Ford produces Windstar, advanced concept for a big minivan
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
Steering a course across the rolling hills of central Florida, I felt like I was maneuvering a surprisingly nimble midsize sedan -- one of those sleek and sporty movers rigged with an agile steering system, quick power quotient and the cushioned comfort of a contoured driver's bucket.
What disagreed with this initial impression of my driving experience was that view from the central rearview mirror: The reflection was not the limited quarters of a sedan but the boxed cavern of a van, with second and third row seating and enough space left in the extended rear bay to contain a load of luggage.
That was the shock: I had to keep reminding myself I was steering a minivan because from the vehicle's superb handling characteristics and smooth performance, this was obviously not the typical version.
Instead, it was the latest product from Ford Motor Company, a design and manufacturing effort worth $1.5 billion which produced a virtual new class of minivan.
This Ford, bearing a 1995 model-year label and equipped with a front transverse-mounted V6 engine which connects to a front-wheel-drive system, is called Windstar.
Think of it as replacement for the rear-wheel-drive Aerostar, which was more akin to a truck than not, more representative of yesterday's concepts than tomorrow's.
Windstar, by contrast, confronts the class leading Chrysler minivans, originators of the concept a decade ago.
Ford did not follow Chrysler's lead back in 1984 by coming out with a me-too rival, despite the fact that the minivan idea caught fire with the parenting public.
Today, that market adds up to more than 20 percent of all truck sales -- and, yes, even though the ultimate minivan drives like a car and rides like a car, it is actually classified as a truck and usually built on the platform of a truck.
Ford bided its time with minivans. Management waited, watching as the trend expanded, along with product improvements which the leader effected during ensuing years. Finally, in an effort that reminds me of the way the Japanese can not only imitate another's lead but take a concept several steps further, Ford's designers developed a minivan from scratch which ends up moving the concept into a new generation, the next logical step.
Most notable about Ford's concept, Windstar is large -- comparing to the competition's stretched version but containing the longest wheelbase in class. This means there's plenty of room for seven big bruisers and all of their cargo, and it also allows Windstar to deliver a superior -- call it car-like -- smooth ride quality.
Yet Windstar, despite that long wheelbase and the widest body in its class, looks about as small as any mini on the market.
It's like a magic trick, squeezing a big hunk of a minivan into a cute little package. Aerodynamic sculpting of all exterior lines, plus the gentle teardrop shape to many elements such as windows or headlamps contribute to this diminishing effect, as does the fact that Windstar rides low to the ground.
The step-up height -- the vertical distance you must raise your foot from the ground to the floorboard in order to climb aboard -- amounts to only 16 inches, which is the least of all minis and almost comparable to some big sedans.
This makes access so easy, which was one of the original advantages of the minivan over a full-size van: You didn't have to work to get aboard.
Once inside, you quickly discover that Windstar contains the caliber of appointments and comforts of an elegant sedan, and the feel from all controls and mechanisms is not that old loosy-goosy touch and sound once associated with American-built cars, but the exacting tightness of Germany's precision-engineered touring sedans.
That's what I've become accustomed to expect from a fine automobile, and that's what Ford delivers with Windstar. You can feel it in the no-nonsense snap of the turn signal lever, which moves only scant millimeters to get its job done, or the click of a dashboard control knob, the way the doors lock or the precision of power window buttons.
And Windstar is so quiet: Special sound deadening measures and insulation block engine and outside noises.
This mini also contains a considerable level of safety features, beginning with a front crumple zone to absorb collision impact forces, and dual airbags for front riders.
There are steel beams implanted in side doors to guard against side impacts, plus front knee bolsters, 3-point seat belts for all outboard passenger positions, a standard 4-wheel anti-lock brake system, as well as two optional toddler's safety seats built into the center bench's back.
For power, Windstar GL packs a 3.0-liter V6 with 147 hp rating. The deluxe LX edition uses a transverse-mounted 3.8-liter V6 which Ford borrowed from Lincoln Continental, then modified for this application. With overhead valving and sequential port fuel injection, the engine produces 155-horsepower plus significant torque.
Mated to either engine is a 4-speed electronic automatic transmission with column-mounted shifter. A thumb button located on the end of the shift lever allows the driver to switch into an overdrive fourth gear to enhance fuel economy when cruising at highway speeds.
The powertrain is impressive -- smooth in shifting, extremely quiet, actually quite peppy despite Windstar's stout curb weight of 3,700 pounds.
I specifically appreciated the small sport-type padded steering wheel, which contributed to the feeling that I was piloting a sports sedan.
Also, the unusual instrument panel features an outward bow at the center in order to position all knobs and switches within easy reach of the driver. The ergonomics of the cockpit design will satisfy an action-oriented driver, as will the center stack of radio and climate controls.
Another unique point: Windstar's designers covered all of the interior's touch zones with soft materials like cloth and vinyl. The effect is a warm and fuzzy kind of feeling when you're driving or riding, which ultimately translates to comfort.
Windstar's front bucket seats fit and feel good to your backside, and they adjust in a variety of ways.
Two models -- base GL and luxurious LX -- draw from 11 exterior colors and 17 dual-tone combinations.
Windstar was designed at Ford's new Simultaneous Engineering Center, with assembly at the Ontario Ford plant which formerly built Tempo, Canada's best-selling car.
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 1995 FORD WINDSTAR Specs
| Model Options:
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
| Gas Mileage:
||$ 19,500 to $ 24,000