The Ford Five Hundred is about as close to a ghost as an automobile can get. Even if you see one, it’s hard to be sure exactly what you saw, or if you even saw anything at all. It’s very existence is confusing to most people—was it a thing? Was a just a Taurus? Have I ever seen one? The Five Hundred is so meh it’s almost haunting. It’s so meh it has almost meh’d itself out of its very existence, and that’s terrifying.
What’s especially strange is that the car came from a designer who’s history is designing cars that, whatever you think of them, are not meh at all: J Mays. I think J Mays is a fantastic designer, the brains behind the New Beetle and the re-born Ford Thunderbird and was responsible for the sleek look that made late ‘90s, early 2000s Volkswagens so appealing, despite everyone knowing that soon they’d be staring at a check engine light.
But with the Five Hundred, those sleek design cues from cars like the 1996-2006 Passat weren’t so exciting almost ten years later when the Five Hundred was introduced in 2005. It’s rare that an all-new car can come to market looking almost identical to a car nearly a decade old, but the Five Hundred managed that extremely tedious trick remarkably well.
Even at the car’s launch people were already asking if the design was too boring, which should have been a pretty big warning flag to Ford. J Mays answered the question of how boring this new car was by saying
“By the way, I don’t think it’s going to hurt sales. They’re the most conservative buyers there are.”
Oh god. That’s so grim. The guy in charge of the Five Hundred’s design basically said “It’s fine it’s boring. The people who buy this shit are boring, too!”
The Five Hundred was Ford’s first new full-size sedan since 1979, and it seems like Ford’s big goal was to figure out why people still liked full-sized American sedans and destroy every reason, and then give the people who wanted those things a disappointed stare and head shake.
Gone was the traditional body-on-frame design of cars like the Crown Vic, gone was the fun, ‘70s-cop-show rear-wheel-drive handling, and in its place was a platform developed by Volvo (called the Ford D3 platform), front-wheel drive, and, it seems, the first time an exorcist was employed by a major automaker to ensure that a car would have no soul or spirit of any kind, whatsoever.
The Five Hundred used Ford’s completely adequate 3.0-liter, 206 horsepower Duratec V6. That was fine.
Oh, and just in case anyone saw a 200+ HP number there and thought they had a chance to have some kind of limited fun in the car, Ford shut that shit down fast by giving the car a CVT transmission option, because fuck you.
In the purest Meh car fashion, the Five Hundred was essentially fine, and did its job well enough. It was even clean and unoffensive, a completely rational choice of a family car, as long as you had already accepted that life is no longer something that needs to contain joy or passion or even a level of interest that’s more than tepid.
The Ford Five Hundred was the automotive equivalent of making some kind of big, very adult decision that’s technically the right thing to do, but you regret for the rest of your life. It’s the long, ragged, drawn-out sigh you make when you finally let go of the last shred of your dreams, in automotive form.
Even the commercials had nothing to play up except how boring the car was. Look at this—the only car to be driving in a boring way in this ad is the Ford Five Hundred:
The Five Hundred was so depressing that even Ford could only stomach the joy-void of the thing for two years; by 2008 it was re-named the Taurus, and some attempt was made to de-boringize the car, because Ford just couldn’t live with all the blood of all those dreams on their hands.
Our collective memory has helped us immeasurably when it comes to the Ford Five Hundred, because it’s been effectively blocked from most people’s minds.
It’s almost like it never existed, and this is a case where that amnesia is welcomed like a friend.