This week, along with a group of other bloggers and journalists, I was invited to attend Ford’s 2009 Model Year Program in Dearborn, Michigan.
Our morning started early at the Dearborn Development Center, where we were greeted by Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Product Development. We were divided into four color based groups, and told we would rotate through the following locations: the Quality & Safety tent at the VDA, a track experience at the VDA course, the Green & Smart tent at the Heli pad, and a track experience on the Steering & Handling course. I was pleased to join David Goodspeed, our Grinding Gears editor (representing AutoworldToday), as well as other writers I had met previously at the December Ford event.
I thought we might get to drive a new model vehicle when I was given the invite, perhaps because it mentioned no open toes on the track, but I didn’t expect the chance to drive the 2009 Mustang GT, Mustang Bullitt, and the new Ford Flex among many others…nice!
David and I were in different groups, so our original idea of filming each other was stymied, but it didn’t matter. We had plenty of opportunities to meet up in between sessions and compare notes.
We were given a brief discussion of track rules…
…and then given an overview of how Ford had and was continuing to improve their fuel economy, brand DNA, and quality.
We then broke into our four groups and were transferred by bus to the four different stations. My first stop was the Green & Smart tent at the Heli pad, and inside I learned about how Ford is personalizing different safety aspects of their vehicles to the occupant’s size, and whether or not they are wearing a seatbelt. To this end, they have introduced differently sized airbags which will deploy based on the seat occupant’s weight.
One of the new safety features I liked were Ford’s new blind spot mirrors. Anyone who has ever bought one of those tacky stick-on round or ovoid mirrors at AutoZone will appreciate that these are seamlessly integrated into the mirror from the factory, and they will never peel off or otherwise degrade.
The Green portion of the tent displayed different ways Ford is using corn, soybeans, and other natural sources to replace petroleum when making plastics and seats…
The next segment was what I had really been waiting for: driving on the course! Outside the PRC building there were approximately 25 cars, all of the new automobiles in the 2009 Ford lineup waiting for us to take them for a spin. We paired up, and after he basically tossed my driving partner from the vehicle after the first lap I found myself with CrunchGear‘s Ken Sander. We immediately hit it off, and spent the rest of the segment putting the Mustang Bullitt, Ford Flex, Ford Escape Hybrid, Mercury Milano (Volga Package), Lincoln MKZ, and many others through their paces.
Of all the vehicles driven, the Mercury Milano was the biggest surprise. The others were exactly as I expected them to be: fast, sporty, luxurious, whatever; but the Milano was a joy to drive. It tightly hugged the curves, was very nice both inside and out, and it impressed both Ken and me because it was a Mercury! Am I the only one who can’t seem to forget how the Mercury Capri was like a poor man’s Mustang? I’ll admit that it tainted my opinion of the Brand for years. Now I see that I will need to rethink my bias.
I also got some great shots of the 2009 Ford F-150 Platinum Edition, which regretfully, we did not get to test drive. That’s David looking all surprised as I caught him off guard, talking to a Ford rep.
Isn’t that leather dash simply decadent?
Here’s David showing some of the new convenience features of the F-150; I have to say that this was easily the most loaded out truck I had ever seen…which coming from a former Harley Davidson edition F-150 and current King Ranch edition F-250 owner is saying a lot.
Our next stop was the VDA course, which was essentially a free-form driving range set up on blacktop, composed of cones. To me, this was the course that really tested the steering and handling ability of the vehicles we drove…and Ken and I had a little too much fun taking turns putting the vehicles through their paces.
A camera man from Channel 7 in Detroit filmed us for much of the time when we were driving the Bullitt and Mustang GT, so if you caught the news last night you probably saw us.
For the record, neither Ken nor I hit any of the cones; once again we were impressed with the Mercury Milan’s handling, but the real surprise was the sporty European style Ford Focus Coupe! It was an absolute joy to drive; it hugged the course’s curves and accelerated like a pro – even if it didn’t sound as throaty or mean as either of the two Mustangs. I was disappointed to see that there is a Cabriolet Ford Focus which will not be available in the US…no fair, Ford!
I thought the worst performer on this course was the Taurus, simply because its suspension was made to cushion all the road bumps (making for a very smooth ride), but cornering resulted in a definite “scoot over baby” effect. It’s worth noting that the new Taurus’ outer appearance and interior are vast improvements over the Taurus many of us remember from the 90s; this is a car a family could proudly drive.
Our last station was the Quality & Safety tent, where we were able to see the advanced side curtain airbag designs that Ford has created, as well as some of the other integrated safety features that will be appearing soon.
We also had the opportunity to simulate a factory line experience, riveting bolts and watching how the quality control indicators work in the individual specialized tools.
Our day was jam-packed with good information, but my favorite part was definitely the track experience. I can see myself in a new GT…