Editorial: Disappointing 2003 Ford Windstar Wheelchair Vans

editorial-2003FordFreestarWheelchair-van

The new Ford Windstar wheelchair van is a disappointment. Ford hasn’t done much more than changing the shape of the rearview mirrors for the new model year, even though last year’s edition suffered from a number of mechanical issues.

The minivan’s design is dull and dated. The interior is stale and plain. One might be willing to overlook those aesthetic shortcomings if the Windstar offered tremendous performance. It does not. In fact, it’s a below-average performer that’s relying on the same mechanical pieces that were so problematic a year ago.

If the Windstar was a solid vehicle, it could be either nice family hauler or a wheelchair van. Unfortunately, its deficiencies overwhelm its potential.

The minivan market is becoming more competitive. Manufacturers are producing a number of improved minivans. The Windstar just isn’t competitive.

Looking at the Windstar

The Windstar embodies the traditional minivan look. It’s a standard box with a sloping, triangular front end. Ford has tried to dress up this standard look with interesting bumpers and cladding, but there’s no disguising the Windstar’s dated look.

The interior isn’t much more impressive. It is rather large, which is good news for both families and those who would use the vehicle as a wheelchair van. The seating is intuitive and flexible. Overall, the interior is devoid of both distractions and anything that might lead one to enjoy it.. It’s quite neutral.

Driving the Windstar

The Windstar handicap van uses a 200 horsepower V-6 engine and a four-speed automatic transmission. That gives it adequate power for most any situation driver will encounter. It’s not necessary a powerful vehicle with oomph to spare, but it has enough muscle to get by.

Unfortunately, that same powertrain experienced significant problems in 2002. Breakdowns and major transmission and engine problems weren’t rare. As such, one should approach the 2003 edition with suspicion regarding its reliability and value.

Even if that cloud wasn’t hanging over the Windstar, you’d still want to pass on it Drivers consider the steering lazy and report that its often possible to move the wheel a great deal without having any discernible impact on the direction the minivan takes. Others have concerns about the way the automatic transmissions seems unable or unwilling to access third gear for more than a few seconds at time. One can notice body roll when turning. Braking does seem adequate.

Modifying the Windstar

The Windstar has been a popular wheelchair van option for years. The vehicle’s overall reputation for quality and its spaciousness have made it an obvious choice.

In 2003, however, one should stay away from the Windstar. The space is still there and the vehicle is amenable to virtually any modifications. However, the underlying vehicle just doesn’t justify its conversion.

VMI has been converting Windstars into handicap vans for several years and they’ll be at tit again for 2003. The most common VMI conversion, their Northstar system, is a good example of the most popular form of Windstar modification.

VMI drops the Windstar’s floor by a full ten inches and then complements that with an auto kneel system to make it a leading mobility van. The converted handicap minivan features dual sliding rear doors (automatic with keyless remote) and a side-entry auto ramp. Seating and other interior elements are adjusted to serve the needs of the individual involved.

Rear-entry options are available, but the side-entry option remains the most popular.

Options for the Windstar Handicap Van

Ford sells a stripped down commercial version of the Windstar along with four consumer market trim levels. These range from the base level LX to the luxury Limited.

Of course, one gets more standard features as they move up the list of trim packages. However, Ford does something that other manufacturers often fail to do. They allow people to purchase options on an a la carte basis without much, if any, consideration of the trim level purchased. Thus, you don’t need to invest a fortune in the highest end trim package in order to access individual features that may interest you.

Safety and the Windstar

The Windstar received the highest possible grades from the NHTSA and the IIHS for its performance in collision testing. The Windstar comes standard with traction control, antilock brakes and front airbags. Side curtain airbags are standard on higher level trim packages and are available as an option. Some Windstars were recalled due to concerns about the strength of a rear bench seat wheelchair latch. Overall, it is a safe minivan.

Conclusions

Quite frankly, there are many better minivans on the market. The field is increasingly competitive and an option like the new Windstar just can’t compete with selection from Dodge, Honda and Toyota.

The Windstar suffers from significant performance issues and has a dark cloud of potential unreliability hanging over its ho-hum exterior. The Ford Windstar is not recommended as a family vehicle or as a wheelchair van for 2003.

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