Expert Review: 2008 Ford E-Series Wheelchair Vans

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The Econoline van series has been going strong since 1961. Ford has developed a reputation for producing some of the most solid and powerful full-sized wheelchair vans on the market and they’ve been rewarded with over fifty percent of the overall market share in the class.

That’s not going to change in 2008. The continued rugged durability of the E-Series handicap vans and a few new improvements by Ford will keep it on top of the class for another year.

Notable Strengths

You don’t sell more than half of the full-sized wheelchair vans on the road if you’re not doing anything right. The E-Series does a few things very well and they just happen to be some of the most important things to full-sized van buyers. The E-Series offers a great deal of space and unrivaled durability.

Notable Weaknesses

The E-Series isn’t on top of its class in terms of fuel efficiency or the quality of its driving experience. Those titles go to the Dodge Sprinter. Ford has held off Dodge in the marketplace, but even with some new improvements, it still isn’t the best ride on the road.

2008 Ford E-Series Overview

Ford hasn’t really redesigned the E-Series since Bill Clinton was the President of the United States. That 1996 remake wasn’t revolutionary, either. Ford has kept the E-150, E-250 and E-350 from seeming outdated by occasionally making minor exterior adjustments while they improve the vehicle’s mechanics.

This year, Ford has placed a new grill on the front of the E-Series handicap vans. That may not sound like much, but it does make a significant change in overall appearance, bringing the vehicle up to date in terms of its look.

Ford has also worked on the mechanics of the E-Series. The 2008 vans feature an improved chassis that provides a best ride the vans have ever offered.

Trim Levels and Options

Ford hasn’t changed the way it packaged the E-Series. Once again, it’s available in three different trim packages.

The XL is a stripped down base version of the van. It does have tilt steering and air conditioning, but there’s nothing else in the way of real features for XL buyers. This variation is best-suited to those in need of basic work vehicles.

The XLT upgrades the E-Series wheelchair vans a great deal. It adds an improved sound system, power locks, carpet, power mirrors, power windows, cruise control, superior seats, chrome bumpers and several other improvements to the base XL package.

The Chateau trim level is reserved for those who plan to use an E-150, E-250 or E-350 as a regular everyday driver. It combines a number of interior and exterior improvements to make the wheelchair van more comfortable and attractive. If you’d like a two-tone paint job, chrome wheels, running boards or privacy glass, you’ll need to invest in the Chateau.

Ford offers numerous options as a la carte upgrades to its E-Series handicap vans. It also offers a number of specialty conversion packages for specific vehicle uses. For instance, those who plan to convert an E-Series van into an ambulance can purchase their van in a customization designed for that purpose.

Style and Appearance

Ford sells more full-sized wheelchair vans than anyone else does and they do it without boasting cutting edge design. The E-Series is a dull, utilitarian vehicle. It’s basically a large rectangular with a front-end that looks like it was stripped from a boxy pickup truck. The new front grill keeps the 2008 E-Series vans up to date, but the very basic style remains intact.

The interior isn’t an adventure, either. Ford has always been more interested in providing a good foundational workspace than in creating a lush interior. The seats aren’t as solid or as comfortable as they should be, but they are easily reconfigured. There’s no shortage of space in these big handicap vans. Even the smallest of the pack, the E-150 offers a great deal of room.

Ford does sell special cargo management options for the E-150, E-250 and E-350. For instance, they have special bin storage systems and tool racks available as factory options.

Powertrain

There are four different Ford engine options. Two are Triton V8s generating 225 and 255 horsepower, respectively. These are coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission. Those who invest in the E-350 or E-350 Super Duty may opt for an even larger gas-burning engine, an impressive V10. Alternatively, they may go with a turbo-diesel engine that produces limited horsepower but delivers over 440 pound-feet of torque. Those engines are accompanied by a five-speed automatic transmission.

Driving the 2008 E-Series Wheelchair Van

If you’re expecting a highly responsive, smooth ride, you’ll be disappointed in the 2008 E-Series wheelchair van. The new chassis improves the overall driving experience a great deal, but it’s still a rather bumpy and loose affair.

The Ford E-Series wheelchair vans don’t accelerate quickly and once they’re in motion, they don’t slow very quickly, either. Steering remains a little loose.

Ford’s decision to revisit the E-Series chassis draws it slightly closer to the Dodge Sprinter in terms of overall performance, but it still hasn’t closed that gap.

The 2008 E-Series Wheelchair Van

Very few individuals use E-Series vehicles as personal wheelchair vans. Their lack of fuel efficiency, unsophisticated handling and relative high cost make them seem like a poor choice in light of the many great handicap minivans on the market.

However, care facilities and other businesses often modify E-Series vans for wheelchair use and it is certainly is possible to create a compelling mobility vehicle from an E-150.

The conversion process generally involves the use of a lift, which can be mounted for side or rear entry. That’s accompanied by an auto kneel system. In many cases, owners also lower the floor of the E-150 to improve interior clearance and overall access.

The nice thing about using an E-Series van in this capacity is the wide range of options available. You can convert one to meet virtually any set of needs. That flexibility has to be considered in light of cost, drivability and economy, however.

Safety

The Ford E-150, E-250 and E-350 are heavy, large vehicles. That automatically creates some level of security among all occupants. The fact that the vehicles come standard with antilock brakes, a full assortment of airbags and a stability control system make the vehicle a safe choice. It scored well in collision testing by the NHTSA.

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