Expert Review: 2012 Ford E-Series Wheelchair Vans

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The 2012 Ford E-Series Wheelchair Van

Over the years, many people have converted E-Series vans for use as personal wheelchair mobility vehicles. The attraction is easy to understand. They’re big vans that afford a great deal of space to maximize accessibility and they can support even the strongest wheelchair and mobility aid lifts in multiple configurations.

However, the heavy duty, work-focused nature of the E-Series vans makes them a questionable choice in an era where there are so many high-performance minivans on the market. The E-150, which is usually the model chosen for conversion, is more expensive than a minivan, doesn’t drive as well and uses more gasoline.

Those who do convert E-150s for wheelchair use usually use a lift to provide access, though the van is amenable to ramps as well. A lowered floor and an auto kneel system, along with the sliding side door option round out the external modifications. The vans can handle any common interior adaptation.

Notable Strengths

If there’s one reason why the E-Series vans have sold so well since the first Econolines rolled out of Detroit in 1961, it’s durability. These are sturdy vehicles that are built to withstand the rigors of everyday commercial wheelchair van job performance. They hold up well to abuse and have a reputation for longevity and reliability.

The E-150, E-250 and E-350 are also a perennial hit with up-fitters. You can take a base E-Series van and transform it into anything you might need. You see cargo vans, ambulances, shuttles, and regular good old-fashioned E-Series work vans everywhere because they’re so amenable to conversion and customization. That’s one reason why some people consider them potential personal use wheelchair vans, as well.

Notable Weaknesses

The E-Series handicap vans have had the same weaknesses for years and Ford has really done very little to address any of them. That isn’t because Ford isn’t interested in selling vans. It’s because they realize that their focus on flexibility and durability is really at the heart of why people buy vans.

Nonetheless, many disabled buyers would undoubtedly appreciate it if Ford did something to address the wildly dated design of the E-Series or if they made some strides toward improving its drive performance and handling. Those are both big negatives for the wheelchair vans.

2012 Ford E-Series Overview

The E-Series really hasn’t changes a great deal for almost twenty years. It’s the same basic box design. The style has been gradually updated, but there haven’t been any major transformations. This year, Ford has done very little in terms of improving on the 2009 model.

If you liked last year’s E-Series handicap vans, you’ll like this year’s, too. Ford is maintaining the status quo in the world of full-sized vans.

Trim Levels and Options

The 2012 E-Series includes the E-150, E-250, E-250 Extended Van (EV), the E-350, the E-350 Super Duty (SD) and the E-350 Super Duty Extended.

The variations are based on the maximum payload ratings and overall size of the vehicles. E-Series vans can handle between eight and fifteen passengers depending up the buyers preferences in seating arrangements. All are rear-wheel drive vehicles.

Each of the variants is offered in two trim levels. The XL package is a bare bones approach that will appeal primarily to fleet buyers. The more comfortable XLT provides most of the basics one would expect in a new van including cruise control, a stereo with a CD player, carpeting, power locks, power mirrors and power windows.

Ford offers a number of additional options. In the last few years, they’ve emphasized electronic additions to the mobility vehicles include computerized navigation and message systems, fleet control and monitoring devices, satellite radio, back up cameras and other tools. Those supplement an already-long a la carte accessory list.

Additionally, these various E-Series vans can be purchased in configurations designed with up-fitting for particular tasks in mind. Ford builds a working van and they do their part to make the transition from dealership to job site convenient.

Style and Appearance

Over the last several years, it’s become increasingly clear that Ford does not intend to change the overall structure of the 2012 E-Series wheelchair vans. They realize that any major changes could cause a ripple in the well-established up-fitting supply and conversion industry. They’ve also discovered that changes really aren’t necessary to sell the vans.

As such, the 2012 maintains the traditional E-Series looks. It’s a traditional rectangular box van with a shortened pickup truck-style front end. In some ways, it looks a great deal like an F-Series truck in the front.

The interior remains a rather bland affair, as well. It offers a great deal of cargo space and flexible seating options. Last year, Ford upgraded the instrument panel, in large measure to accommodate its new electronic options. While that does add a slightly more modern feel to the cockpit, the overall interior experience remains unexciting, but eminently practical.

Engine

The Ford E-150 wheelchair van comes standard with a 4.6-liter V8 that delivers 225 horsepower. There’s also an optional 5.4-liter engine for the E-150 that will generate an extra 30 horsepower.

That 5.4-iter is the standard engine option for the E-350. E-350 drivers can also opt for a bigger, more powerful V10 engine that produces 305 horsepower. It appears as if Ford will not be bringing back the turbo diesel options, which was available through 2008 and missed by many buyers the last few years.

The 4.6-liter V8 utilizes a four-speed automatic transmission. A five-speed alternative is available for the other engine options.

Driving the 2012 Ford E-Series Wheelchair Van

The good news is that you can drive the 2012 Ford E-Series wheelchair vans every day. You can drive them in difficult conditions and you can abuse them in tough work situations. They’ll withstand the torture.

The bad news is that you’ll pay for that sturdy reliability by compromising on comfort and handling. The big rear-wheel drive vans are pokey accelerators that handle fairly poorly. The steering is soft and once the heavy vehicles do pick up speed, the brakes don’t stop them as quickly as many drivers might like.

Those criticisms aren’t new. It’s been part of the E-Series story for years. The focus in on building a solid, reliable van. It isn’t on creating an enjoyable experience behind the wheel.

Safety

The E-Series vans come standard with antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, side impact panels and airbags. Historically, they’ve fared very well in both IHHS and NHTSA crash tests. However, last year they did receive failing grades for rollover resistance. That was a shift from prior years and will probably turn out to be a one-year anomaly.

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