Yes, that bad pun was aimed squarely at the Ford Freestyle. And the Ford Five Hundred it was based on. But what happened?
A recent conversation with Svend centered around the confusing global lineup of Ford in the late 2000s, which led to this discovery. Specifically, we were discussing the strange mix of globalized cars Ford has sold and which ones had similar but entirely separate models based on which side of the pond you lived on.
The last generation Ford Fusion was also sold as the Ford Mondeo overseas. However, those nameplates had been attached to very similar cars in the past that were nevertheless separate models. The only difference on the present generation is the addition of a wagon body style in Europe.
But the Mondeo is so much more than a globalized Fusion. It has been produced continually since 1993 as a large family saloon or wagon and formed a cornerstone of Ford’s lineup for the better part of three decades now.
So if the Mondeo used to always be separate, what was the US equivalent?
Glad you asked. The Taurus was Ford’s front wheel drive large family car from 1986 to 2005, when the naming nomenclature for that role got confusing.
People who grew up in the back of a Taurus wagon didn’t want one when they got old enough to drive, so a name change, it was hoped, would reinvigorate sales and attract a new generation to the practical family car.
So Ford renamed their large front wheel drive sedan the Five Hundred spelled out instead of using numbers. The world collectively rolled its eyes and forgot it existed when it debuted in 2005. The Five Hundred was not nearly as strong a seller as its predecessors, probably not helped by the frumpy appearance of the new car. It had a remarkably tall and upright greenhouse, giving it an appearance of practicality that the buying public was moving away from; the peak of the SUV craze prior to the recession of 2008 was not a good time to debut essentially a granny car.
However, this unsuccessful attempt at reviving the Taurus only for it to become even more associated with empty nesters and old folks did bring about Ford’s last US market station wagon to date. The Ford Freestyle was based off the Five Hundred chassis and architecture, marking the last hurrah for the wagon at the blue oval.
Ford didn’t even have the dignity to sell it as a wagon, instead thinly disguising it as an SUV by tacking on plastic cladding and giving it big wheels. But even this active lifestyle vehicle couldn’t get around its association as an old folks car. It arguably looked even frumpier than the sedan and the SUV ruse wouldn’t fool a child. Most of its target audience bought Explorers anyways, so its main competitor was a fellow Ford. Not a good strategy.
So this is the end. Ford quit making wagons after the failed Five Hundred/Freestyle platform and its hollow marketing gimmicks.
They did continue making a Taurus equivalent, however. The Fusion continued the naming scheme beginning with F and was a sales success. The Fusion came out in 2006 with an overlap of two years between the two similarly sized sedans. No wagon variant was offered. A comprehensive facelift in 2010 was much more extensive than usual, bringing significant structural changes along with new bodywork, interior bits, and powertrain changes.
My brother owns a last year 2012 and the build and material quality is remarkably poor. It’s a good looking and practical sedan, but it has not held up well with age. In particular, the interior plastics have suffered unacceptable levels of UV degradation.
The Ford Taurus nameplate was revived for the 2013 model year and was greeted with enthusiasm. Sales to police departments also picked up, helping the overall profitability despite the market for large sedans shrinking substantially.
Fortunately, 2016 heralded the all new Fusion that doubled as the European Mondeo. This, as was mentioned earlier, was offered with a wagon body style but never in North America.
So, we are at the end of the confused history that birthed the Freestyle. Ford’s hollow marketing and disinterested design in the late 2000s really blemished the reputation of the cars to follow, forcing them into a strained relationship with their naming scheme. Ford’s last USDM wagon really wasn’t very good, but it deserves recognition as such. Nevertheless, the Blue Oval has since made much better wagon never destined for our shores.