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Introduced as an all-new nameplate for 2005, the Ford Five Hundred is the company's interpretation of the modern American sedan. Big and roomy inside, the Five Hundred features a tall roof that offers lots of headroom. The driver sits relatively high, gaining a commanding view of the road. The back seats are comfortable and quite roomy. And they fold down to increase cargo capacity.
Volvo assisted with engineering a body structure that benefits from the latest in safety technology. Ford acquired the Swedish automaker famous for its passenger-protecting innovations in 1999 and, when it came time to develop the Five Hundred, employed Volvo's best structural and safety engineers to work on the project.
The Ford Five Hundred is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the latter giving it more stable handling and better traction, particularly in inclement weather.
The V6 engine that comes on all models delivers responsive performance and good fuel economy. On front-wheel-drive models, the V6 is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, which offers more responsive performance and better efficiency than a traditional four-speed automatic. All-wheel-drive models come with a continuously variable transmission, a design noted for its responsiveness and efficiency.
The Ford Five Hundred accelerates with authority. Its 3.0-liter V6 engine delivers more than sufficient power for this big sedan, even when four adults are aboard. You can squeal the tires and race away from a stoplight. Or you can push down your right foot and the six-speed transmission on front-drive models quickly downshifts as the engine responds with the power you need for passing, or for accelerating onto a freeway.
The Five Hundred is very quiet when cruising along, and we never had to raise our voices to carry on a conversation with those sitting beside, behind or in front of us.
The Five Hundred's long wheelbase, independent front and rear suspension and stiff chassis work well together. Steering is nicely weighted and provides good feedback.
The disc brakes are impressively effective. The Five Hundred comes standard with anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), which optimizes front/rear brake bias to shorten stopping distances. Also helping to reduce stopping distances is the size of the brakes: 12.5-inch discs with double-piston calipers on the front wheels and 13.0-inch discs in the rear.
While many automakers still use four-speed automatic transmissions, front-wheel-drive versions of the Five Hundred benefit from a six-speed automatic, which provides smoother performance and better fuel efficiency. The Five Hundred, equipped with front-wheel drive and six-speed automatic, is rated 21/29 miles per gallon City/Highway by the EPA.
While we spent most our time in the front-wheel-drive version, we did take time to try an all-wheel-drive Five Hundred on a dirt hill in a rock quarry. While another all-wheel-drive vehicle spun its wheels and struggled mightily to climb the slippery hill, the all-wheel-drive Five Hundred sedan went right up and over. You may not need to tear through rock quarries, you may need to drive through snow, and the Five Hundred should handle winter travel well. All-wheel drive also helps in the rain, where it stabilizes the handling of the car.
AWD models come with a continuously variable transmission, or CVT, that provides seamless operation and 19/26 mpg. Ford used the efficient CVT to help overcome the usual mileage penalty paid by heavier, more complex all-wheel-drive systems.
The Ford Five Hundred delivers full-size interior space in a mid-size car. Back seat passengers won't be cramped and there's plenty of room for luggage. Its V6 engine delivers sufficient power and its transmissions help the engine perform well while achieving fuel-efficiency.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Larry Edsall is based in Arizona.