One of the sensible things that Ford has done in the development of the new minivan that it is bringing to market for ‘04 is recognizing that there is something fundamentally useful about the predecessor vehicle, the Windstar. That is, in creating the Freestar, which is ostensibly a new vehicle, it is re-using approximately 40% of the Windstar. Yes, it is fundamentally the same platform that’s being processed at the Oakville, Ontario, assembly plant. The wheelbase between the two vehicles is nearly the same (the new one is 120.8 in., which is 0.1 bigger); the overall length is the same (201.5 in.). But there are new engines (3.9-liter and 4.2-liter V6s) and a new four-speed automatic transmission. The suspension. Steering. Brakes. Wheels. Tires. Seats. Interiors. All new. The front of the vehicle is new (to handle the frontal offset crash testing that’s now exceedingly important, especially for vehicles like minivans), as is the rear. The floor pan is new (accommodating the deep well necessary to accommodate the fold-into-floor third row seat). So although there is 60% new, the fundamental box is the same, facilitating operations in the plant. And because there didn’t need to be a big tear up at the plant to accommodate the Freestar, they were able to work on ergonomic and processing improvements in the plant, over 800 of them, according to vehicle engineering manager Tom Musselman.
There is another sensible thing that Ford did. Heretofore, the Mercury minivan, the Villager, which went out of production in June 2002, was a short-wheelbase minivan. It shared the vehicle with Nissan, which offered it as the Quest (to see what’s become of that, read Lofty Ideals). This time out, Mercury and Ford are sharing the same vehicle. In Mercury’s case, it’s the Monterey. There are differences between the two vehicles. For example, the 4.2-liter (cast iron block, aluminum head; 201 hp @ 4,250 rpm; 263 lb-ft torque @ 3,650 rpm) is standard on the Monterey. Mercury, which is undergoing a product revitalization program (look for a new sedan, the Montego, which will be its version of the Ford Five Hundred; the Mariner, a compact SUV based on the Ford Escape; and a new “flagship” car coming in the next three years), is positioning itself in the market as having “modern design, smartly done,” with particular emphasis (and spending) on interiors.
Clever Pricing—Presumably, by making more equipment standard on the Freestar (e.g, from power locks, windows and mirrors to remote keyless entry to four-wheel ABS) they were able to create better manufacturing accounting. Consequently, several Freestar models carry the same approximate price as comparable Windstars, or are a better deal. The Freestar SE has a base MSRP (including a $685 destination charge) of $26,930, $70 less than an ‘03 Windstar LX standard. The top-ended Limited has a base MSRP (including destination) of $33,630, $1,800 less than an ‘03 Windstar Limited.
Clever Seats—Yes, the third row in the Monterey folds flat. The second row is readily flipped up with a one-handed maneuver to get it out of the way for access to the third row. (By folding the third and removing the second rows, there is a behind-the-first-row cargo capacity of 134.3 ft3.) But the most clever seating in the vehicle is the front seats that offer both heating and cooling. This function is based on the “Peltier effect,” which was discovered in 1834. Essentially, this makes use of wires produced from elements within the thermoelectric series. Take two of them, and create a circuit with two junctions. Then when a current is produced, a temperature difference is created. In the Monterey seats, a small electric fan directs the heated or cooled air through the cushions and backrests.
The Mercury Monterey has the signature “waterfall grille” that is becoming a standard characteristic of the “look” of Mercury. Satin aluminum accents are also a design cue. From a technical point of view, there are ultrasonic sensors in both the front and rear fascias that provide parking assist. Its platform mate, the Ford Freestar, offers only rear sensors.