We Road Test : 2010 Ford E-Series Wheelchair Van

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The 2010 Ford E-Series Wheelchair Van

Several years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see an E-Series vehicle transformed into a personal wheelchair van. That was when Ford offered a slightly more comfortable Chateau trim package for the E-150 and before improvements in the minivan class made it harder to justify a full-sized van purchase.

Today, very few people will convert an E-Series van for the wheelchair use. That’s due to a higher overall cost, the sheer size of the vehicles, their poor driving performance and the fact that there are so many great options in smaller classes.

However, there are a few reasons to consider an E-150 as a wheelchair van. These include the spacious interior, the van’s reliability and the fact that it has enough space and power to handle even the most powerful lifts in both side- and rear-entry configurations.

The E-Series vans that do become wheelchair drivers usually feature a lift along with a dropped floor and an auto kneel system. The fact that Ford provides a sliding side door option is also helpful. The vehicle is receptive to a wide range of interior and mechanical adaptations, as well.

Rumors

A well-circulated rumor in 2009 claimed that Ford wouldn’t be making its E-Series wheelchair vans available to individual consumers for 2010. This particular rumor seemed believable. Most E-Series mobility vans are sold as fleet vehicles or to commercial interests and Ford is clearly more interested in selling its crossover SUVs to the public than they are trying to create a driveway-friendly version of their full-sized van.

As it turns out, the rumor was just that–a rumor. One must wonder, however, how long Ford will continue to sell the E-Series vans to individual buyers. This year’s addition to the line, a clone of the 2009 model, is obviously built with the world of work in mind, not the needs of everyday drivers.

Wheelchair Van Model Lineup

The E-Series handicapped van consists of the E-150, E-250, E-350 and E-350 Super Duty (SD). They are all rear-wheel drive, full-sized vans. Seating capacity ranges from eight to fifteen passengers depending upon configuration and the models are divided based on their gross vehicle weights.

Ford offers all of these big vans in two different trim levels. The XL trim level is only really suitable for those who are interested purely in a no-frills work vehicle. The options stop with air conditioning and an AM/FM radio.

The better-appointed XLT trim package brings the E-Series into more comfortable territory. It includes the basics one might usually find in a standard entry-level vehicle. Power locks, power windows and power mirrors are part of the package. So is carpeting, tilt steering and speed control.

Ford sells a number of additional options including a fairly impressive array of electronics items. These include a rear seat DVD entertainment center, a message center, a navigation system and other tools for fleet management. A wise assortment of other options is also available.

One interesting aspect of the Ford approach to options is the fact that they offer E-Series vans in various prep packages based on the eventual intended use of a converted van. These industry-specific layouts are one reason why the van continues to dominate the full-sized marketplace.

Style and Appearance

If you’ve been on American roads for more than ten minutes, you’ve seen E-Series handicap vans. Your plumber neighbor probably has one. Your cable company and telephone company probably uses them. They’re popular city vehicles. The make good shuttles for those heading to the airport and they even become ambulances.

You may not see many people driving the family around in a recent E-Series van, but you undoubtedly see them in commercial applications.

What do they look like? Put simply, they look like no-frills vans. They’re a purely functional vehicle with a rectangular rear end and a pickup truck like front end. They’re not stylish. They haven’t been stylish since the first one left Detroit in 1961 with Econoline badging. They’re just plain ol’ vans. That doesn’t whet the appetites of most buyers, but the people who keep Ford in first place in this class aren’t interested in good looks and charm. They’re after sturdy reliability.

The interior is a reflection of that same thinking. The instrument panel was upgraded with a more modern look last year in order to handle the new electronic options, but the basic look of the van’s insides is the same as it has been for years. It’s cavernous and plain. Again, it’s all a matter of workplace substance over consumer flash.

Ford Powertrain

Ford makes three different engines for the E-Series. The E-150 comes standard with a V8 that generates 225 horsepower and can handle an upgraded engine capable of producing 255 horsepower. That slightly stronger engine is the standard option for the E-350, which can also handle Ford’s large V10 that supplies over 300 horsepower. The smaller V8 is accompanied by a four-speed automatic; the others are matched with a five-speed transmission.

These engines don’t make the Ford a peppy performer. They do better in terms of generating torque than horsepower. They’re muscular and will move the vans, but they aren’t capable of generating breakneck speeds.

Driving the 2010 E-Series Van

Driving an E-150, E-250 or E-350 isn’t a lot of fun unless you like bouncing, swaying and feeling strangely disconnected from the road underneath of you. The vans don’t handle well, they’re not responsive and the steering is woefully loose. They don’t accelerate effectively and once they are moving forward at a decent clip, the brakes feel almost inadequate.

From a passenger vehicle perspective, the E-Series is a driving disaster. Nonetheless, it remains a best-seller. Part of that is the fact that the class isn’t packed with options, but the primary reason this poor performer continues to sell is the fact that it will continue to run day after day, no matter how much abuse one heaps upon it. E-Series buyers don’t really care if the van provides a smooth highway experience or hugs the curves. They care if they can count on it to get the job done consistently and reliably–and that’s where these hefty Fords excel.

Safety and Reliability

Historically, the E-Series has fared well in the safety department. It comes standard with antilock brakes, air bags, other crash protections, stability control and traction control. For many years, it received high marks across the board from the NHTSA and the IIHS. Surprisingly, last year it received a poor grade for rollover resistance. Overall, these are still incredibly secure vans and it’s quite likely that last year’s issue was an anomaly.

The Bottom Line

The Fortd E-Series wheelchair vans are increasingly becoming a work-only vehicle. You see very few of them in individual driveways. They perform their jobs able in the workforce, but they’re far from an ideal choice for most people. They can be used as a wheelchair van, but other options are usually more sensible.

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