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1998 Ford Windstar Wagon
Trish Robb

Introduction
In the ever-competitive minivan market,

the little differences can make a company's year, or make it miserable.

The bigger differences, like the number of doors, can be even more significant.

Which is why the Ford Windstar, late to the four-door party, has brought

along a surprise guest this year: the Family Door.

It's hard to have any discussion about the 1998 Ford Windstar without

someone mentioning That Big Door. Ford's official name is the Family Entry

System. Ford insiders call it the More Door. The Windstar still has only

three doors--a major disadvantage since Chrysler and General Motors front-wheel-drive

minivans all offer an optional sliding door on the driver's side.

When Ford was designing the Windstar, its market research showed that

minivan buyers didn't really care about having a fourth door. Wrong. Parents

find the fourth door makes getting kids, especially little kids, in and

out of the van a lot easier. It is being ordered on something like three

out of four Chrysler vans.

The Windstar will offer a fourth door when it's redesigned for 1999,

but the big door is the quick fix for 1998. By making the driver's door

six inches longer and offering a driver's seat that slides and tips forward,

you can now get kids in and out of the back on the left side of the van.

Obviously, one door is simply not the same as two. But that doesn't

change our overall impression that the Windstar is a fine minivan.

It remains convenient to use and pleasurable to drive. A star performer

in government crash tests, the Windstar also offers plenty of room for

big families and lots of stuff. Walkaround
The smooth aerodynamic shape the Windstar started out with in 1995 is

still the basis of its look today. Besides the larger front door, the most

noticeable change is in the front. The hood has a slightly different contour

this year than its former smoothly rounded surface. Slightly raised in

the center, it comes forward into a more squarely shaped front end, lending

a slightly stronger appearance.

Overall the look is quite stylish, and it disguises the Windstar's substantial

size. The shape still slides smoothly over the sloped windshield, so that

only the barest wind noise comes from the large outside mirrors.

It's easy to get kids and cargo in and out the passenger doors. In the

rear the cargo door is huge, but a door-style handle makes it easy to open

and lift. And even though there's lots of walk-under room beneath the hatch,

an easy-to-grasp strap helps to haul it down.

Then there's that big new Family door, which has been extended six inches.

The back seat can be reached by tipping and sliding the driver's seat forward.

(The door is standard on all '98 Windstars, but the tip-slide seat is extra

on the less-expensive models, and the door is just a big door without it.)

We found a few problems here. One is just size. Though it's designed

to extend only two inches more than previous door, it's enough to be bothersome

in a crowded parking lot. Ford points out that most mid-size coupes have

doors that are even wider. But they're not nearly as tall, or as high off

the ground.

A package can be easily put in the back by just tipping the seat and

not sliding it forward. But for anything bigger you have to get out, move

your seat, put it back and get in. It's easier just to use the sliding

door. Interior
Inside is where the Windstar shines. It's roomy and comfortable, with

plenty of access to the middle and rear seat rows. The uniquely stylish

dashboard curves around the driver, so smaller drivers don't have to stretch

and lunge for the controls.

The instruments are classic white-on-black analog, with a tachometer

on the left, a big speedometer in the middle, and small temperature and

fuel gauges on the right, plus the usual array of warning lights. Headlights

are controlled by a rotary switch on the left side of the dash. Wiper controls

are on a stalk on the left of the steering wheel column. The parking brake

is set with a handle to the right of the driver's seat.

Controls for the power windows and locks are on the door, and cruise

control switches are on the steering wheel hub, where you can operate them

with your thumbs.

Three big dials to the right of the instrument panel work the heater

and air conditioner. They really couldn't be simpler or more convenient.

The same can't be said for the AM/FM/cassette player just above those

dials. It's all buttons, and many of the buttons are pretty small. Even

adjusting the volume requires the driver to look away from the road.

Cupholders, which pop out under the heater, are now adjustable, so they

can hold even the fattest coffee mug. There are tons of cup holders for

back seat passengers that can hold a can or a juice box, and large storage

bins in both the middle and rear seat rows.

The seatbelts are height-adjustable in both front and rear.

A useful new feature is the optional overhead console. It includes a

change holder, a little home for those ever-elusive sunglasses, and a holder

for a garage remote control. Best of all, it has a cool convex mirror that

pops down so you can view the back seats and see who is really tormenting

whom when you're trying to drive.

The seats are comfortable enough for trips of any duration. The arms

rests fold down to help you relax and fold up and out of the way when you

have to arbitrate a family dispute in the back.

The third seat rests on rails. Push it all the way back for maximum

leg room. Push it seven inches forward to create more cargo room. The second

and third row seat backs fold down to put stuff on top, or you can unlatch

them and take them out altogether. Do that and 4x8 sheets of plywood will

fit flat on the floor.

Ford put a power lock switch on the side of the cargo hold, just inside

the rear hatch. So even without remote entry, you can pull something out,

lock all the doors and head into the house. Driving Impressions
The Windstar is as quiet, comfortable and easy to operate as any minivan

on the road. Even at freeway speeds you can hear people talking to you

in the rear seats with no problem.

Two engines are available, and both provide plenty of power. A 3.0-liter

V6, standard in GL models, generates 150 hp, pretty typical for a minivan

engine. A 3.8-liter V6 that's optional on the GL and standard on LX and

Limited models creates 200 hp, tops in any minivan. Both engines can go

100,000 miles between tuneups and the four-speed automatic transmission

that comes in all Windstars makes shifting almost unnoticeable.

There's enough pickup to get onto the freeway or pass on two-lane roads

without much drama, and stoplight getaway is good enough to leave many

compact cars behind if you try.

We also found that the Windstar performed well in winter weather, even

without the optional traction control.

The Windstar is probably the safest minivan going. Dual airbags, 5 mph

bumpers and ABS are standard on all models. There's a child-proof lock

on the sliding door and head restraints have been added to the second and

third row seats. Perhaps most important, the National Highway Traffic Safety

Administration has given the Windstar a five-star rating for protecting

its occupants in a head-on collision. Summary
If family vacations are a top priority, then Windstar should probably

be at the top of your list. It is probably the best touring minivan around.

That's especially true if you really don't want that fourth door.

No, they are not cheap. Our GL test van stickered out at $25,300 including

the 3.8-liter engine. On the other hand, a lot of folks do want a fourth

door and we suspect the Family door isn't going to satisfy many of them.

Which means that you can probably get a pretty good deal on a 1998 Windstar.

Model as tested
GL
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
20655
Price as tested
25300
Options as tested
3.8-liter V6, Air conditioning, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, interior light group, overhead console, tilt wheel, cruise control, rear window defrost

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Safety equipment (standard)
ABS, dual airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
3.0 liter ohv V6
Transmissions
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
(GL) AM/FM radio, door map pockets, tinted glass, dual vanity mirrors, full carpeting, intermittent wipers, dome light

Engine & Transmission
Engine
3.0 liter ohv V6
Drivetrain type
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
150 @ 5000
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
18/25
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/drum
Suspension, front
Independent
Tires
P205/70R-15
Suspension, rear
Independent

Accomodations
Seating capacity
7
Head/hip/leg room, middle
38.9/61.0/39.2
Head/hip/leg room, front
39.3/57.6/41.8
Head/hip/leg room, rear
38.1/48.7/35.3

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
144.0
Wheelbase
120.7
Length/width/height
201.2/75.4/68.0
Turning circle
40.6
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
3500
Track, front/rear
64.3/63.0
Ground clearance
N/A
Curb weight
3487


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