On the Road: 2003 Ford Windstar Wheelchair Vans

road-test-2003FordWindstarWheelchair-van

Even the most diehard buy American War Veteran buyer will have a hard time waving the flag for the Ford Windstar wheelchair van. This is not a top option in the minivan class. The boring outer shell has an equally dull interior. There’s nothing exciting going on under the hood and there are some serious performance problems. Based on 2002 performance, there are also very good reasons to question the likely overall reliability of the 2003 Windstar.

The 2003 Windstar wheelchair van isn’t an Edsel-level failure. It’s not Pinto time bomb, either. It just isn’t a very good minivan and it doesn’t measure up with the competition.

Model Lineup

The Windstar handicap comes in four different trim levels:

The LX is the entry level version of the minivan. It comes as a stripped down base. One can buy a standard preferred equipment package that markedly improves the feature range.

The SE adds a few aesthetic improvements like a chrome grille and side moldings to the mix, along with a few other small adjustments.

The SEL adds a leather interior and a number of high-tech toys and the Limited trim package transforms the Windstar into Ford’s version of a luxury minivan.

Ford offers a long list of options and most of them are available at all trim levels.

Style

No one is going to be excited by the look of the Windstar wheelchair van. It’s not an ugly minivan. It’s just plain and uninteresting. With the exception of allowing buyers of higher level trim packages to decorate the exterior with colored cladding and chrome accents, there’s no effort to impress with the design of this minivan. It’s your standard box with a sloped front end minivan we’ve seen year after year since Dodge introduced the class in the early 1980s.

The interior is spacious, but uninspired. The size makes it a popular choice for wheelchair van conversion. Seating is intuitive and easy to remove. Instrumentation is clear and easy to read. There’s nothing exciting going on with the interior, but it isn’t fatally flawed, either.

Powertrain

The Windstar relies on a 3.8-liter V-6 that generates 200 horsepower. That engine is married to a four-speed automatic transmission. This is the is same combination featured in the 2002 edition of the minivan. That vehicle was hounded by constant complaints regarding engine problems and transmission difficulties. At this point, one should be very careful regarding the possibility of reliability problems with the 2003 Windstar.

Driving the 2003 Windstar Wheelchair Van

For the last few years, the Windstar has provided a fairly average driving experience. This year, its problems seem more pronounced.

Chief among those problems is the Windstar’s steering. The system isn’t responsive and there are moments during a turn where it feels as if turning the wheel isn’t really accomplishing anything. Additionally, a number of disabled drivers have expressed concerns about the way it seems to pop in and out of third gear very quickly.

The engine provides enough pop for most driving needs and the Windstar wheelchair van is an acceptable highway drive from the comfort of your wheelchair. Otherwise, it fails to impress.

Safety and Reliability

Year after year, the Ford Windstar handicap van receives accolades for its safety. That’s the case with the 2003 model, as well. The National Highway Safety Administration and IIHS both gave the Windstar the highest possible scores for safety after subjecting the vehicle to a series of collision tests. Front airbags, stability control and front airbags are all standard with the Windstar. Side curtain airbags are standard at higher trim levels and are available as an option at all others.

Some Windstars have been recalled due to a potentially problematic seat belt latch in the last row of passenger seating. That does little to detract from the overall safety of the vehicle.

The 2003 Ford Windstar Wheelchair Van

The Windstar has been a popular wheelchair minivan option for a number of years. That’s been due to the vehicle’s overall history of reliability and its interior size.

The spacious interior is still there. The reliability and performance, however, are not. As such, we don’t recommend the Windstar as a wheelchair van.

That probably won’t stop conversion manufacturers like VMI from converting the Windstar to service as an accessibility vehicle. VMI’s Northstar package is consistent with the most common conversion involving the vehicle. The floor is dropped by a full ten inches. An auto kneel system is put in place, along with power sliding doors (usually set for remote entry). The conversion relies upon a side-entry power ramp to facilitate vehicle entry and exit.

The Windstar is receptive to other modifications, including the use of alternate controls and the installation of special seating options.

If the minivan itself weren’t second-rate, it would be easy to recommend it as a wheelchair vehicle option.

The Bottom Line

The 2003 Windstar wheelchair van isn’t a good buy. It’s not breaking any new ground at suffers from some serious problems. The overall safety and option flexibility is nice, but it doesn’t justify buying a dull vehicle that suffers from performance issues.

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