sounds truck-like under hard acceleration, making it seem a little less refined than some of the competition.
The Freestar's ride is smooth, and can handle even poorly-maintained highways. Steering is much more responsive than in the old Windstar. It leans a bit in corners, but handling is predictable. Big four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD are standard, and the brakes are easy to modulate for nice, smooth stops.
The Ford Freestar is a solid minivan available with the latest in safety equipment and engineering. It's big and powerful, much improved over the old Windstar. It doesn't offer all the bells and whistles (like all-wheel drive and navigation) nor does it feel as refined as some of the competition, but it's a solid performer.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Michelle Krebs filed the original report, with editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.