On the evidence so far, 2005 is set to become the Year of the Automotive Whatchamacallit. No longer content to settle merely for cars and trucks, automakers are now urging upon an increasingly bewildered public entirely new, and even bizarre vehicular creations. Hummer's new Sport Utility Truck (SUT) combines SUV trendiness with a pickup truck work ethic and all the styling of a block of Colby cheese. Ford's new "crossover" Freestyle is best defined in terms of what it is not: Not a minivan and not a not wagon. But it certainly is something. Surely.
2005 Ford Freestyle
For all the moribund news coming out of Ford Motor Co. during the past year,
creative juices have been percolating behind the scenes. The fascinating new Ford Freestyle stands as proof. By a subtle and effective process of cross-pollination, this new crossover wagon co-mingles separate strands of both Ford and Volvo DNA. The result is a six-passenger vehicle that camouflages itself as a station wagon yet manages to out-cargo most SUVs.
Interior design is the key to Freestyle's versatilityand its undefinability. With three rows of seats in use, there's ample room for six adult occupants. The layout is akin to that of a small shuttleit's a very
civilized way for a half-dozen folks to travel in style.
When you opt for cargo over conversation, on the other hand, Freestyle accommodates in myriad ways. Essentially, all seats save that of the driver, fold absolutely flat and flush to the floor, including the front
passenger's. When moving a variety of office items and furniture in the Freestyle, I was bowled over by the mix-and-match possibilities of two, three, four and five seats folded. Long rods of about 10 ft. lay flat from front dash to rear hatch, and passengers were able to sit in alternating seats amidst my various business chattels. Even with all seats in use, there are about 18 cu. ft. of deep luggage space behind seating row three; in maximum mode, the Freestyle swallows 85 cubes overall.
Innovation extends to the powertrain. Underhood is Ford's redoubtable 3.0-liter "Duratec" V6, found elsewhere in the likes of Ford's Escape SUV and Focus models. Horsepower is bumped a bit in the Freestyle to 203 hp, and torque is 207 ft.-lbs. Distributing this power to the Volvo-influenced, optional all-wheel-drive system is a "gearless" continuously variable transmission (CVT). In other words, individual gear shifts disappear. Acceleration is as smooth and uncanny as in an electric cart.
Whereas mileage performance of 19 mpg/city and 24 mpg/highway benefits from the inclusion of CVT technology, muscular performance is not a strong suit.
Despite its creased, trim appearance, Freestyle is large and heavy (4,112 lbs.). Merging into traffic requires patience and pluck. Oddly, the lack of shifting gears creates a subtle psychological sensation of not getting anywhere fast.
What Freestyle surrenders in terms of sizzle, however, it more than matches with brainy versatility. At almost $30,000 as-tested, it's not a particularly inexpensive alternative to minivans and SUVs, mind you. (And it's a bit annoying to learn that Ford's vaunted "Safety Canopy" six-airba
system is a $695 option.) Nevertheless, for a commuting world beset with frustrations over passengers and cargo permutations, Freestyle introduces a free spirit into the debate with its fresh new interior approach.
2005 Hummer H2 SUT
When eighth-grade boys applaud as you drive into view, you know you're behind the wheel of something special. I'm not entirely certain General Motors had this litmus test in mind for its brawny, hulking cube o' steel
dubbed Hummer H2 SUT; but that's the way the cards fall just the same.
In concept, the SUT is a "convertible" pickup truck version of the brawny, hulking H2which is itself derived from the even brawnier, hulkier H1 "HumVee" military vehicles presently scurrying about such trendy neighborhoods as Sadr City and Falluja. What's unique about the 2005 SUT is its own imaginative interpretation of the people-cum-cargo conundrum.
In a nutshell, the Hummer SUT is a part-time pickup with a tiny, 22-cu. ft.
open-air cargo bed. When that proves too small a space for, say, the serious work of hauling four-by-eight-ft. sheets of plywood, it's a simple enough matter to lower the rear window; fold flat the rear wall (or "midgate") of the cockpit; and slide your plywood into the cabin over flattened rear seats.
In other words, the entire vehicle is now can-openered into an al fresco Jitney bus with leather upholstery. "Clever"; "fascinating"; "never seen nuthin' like it"these are the typical reactions of folks pleading for a
demo wherever this SUT is parked. (Well, you have seen somethin' like it, actually, with the Chevy Avalanche and Cadillac Escalade EXT.) Problem is, after you've opened 'er up the first time, it's hard to imagine another
occasion when you'd willingly invite the elements into your cockpit for a joy ride.
Like its H2 sibling, the Hummer SUT boasts a 6.0-liter V8. Because its 6,400-lb. curb weight classes it with commercial trucks, the SUT doesn't have to boast any mileage ratings. But if you're smart enough to afford one of these $58,070 (as-tested) playthings, you're likely smart enough to
"interpret" the following: 31-gallon gas tank; cruising range of 310 miles on a single tankful. Since the typical eighth-grade boy simply assumes Mom's and Dad's cars remain perpetually full of gas, why then not applaud?
The rest of us, on the other hand, just have to grin and bear it. Some schmo in a 2005 Hummer H2 SUT is being lionized by eighth-graders in between constant visits to the Shell station. Now, that's the life. Or might the better motto rather be: "Get a life, Bub"?