Ford Windstar is one of the quickest minivans on the road. Its strong, 200-horsepower V6 delivers quick acceleration performance. Among the largest of the so-called minivans, Windstar offers a versatile interior that can carry up to seven people or big loads of cargo. It comes with dual sliding doors, and can be trimmed with video systems and other options to satisfy any taste.
For eight straight years, the Windstar has earned the Federal government's best crash-test rating: five stars each for driver and front passenger. With its optional side-impact air bags, Windstar achieves a double five-star rating in the government's new side-impact tests as well. Safety is improved further for 2003, as the Windstar gets Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability enhancement system. AdvanceTrac detects skidding and actively corrects the Windstar's heading by selectively applying individual brakes and/or reducing engine power. That could make the difference between a close call and a collision on a rain-slicked or ice-covered road. Additional refinements for 2003 focus on reducing noise.
The current Windstar is nearing the end of its run, and an all-new Windstar is on the horizon.
With its big V6, the Windstar is one of the quickest minivans available. It delivers strong acceleration, and has plenty of power for safe passing even with a full load of passengers. For the most part, the Windstar's powertrain performs smoothly. The V6 sounds raucous at high rpm, however, and the transmission shifts abruptly at times.
Windstar's steering is about right, with some feedback to let the driver know what the front tires are doing. It feels stable at speed. And the ride is smooth, thanks to the longest wheelbase of any minivan. Windstar rides more comfortably than sport-utility vehicles. The suspension is soft, however. It allows the Windstar to wallow in corners and lets the nose dive when you use the Windstar's brakes. Also, the brakes seemed unimpressive.
LX Deluxe, SE, SEL and Limited come with fatter tires (225/60R16) and bigger wheels (16-inch), which help improve handling and stability. Yet this package adds little noise or ride harshness.
We recommend getting the optional AdvanceTrac, an electronic vehicle stability system that uses both engine management and the anti-lock brakes to help the driver maintain control on slippery roads or other extreme conditions. Cycling 200 times per second, the AdvanceTrac computer checks the Windstar's road behavior against the driver's steering input to be certain that the van is going where the driver wants it to go. If it is sliding or skidding, then AdvanceTrac reduces engine power and/or applies the brakes individually to help guide the Windstar back to the path that the driver intended.
Another useful device is the reverse sensing system, which is standard on the Limited and part of the Family Security package ($600) on SE and SEL. Rearward visibility is limited in the Windstar, and distance is difficult to judge because the back of the vehicle is such a long way from the driver. The reverse sensor measures the distance between the van and any object behind it (such as a wall, a parked car, or a child). A beeper sounds at an increasing pace as the van backs toward the object. Besides its safety benefits, this feature speeds up parallel parking on tight streets, nice for those times when your passengers are scurrying into the restaurant or theater. It enhances safety when 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 and this feature will alert you to that.
Ford Windstar offers lots of power, lots of room, and the availability of most of the latest minivan features. It scores well in government crash testing and offers side-impact airbags as an option. New active safety features can help you avoid an accident in the first place. Its versatile seating arrangement works well.
The Windstar is a dated product, however, and lacks the sophistication of the newest minivans. Its brakes are unimpressive and its soft suspension wallows in corners and dives under hard braking. An all-new Windstar is on the horizon. Until then, look for deals on the 2003 models.