NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
The success or failure of the new Ford Five Hundred sedan will tell us a lot about what America really wants in a car these days.
Does America want individuality and performance -- or does it want cupholders?
Press reviews of the car have been "eh," at best. It has been almost universally described as a car for old people. MONEY's Lawrence Ulrich named it one of the 2005 model year's "most disappointing" cars.
Criticism of the Five Hundred has focused on its conservative appearance and its bland driving performance.
Then again, SUVs make up more than a quarter of the consumer market and they don't exactly make a statement.
Ford's idea was to take the stuff people love about SUVs and pack them into two different non-SUV packages -- the Five Hundred and the Freestyle. One, the Five Hundred, is a sedan while the other, the Freestyle, is a crossover wagon.
Among the elements that both vehicles borrow from SUVs are high "command view" seating, available all-wheel drive and an emphasis on large and flexible storage spaces.
Early signs are that the Ford Freestyle, the crossover wagon, is selling well. (We'll have more on the Freestyle in a future story.) The jury is still out, though, on the Five Hundred.
Ford has shifted production at the Chicago factory that makes the Freestyle and Five Hundred to allow for more Freestyles. But that just shows the success of the Freestyle, not that people don't favor the Five Hundred, Ford says.
According to Ben Poore, Ford division car group marketing manager, I am the target market for the Five Hundred.
I was surprised to learn that. After driving the Five Hundred, I assumed Ford had deliberately targeted the growing number of older Americans. Older as in over 50, at least.
I'm on the young side of middle-age, I have a small family and I currently drive a Japanese-make sedan.
I'm not a big fan of SUVs, although I understand why people like them. I always long for more space when taking long road trips with stuff packed into all the open seats and my driver's seat pushed to the dashboard to make room for a cooler on the floor behind it.
"We knew there was a trend in the market where people said, 'I love my sedan but I'm a little bit jealous of my neighbor,'" said Poore.
My neighbors have Nissan Pathfinders and Jeep Grand Cherokees. Not only can they fit more stuff in their vehicles, they also aren't looking at the door-sills and tailpipes of other people's SUVs when they drive.
So maybe Ford is right, I thought. Maybe this is the perfect car for me.
It's got a huge trunk, lots of cubbyholes, enough cupholders for each of four occupants to drink until they burst, and a big, tall passenger cabin.
Still, with all that practicality going for it, the Five Hundred really isn't very exciting. Its utterly competent driving performance is about as exhilarating as a pleasant walk. And Ford sells the car's appearance as understated and elegant.
In a regular survey conducted by the Kelley Blue Book, potential buyers give the Five Hundred high marks for seeming "down-to-earth," "confident," and "sophisticated." It gets low marks for "youthful,""aggressive," "exciting," and "imaginative."
"People are not buying cars that are run-of-the-mill anymore," said Art Spinella of CNW Market Research, an auto marketing consultancy.
So Ford may have faltered by making a car that Americans no longer want. The Five Hundred will sell for a few more months before Ford starts putting incentives on the car, Spinella predicts.
In fact, that may have been the plan all along, suggests Mike Chung, pricing and market analyst for autos Web site Edmunds.com.
"Ford has artificially created a price point from which they plan to provide a discount," he said in an e-mail.
If you decide the Five Hundred might be for you, after carefully considering competing vehicles like the Toyota Avalon or Chrysler 300, it might be a good idea to hang back for a while. For one thing, incentives might lower the price, making the Five Hundred a better value for those who value versatility over excitement.
For more details and opinions on the Five Hundred, see our gallery.