Road Test : 2009 Ford E-Series Wheelchair Van

road-test-2009FordE-SeriesWheelchair-van

If you want a big, sturdy, indestructible wheelchair van, you might as well start with a foundation that’s been described as the up-fitter’s dream. That’s the Ford E-Series van. It’s big, it’s tough and it has more room than most people can ever imagine needing. It’s also highly receptive to customization. You can transform it into one of the more accessible wheelchair vans on the road.

However, choosing an E-Series van as your personal mobility vehicle comes with a downside that probably swamps the advantages of going big for most drivers. After all, the work-friendly E-Series van isn’t known for comfort, design or drive quality. Plus, the price tag on the old-school van is considerably higher than those attached to most wheelchair minivan options.

Ford Handicap Van Model Lineup

The E-Series handicap van consists of the E-150, the E-350 and the E-350 Super Duty (E-350 SD). The E-150 will easily sit eight to ten passengers. The bigger E-350 and the extended wheelbase E-350 SD will accommodate up to fifteen riders. All E-Series vans are rear-wheel drive vehicles.

Ford has two different trim levels for each of the three versions. The XL is a stripped down option. If you want more than an air conditioner and an AM/FM radio, you’ll probably want to shoot past the XL package in exchange for the slightly more refined XLT trim package. The XLT includes the kinds of creature comforts one would minimally expect in a 21st century van. It won’t impress you, but at least you’ll have tilt steering, cruise control, a stereo with a CD player and power accessories.

Ford also offers a number of additional options. You can add rear DVD entertainment centers, satellite radio, a navigation and messaging system, and many other extras to trick out your E-Series van.

Mobility Style & Appearance

Think about all of those plain work vans you see on the road every day. You know the ones. They look like big rectangular boxes with a short nose. Those vans you see everywhere are from the E-Series. Ford dominates the full-sized wheelchair van market with these exceedingly dull vehicles that are well known for standing up to abuse on the jobs. If you’re looking for flair or design creativity, you are not part of the E-Series target market.

The interior maintains that perspective. It’s big, relatively empty and anything but beautiful. Ford tried to make the 2009 interior a little more attractive with the installation of a newer instrument panel, but that minor modification isn’t changing the overall message of the interior–I’m here to work.

Ford does sell a number of prep packages to make that work life easier, too. If you plan to use your E-Series van as an ambulance, they’ll give you a core well-suited to the task. It’s the same story if you plan to run a shuttle service. If your E-150 or E-350 will be a work van, Ford has special tool racks and bin storage systems available. That commitment to specific task readiness and the overall amenability of the E-Series to custom adjustments is why the van has been so popular for so long with so many up-fitters.

Powertrain

If you buy an E-150 with the XL trim, you’ll get a 4.-6-liter V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission. While this combination will power the vehicle, it certainly isn’t the best available option. It’s worth upgrading to the XLT to get your hands on the more muscular 255 horsepower V8, which is flex fuel compatible.

That same V8 is standard equipment for the E-350. However, those who go with the bigger van can also opt for a monstrous 6.8-liter V10 that delivers in excess of 300 horsepower and a five-speed automatic.

Driving the 2009 E-Series Wheelchair Vans

If you’re expecting a driving experience that matches up with the numerous minivans that dominate the world of wheelchair vans, you’ll be disappointment. For that matter, you’ll be disappointed comparing the E-Series driving performance against other full-sized vans like the Dodge Sprinter.

Ford upgraded the chassis last year to improve drive quality, but the overall situation remains very similar. These big vans exist to solve day-to-day work needs. That means that they’re durable and strong. The idea of making them fun to drive has never been high on the Ford design team’s priority list, though.

The E-Series offers a bouncy, truck-like ride. The steering isn’t particularly responsive. The braking seems soft. It doesn’t really handle well. It’s a monster, and it can be tough for those who haven’t spent a great deal of time driving larger vehicles to successfully navigate city traffic due its size and visibility limitations.

Safety and Reliability

For years and years, the E-Series vans always received great marks across the board for safety. The 2009 edition has antilock brakes, a collection of good airbags, stability control and traction control. It did well in its collision testing, too. However, it is worth noting that the newest version of the vehicle received a poor grade in terms of rollover resistance! That won’t dissuade most E-Series buyers from the van, but it is a point worthy of some consideration.

2009 E-Series Wheelchair Van

There are some good reasons to convert an E-150 into a wheelchair van.

Space
You’ll have plenty of it, providing a great deal of access room.

Lifts
Unlike many minivans, the full-sized E-Series options can support heavy-duty ramps in both side and rear configurations.

Reliability
The E-Series is well-known for its sturdy vans.

However, those advantages are counterbalanced by some significant negatives:

Cost
The full-sized vans are far more expensive than minivans are.

Drive quality
The E-Series isn’t a treat to drive, but its minivan competitors are reaching car-like performance standards.

Overkill
Those who buy an E-Series van are purchasing more steel and space than they really need in most cases.

The most common adaptations involve the use of a side- or rear-mounted lift. Conversion manufacturers drop the floor, install an auto kneel system and then take care of any necessary interior conversions.

The Bottom Line

The E-150, E-350 and E-350 SD are big, boring vans. They have staying power and they offer a great deal of space. Nonetheless, they’re not a top wheelchair van choice. The E-Series belongs on the job site, not in your driveway.

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