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Ford's Windstar is equipped well, and that's an understatement. It comes standard with a strong, 200-horsepower V6, room for seven, and enough options to satisfy anyone. Plus, the Windstar has an excellent government crash test rating.
Like most modern minivans, the Windstar offers power-sliding rear doors. However, the Windstar is the only one with available power-adjustable pedals. Short and tall drivers should be able to adjust the seats and pedals for the safest, most comfortable driving position.
Changes for the 2001 model year include a new transmission, revised front styling, an optional stability control system, and a new Sport model.
The big V6 makes the Windstar one of the quickest minivans available, and makes for a satisfying driving experience. It's amazing when one realizes that the acceleration of the Windstar with the 3.8-liter engine is the same as that of a hot sports sedan 16 years ago. Even with a full load of passengers the Windstar has enough power to allow for safe passing. (The standard engine is a 3.8-liter V6, which produces 200 horsepower; the weak 3.0-liter V6 was dropped for 2001.)
At times the transmission shifts a little abruptly. The new transmission, debuting for the 2001 model year, may alleviate this problem. Otherwise the Windstar's powertrain performs smoothly, although it can be a little raucous at high revs. Steering is about right with some feedback to let the driver know what's going on. The ride is smooth thanks to the longest wheelbase of any minivan and it is certainly a lot smoother than in any sport-utility vehicle. Likewise the handling, while not as crisp a sedan, is more stable than an SUV.
The SEL model comes with fatter tires (225/60R16) and bigger wheels (16-inch), which helps improve handling and stability substantially. Yet this package adds very little noise or ride harshness.
One useful option is the reverse sensing system. A beeper sounds at an increasing pace when backing up toward a solid object such as a wall or a child on a bicycle. It may seem silly at first, but we really like this feature. Rearward visibility is limited and distance is difficult to judge because the back of the vehicle is such a long way from the driver. We find the reverse sensing system of benefit even when parallel parking on tight streets and backing up in crowded parking lots. It's amazing how often people will walk behind or drive up and stop behind a big vehicle when it's backing up.
Ford has continued to add to the Windstar's already long list of available safety equipment. Offering traction and stability control, front-passenger side airbags and the aforementioned reverse sensing system, and combining those with a five-star government crash test rating, it's easy to see why the Windstar makes for a fantastic family vehicle. So, the Windstar is safe, roomy, has a versatile seating arrangement, and offers a rear-seat entertainment system. If you've got kids, this minivan should be on your list.
In fact, it's almost too good for the kids -- a luxuriously appointed Windstar Limited is more appropriate for taking four to six adults on a long journey or downtown to the opera.
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