Expert Review: 2006 Ford Freestar Wheelchair Vans

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The 2006 Freestar Wheelchair Van

In terms of accessibility potential, the Ford Freestar is a decent option for those in need of a wheelchair van. It can be customized for use as either a rear-entry or side-entry model. Side-entry variations utilizing ramps are the most common conversion and are supplied by noted manufacturers including VMI.

These conversions usually combine a dropped floor, powered sliding doors with remote entry, an auto kneel system and a powered ramp to produce an accessible, flexible wheelchair van. The 2006 Freestar is amenable to all necessary interior adjustments and can support specialized vehicle controls.

The problem with investing in a Ford Freestar as a wheelchair van is the lack of overall vehicle performance. Access and mobility isn’t an issue. The nature of the underlying vehicle is, however.

This marks the third year since Ford dropped the Windstar name, opting to call its minivan the Freestar. While the 2004 edition was an upgrade over the rapidly decaying Windstar line, nothing much has changed since then. The 2006 Freestar is a near duplicate of last year’s effort–which wasn’t far removed from the 2004 model.

Notable Strengths

The Freestar leads the minivan field in terms of overall safety.

Notable Weaknesses

The Freestar lacks the style and performance of other vehicles in its wheelchair minivan class. While other manufacturers continue to advance the wheelchair minivan, Ford seems content to churn out a standard-issue product that fails to show any real improvement.

2006 Ford Freestar Overview

The 2006 Windstar handicap van features some upgrades over past years in terms of interior appearance. Mechanically, it’s a copycat of the 2005 model, which failed to impress critics or customers. One almost wonders if Ford intends to continue minivan production based on the lack of attention it seems to be giving the Freestar.

Trim Levels and Options

The Freestar seats seven and is available in three different trim packages (four if one counts the stripped down commercial version).

The SE is the entry level variation. To Ford’s credit, they’ve equipped the SE with more options and features than one usually finds in the least expensive trim levels. The SEL upgrades the climate control system, stereo and seating options. It also qualifies buyers for a slightly stronger engine option. The high-end Limited trim package extends the engine upgrade option along with a series of aesthetic improvements including chrome seventeen-inch wheels and a leather interior.

Looks & Appearance

The Freestar is a traditional wheelchair minivan. It has a boxy, utilitarian construction. The front end is somewhat more truck or SUV-like than some other minivans, but there’s nothing about the overall design to make a real style statement. The Freestar has a bland, play it safe look.

Ford did make an effort to spruce up the Freestars rather dull interior for 2006. They added a chrome accents to the instrumentation and a number of other small design elements designed to give the Freestar a little flair. From a distance, that represents a real improvement. Closer inspection shows that the materials used are still sub-standard, leaving the vehicle with a somewhat cheap feel. The Freestar continues to boast impressive interior space, making it a candidate for conversion to a wheelchair van.

Powertrain

Ford equips the Freestar with an automatic transmission and a 3.9-liter V6. The engine generates 193 horsepower. SEL and Limited buyers have an option to use a slightly more powerful (201 horsepower) 4.2-liter V6.

The Freestar is a heavy vehicle. Even with the upgraded engine, the Freestar remains sluggish. Fuel efficiency is unimpressive. While not horribly off the average mark for wheelchair minivans with respect to highway use, it is at the bottom of the mileage list for city driving.

Driving the 2006 Freestar Wheelchair Van

Ford seems to have solved the reliability problems that plagued the 2002 and 2003 Windstars. Reports of major drive train malfunctions and horribly unresponsive steering are no longer common. However, they haven’t resolved many of the performance problems that have been associated with Ford wheelchair minivans for years.

While other options in the wheelchair minivan class provide smooth highway rides (the Toyota Sienna) or road-hugging responsiveness (the Honda Odyssey), the Freestar lumbers down the road and bounces around like a truck.

The Freestar’s drivability might match up to the standards of ten to fifteen years ago, but it seems helplessly outdated when compared to the competition.

Safety

The Freestar is a leader in the safety category. Once again, Ford has created a rock-solid vehicle that won the highest possible marks in government and insurance industry crash testing. The Freestar has antilock brakes, well-designed airbags and stability control. Rear sensors and other safety features are available at the SEL and Limited trim levels.

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