AMR Review: 2005 Ford Five Hundred - Value-Priced Audi A6
11.25.2019 (Happy Thanksgiving from AMR)
The Bull Is Dead
What you are looking at is the end of an era. The Ford Taurus essentially saved the car side of FoMoCo in the 80s with revolutionary design and packaging. Whether you like it or not, you have to credit the car with selling tremendously well, and really being a step above the quality and content of its various GM rivals. Until the Chrysler LH vehicles bowed in the early 90s, there really was no solid American competition for the Taurus. The car has seen non-fleet sales dwindle as it grew excessively long in the tooth, yet was receiving almost annual updates of one kind or another to the lights, dash, packaging and pricing. The Taurus is dead, long live the Taurus.
So, if you kill off your main-stay family sedan, which happens to be making you some good cheddar, you best have a great replacement for it. Ford has done to the Taurus what they did to the Escort when they launched the Focus. The Ford Five Hundred is a slight step up-market from the Taurus, and is really quite a great car. Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend this car to a family, but would provide a few comments in that recommendation. Read on to find out what is good and not so good about this car.
What You Get
This car is packaged very well. With a 203 hp, 207 lb-ft of torque Duratec V6, optional AWD, automatic climate control, a ZF 6 speed auto or a CVT, ABS all around and a nice interior, the Five Hundred is actually quite a good buy, coming in at between $25k and $30k for most buyers (starting price is a very reasonable $22,795 for the base SE model, moving up to the SEL and finally the Limited, each about $2k more in base price as you step up). It handles pretty well, seems to be built well, and features materials that easily best other Americans, the Koreans and a few Japanese brands, and challenge the likes of VW, Honda and Toyota. If you like wood trim, then rejoice in the Five Hundred's use of it in several locations in large quantities on the upper two trim levels. For me, I typically prefer black plastic or aluminum trim as is standard on the SE, but I actually like the use of faux-wood here. Many people feel wood classes up their car's interior, as evidenced by a pretty extensive after-market industry for faux-wood interior kits, so Ford was not wrong in going this route. And, I have to say, Ford picked some very nice plastic trees here. Unlike most plastic wood, this stuff really does look quite nice. When you think about the price of this car, the interior really is a jewel. Overall, this is a great package. Good space, decent performance, many features and a reasonable price when compared to the Accord and Camry (which don't offer AWD), and even perhaps a bargain versus the AWD VW Passat and Subaru Legacy.
The interior is very typical of the new class of Fords coming out. Clean lines, conservative shapes and a general lack of any sort of busy atmosphere are the signatures of the Five Hundred's interior. The car's ergonomics are straight forward, and space is quite good. The trunk is large both for its class and in general at 21 cubic feet, plus a 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks on the SEL and Limited models (allowing for objects up to 9 feet long to be carried in the car). Leg and shoulder room are solid all around. This car is really a good family vehicle in terms of getting people in and out without making them complain while they're between either of those actions.
What You Don't Get
OK, so everyone thinks I get too negative on the cars I review...perhaps. I don't want to disappoint if you have certain expectations, so here I go. The Five Hundred does not provide any sort of original design. I'm speaking specifically about the exterior, which is essentially an Audi A6. Don't forget who heads up Ford's design group. J. Mays was in charge of design at Audi, and was responsible for the Bauhaus revival there. He has two sides to him, and they are very much at odds, and are splitting Ford in two. The first is his obsession with all things retro, as seen in the T-Bird, GT and Mustang, and most of Ford's concept cars. Then there's the side of him that apparently still works for Audi, and simply makes Audi knock-offs. The Five Hundred looks to me like someone took an A6 (not the new one, but the pervious generation that is being replaced right now), and changed the lights in the front and back to make it look a little different. Even the grille is similar. And, I must say, they did not do a good job with either the front or rear lights. The front lights look out of place on this car. I don't know if it's their size, how they cut into the shape of the car on the side, the combination of the two, or what, but the front end looks odd from the side. The rear lights cut in a bit better, but seem just a bit too large...shrink 'em 10% or so, and they would work a little better. Otherwise, the greenhouse is so blatantly Audi right down to the chrome touches accenting the circular roof bisected by the body. It is a lovely shape in and of itself, but the fact that it is so close to the signature look of another brand really ruins the Five Hundred for me. The trunk line is completely different, but the greenhouse is where Audi defines its look, and the Five Hundred definitely copies Audi here.
Interestingly, I was privileged enough to spend some time with a veteran Ford engineer. I brought up the Five Hundred, and my thoughts on the lights and greenhouse. She agreed whole heartedly with my points, and said that several other engineers felt the same way. It is a very good car, but there are a few things that, if done differently, would have made it a great car overall.
My other issue is just that a 3.0L engine putting out barely over 200 horses isn't good enough anymore. The Duratec is a fine engine, but it's being laden with an AWD system, making the power a bit deficient. When Honda has a 240 hp V6 of the same displacement in the Accord, and Nissan packs similar power with more displacement in the Altima, the Five Hundred has trouble being considered nimble. That said, it actually doesn't perform as lethargically as the power numbers suggest (7.5 to 8.5 second 0-60 times, depending on AWD and tranny), and most reviews note that it feels quicker than it is. Also, Ford most likely considered their target market and its need for power in this class. They have limited development dollars (especially lately), and decided the money was better spent on the rest of the car than on tweaking or enlarging the powerplant. I can respect that, but do hope we see a 220 or 230 hp version of the Five Hundred sooner than later.
The Final Review
So, as you may be able to tell, I do like the Five Hundred in general. I wish I could get an hour or two with a designer and a clay model of the car to do some work on the head and tail lights, and it would be great if the greenhouse varied from the A6's by just a touch. All of that aside, you have a very well equipped car at a reasonable price that will easily handle a family of three or four, provide solid foul-weather handling, and be a basically enjoyable car to own. You won't hear people snickering or calling the Five Hundred a 'space ship', as was the case when the last Taurus bowed with its shocking ovoid shape. The Five Hundred is classy, comfortable, and solid. Well done, Dearborn.