On the Road : 2006 Ford Freestar Wheelchair Vans

road-test-2006FordFreestarWheelchair-van

The 2006 Ford Freestar wheelchair van doesn’t get a great deal of love in the auto press. It’s demeaned as an inferior option that doesn’t measure up to the competition.

While it may not measure up to leaders in its class in every category, the Freestar really doesn’t deserve the criticism it receives. Ford rectified the major problems of its earlier Windstar and the Freestar is a credible vehicle choice for those who want a no-frills vehicle that’s capable of serving as a quality wheelchair van.

Freestar Handicap Model Lineup

Ford offers the Freestar handicap van at three different trim levels. The entry-level variation, the SE, is one of the better equipped low trim classes in the field. It’s stocked with power options, air conditioning and a number of additional extras that you can’t get from other manufacturers without purchasing a more expensive model.

The SEL upgrades aspects of the SE and provides the buyer with an option for a slightly more powerful engine. That powertrain option is also available to buyers of the high-end Limited Freestar. The Limited offers the kind of features you’d expect from a top of the line vehicle, including a leather interior and attractive chrome wheels.

Style & Appearance

The designers at Ford have decided to focus on utility instead of worrying about creating a handicap minivan that looks like an overstuffed car. It’s old school looks aren’t popular with some critics, but one needs to really consider whether they’re interested in a minivan based on appearances, anyway. Most buyers are on a quest for functionality and the traditional box-back design of the Freestar provides it.

The interior is large, making it a good target for wheelchair van conversion. Seating is flexible and easily removed. This year, Ford has made an effort to upgrade the appearance of the cabin, adding chrome accents to instrumentation and making a number of additional small changes to make the practical interior slightly less plain Jane.

Powertrain

The Freestar is powered by a 193-horsepower V6. SEL and Limited buyers can upgrade to a larger, 4.2 -liter V6 that generates just over 200 horsepower.

Admittedly, the Freestar is a heavy-duty disability vehicle. As such, neither engine will give you enough of a jolt to win a drag race. However, the vehicle performs adequately in town and is more than capable of providing sufficient power for passing on the highway. The 2006 Freestar wheelchair van isn’t a hot rod but it’s not a slug, either.

Driving the 2006 Freestar Wheelchair Van

The Freestar wheelchair van doesn’t handle as well as a Honda Odyssey handicap van. It won’t give you the smooth highway cruising experience of a Sienna. Then again, it won’t leave your teeth chattering in the name of responsiveness or leave you completely divorced from the highway in hopes of utter silence.

The Freestar isn’t a perfect ride, but it’s not a disaster. Some people claim that it’s truck-like. To some extent, that’s probably true. However, there’s really no reason to fork over extra cash in order to pursue a minivan on the basis of performance. Even those that do carry best in class tags don’t compare to the average passenger car.

The Freestar handicap van does what it’s supposed to do. It safely and reliably moves people and items around.

Freestar Safety

Even the most vocal critics of the Freestar concede that it’s an engineering marvel in terms of safety. Ford has a long history of producing minivans that do well in crash testing and the 2006 Freestar continues the tradition, receiving perfect marks from the IHHS and the NHTSA. The vehicle’s full complement of airbags, stability control system and antilock brakes make it an extremely safe minivan option.

The 2006 Ford Freestar Wheelchair Van

The 2006 Freestar is a nice choice for those in need of a wheelchair van. Capable of rear-entry and side-entry configurations, the Freestar has the space and flexibility necessary to provide maximum access.

The most popular conversion involves lowering the floor of the Freestar to create up to ten additional inches of vertical clearance, adding an auto kneel system to improve safety and ease of entry/exit, using power sliding side doors with remote entry and installing a powered side-entry ramp. This is the most commonly encountered core conversion package and was popularized by well-known conversion manufacturer VMI.

Interior adjustment may involve seating reconfiguration or installation of alternative seats and wheelchair restraints. The Freestar can handle a variety of additional modifications and adaptations, as well.

Overall, it’s one of the better wheelchair van options on the market.

The Bottom Line

The Freestar is the handicap minivan the critics love to hate. However, a great deal of their hate is misplaced. The Freestar won’t leave anyone forgetting about high-performance automobiles, but it isn’t built with that goal in mind. This Ford is a pragmatic minivan that does all of the things one would expect from a vehicle in its class, including serving as a quality wheelchair van option.

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