This car is Ford’s latest take on the traditional American sedan – the equivalent of our Mondeo, but bigger. It won’t be sold over here, although the car it’s based on is – that’s the executive-class Volvo S80.
Amazing to think that a heartland product from Ford North America should be based on a Volvo – even if Henry owns the Swedish company – but that’s a measure of how the epicentre of the US market has shifted towards the SUV, and how Ford has struggled to find a way to replace the Taurus (the US Mondeo equivalent). In fact, the Taurus lives on alongside the Five Hundred, but Ford will be making less of them, hedging its bets with the traditionally styled new car, and the more unusual, bulbous look of the older model.
The Five Hundred is an attempt to take back more of the market lost by the Taurus in the ’90s, and it’s part of a mild rejuvenation of the company’s car line-up. A shame, then, that the design conservatism sweeping through the European arm of Ford appears rampant in Detroit, too, this big saloon looking almost dated before it hits the showroom. It doesn’t help that it is going wheel-to-wheel with Chrysler’s imposing 300C, which has taken the country’s forecourts by storm.
But the Ford is at least tidily styled, and unlike the boat-like American saloons of the past, the wheels appear in the right place relative to the bodywork. More than this, conservatively styled cars – and the best-selling Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are just that – are what this market often wants. Better then, to judge the Five Hundred on how well it functions.
It gets off to a good start by offering plenty of space, especially in the rear and in the boot, which will swallow eight golf bags, apparently. The cabin is a pleasant enough place to be as a result, especially since the ample seats are well upholstered. The Five Hundred’s controls are very clearly arranged, and the cabin’s design has a considered air about it, even if it’s ultimately bland and constructed to standards that fall short of the new Focus’s.
There’s more of interest under the bonnet, where Ford offers just one engine – a transversely mounted 3.0-litre Duratec V6 of 203bhp – attached to a CVT automatic. Which could be risky. Not only might buyers dislike its unusual CVT-style whirrings – though these are well-suppressed – but they could also be put off by GM’s recent US experience with CVTs, which proved so troublesome that it withdrew the transmission.
In practice, though, this gearbox works very well, and there’s no uncertain jerking as the car comes to a rest, the bane of earlier CVTs. The engine is smooth enough, but the Five Hundred is not the vehicle of choice for a cops-and-robbers role – it simply can’t muster the necessary rumble and screech. That’s especially true if it comes with Haldex four-wheel drive, making it almost impossible to break traction. At £950 this is an option that’s strikingly good value.
The Five Hundred doesn’t ride like American saloons of old, although it is noticeably more pillowy than the S80 and tends to dive more when you brake. But the S80 isn’t a great-riding car, and the Ford’s stiff-leggedness shows through when the bumps turn more testing. The softer suspension means more initial roll, too, but there are far fewer bends in the US.
The Five Hundred is a carefully designed, anonymous saloon that is smooth, quiet, comfortable, and will likely prove dependable. It’s not exciting and it’s no advance, but if you had to drive it 250 American miles, it would be a fine device.