Ford Freestar minivan

Used 2004 Ford Freestar Pricing & Features | Edmunds

Until 2003, the Honda Odyssey was the minivan to beat. Today, with the arrival of the redesigned '04 Toyota Sienna and Nissan Quest, the champion is no longer clear. The playing field has widened considerably, and Ford is the latest automaker to submit an updated entry.

Last redesigned in 1999, the Ford Windstar lacked many of the features consumers now consider necessary when shopping for a minivan. Does it have fold-flat seats, or cumbersome removable benches? Does it have more cupholders than available passenger seating? How about entertainment systems and storage cubbies? Actual driving performance aside, many of these questions are at the top of minivan shoppers' lists.

Ford went to work on these issues and more, and not just for its aging Windstar, but also for its Mercury minivan, the Villager. Sold from 1993-2003, the Villager was twin to the Nissan Quest. When Nissan went its own direction for 2004 with an all-new, all-Nissan Quest, Mercury was left without a minivan. And so for 2004, Ford is launching the all-new Freestar with a Mercury Monterey twin.

The previous Windstar came with a 3.8-liter V6 engine that was rated at 200 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. The Ford Freestar now comes with two engine options - a 3.9-liter V6 that produces 193 hp, and a 4.2-liter V6 that puts out 201 hp. We have not had an opportunity to experience the 3.9-liter version, but spent time behind the wheel of both a 4.2-equipped Freestar and its Mercury twin (which only offers the 4.2-liter engine). While the new Freestar and Monterey offer little more horsepower than the outgoing Windstar, the noticeable benefit of the new 4.2-liter engine is torque. The big V6 offers 263 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 23 lb-ft that should make the minivan feel quicker off the line, as well as while tooling around town. Our initial impression was favorable regarding quick-start power, but once the Freestar gets up to speed, there seems to be little additional power left for passing slower traffic. Also, the larger engine hasn't done consumers' pocketbooks any favors, as the EPA fuel mileage figures for the twin minivans are the lowest among new competitors at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway (they're still better than the Kia Sedona's 15/20 rating, though).

Both engines use the same four-speed automatic transmission, while all of the Japanese minivan competitors are now providing five-speed automatic shifters. The good news is that four-speed seemed adequately tuned to the Ford engine, with smooth, well-timed gear changes. Quick downshifts were much appreciated since the brakes seemed a bit soft initially, and not as linear as we would have liked. After noting our braking concerns, we checked the specification list and found that despite our criticism, the minivans got larger brakes this year - four-wheel discs with standard ABS on all Freestars and Montereys.

We spent most of our time on the smooth, flat roads of Northern Michigan during our test-drive, and when it came to ride quality, found both the Freestar and Monterey to be agreeable traveling partners. Both vans provided a soft, comfortable ride for front and rear passengers. Although we still believe the Odyssey remains unbeaten with its carlike handling characteristics, we don't feel the Ford products offered any negative feedback, either on the straightaways or through tighter corners.

Ford already had a solid record where safety is concerned. Safety ratings for the Windstar included five-star awards for front- and side-impact protection, and Ford doesn't intend to break its streak anytime soon. Both new minivans offer a segment-exclusive Safety Canopy side curtain airbag system with a rollover sensor that protects all three rows of seating in side-impact collisions and rollovers and seat-mounted side-impact airbags for additional front-passenger protection. Three-point safety belts are standard in all seating positions, and there is a reverse-sensing system to sound the alarm if it detects an object or person on the street or in the driveway behind you. (The Monterey gets both front and rear parking sensors.) The side mirrors also have integrated turn signals, and the accelerator and brake pedals are height-adjustable, making it easier for drivers of shorter stature to find a safe driving position. Ford's AdvanceTrac stability control system, which continuously monitors the vehicle's path compared to driver's input, is also an available option.

On the outside, the Freestar is no conversation-provoking work of modern automotive art. Unlike some of its recently redesigned competition, especially the Nissan Quest, the new Ford is a minivan that looks just like, well, a minivan. The Freestar comes in five trim levels: S, SE, SES, SEL and Limited. Front, rear and side design cues help differentiate between models, with base models receiving body-color grilles and trim, midlevel sporting five-spoke alloy wheels and black lower grille and bumper treatments, and upper trims getting chrome details. At launch, 16-inch wheels are the only wheel option, but 17-inchers will be available later in the model year on SES, SEL and Limited models.

The Mercury Monterey comes in three available trim levels - Convenience, Luxury and Premier. Besides the Mercury badging, the Monterey distinguishes itself from its Ford trim via a Mercury signature waterfall grille, satin aluminum trim and monochromatic body-side cladding.

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