Full 2006 Ford Freestar Review
What's New for 2006
Very little has changed for the 2006 Ford Freestar. Ford has simplified the minivan's trim levels, and there are now just SE, SEL and Limited trims. The company has also revised the Freestar's option packages and made the formerly optional cruise control, CD player, tinted glass, roof rails and tire-pressure monitor standard equipment. Other minor changes include redesigned interior door panels and, for the Limited, extra chrome trim and optional 17-inch wheels.
Ford has been outclassed and, more importantly, outsold in the minivan segment for years. The Ford Windstar (1995-2003) was known for its safety reputation, but it didn't have the smart packaging, bulletproof reliability or innovative features to appeal to shoppers looking at Grand Caravans and Odysseys. Ford had a chance to catch up when it reworked the Windstar and renamed it the Freestar for 2004. Unfortunately, the company missed the boat.
Ford's updated minivan finally offers fold-flat third-row seating years after the competition. The third-row seat can even flip around to a rear-facing position for tailgate parties, a feature Mazda and Honda offered years ago. The cabin includes many more storage areas, and there's an optional DVD entertainment system to keep the kids occupied. There is no navigation system available, though, and that's a big problem in this segment, where upscale features are becoming more important.
The one thing the Windstar did have going for it was an impressive crash safety rating for its front occupants, and the Freestar has continued that tradition with its five-star sweep of government crash tests and top rating in frontal offset crash testing. This minivan also offers side curtain airbag protection for all three rows of passengers. In a rollover situation, both sides will deploy and can stay inflated for up to six seconds for added protection. The Ford Freestar continues to offer staples like stability control, a reverse-sensing system and adjustable pedals. Ford claims to have tripled its budget for interior design over the last several years, and vehicles like the Aviator, Explorer and Navigator are obvious indications that the money was well spent.
The Freestar also reaps the rewards of Ford's new attention to interior design. It offers a step up from the Windstar in terms of a higher-quality look of the cabin accommodations. The Ford's interior has a bit of a European flair with chrome-trimmed gauges and a very clean, uncluttered overall look. Unfortunately, the good-looking interior is only skin-deep, as the materials still feel subpar. And in most respects, the Freestar lacks the day-to-day functionality of other vans. Ford is facing an uphill battle, as the Freestar does not compare favorably against the competition. As if to add insult to injury, the 2006 Ford Freestar is one of the more expensive minivans on the market, but if you decide you must have one, you're apt to find Ford dealerships willing to offer sizable discounts. Nevertheless, most buyers will be much happier with one of its superior competitors.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Ford Freestar minivan is available in three trim levels -- SE, SEL and Limited. SE models start you out with a second-row bench seat, a fold-flat third-row seat, cruise control, keyless entry, a CD player and privacy glass. Step up to the SEL and you get a rear air conditioner, a power driver seat, foglamps, second-row bucket seats and a unique exterior appearance package. The top-line Limited includes upgraded interior trim with leather upholstery, power-sliding doors, automatic climate control and additional exterior chrome accents. Optional features for the 2006 Freestar include items like a second-row bench seat, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a power liftgate and, on the Limited, heated front seats.
Powertrains and Performance
Two engines are available on the Ford Freestar. The base 3.9-liter V6 produces an adequate 193 horsepower, while offering a healthy 240 pound-feet of torque. An available large-displacement 4.2-liter V6 makes just 201 hp, but offers 263 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are torque-rich and deliver adequate power for most situations, but they tend to run out of breath at higher speeds. A four-speed automatic is standard on all models. The Freestar's fuel economy numbers are unimpressive; the 3.9-liter minivan is rated 18 city/23 highway while the 4.2 earns a more dismal 17/23 rating.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution are standard on all Freestar minivans. Available safety features include side curtain airbags that span all three rows of seating and the AdvanceTrac stability and traction control system, which incorporates a panic brake assist feature. The Ford Freestar earned five stars (the best possible) for its performance in NHTSA frontal impact tests. For side impacts, the van received five stars for rear-occupant protection and four stars for front passengers. The IIHS named the Freestar a "Best Pick" for its performance in the 40-mph frontal offset crash test.
Interior Design and Special Features
Ford designers have equipped the Freestar minivan with a shapely dash and steering wheel, and attractive materials. Good as the materials look, they feel cheap to the touch and are, on the whole, below average among minivans. The fold-flat third-row seat allows for flexible use of the available space, but the seat folds only as a single piece, rather than allowing a 60/40-split. Legroom in the second row can be tight for adults and children alike, and the seats themselves are hard to remove when you need to make way for cargo.
The 2006 Ford Freestar meets the minimum requirements of most minivan buyers: It provides adequate power and a comfortable ride. It's heavier than most minivans and therefore isn't as adept when negotiating corners and freeway entrance ramps. Either engine offers enough power for easy around-town travel, but their vigor diminishes during highway passing maneuvers. Neither one scores well in the refinement department, as they're noisier than most other V6s in this segment.