Full 2008 Ford Econoline Cargo Review
What's New for 2008
Ford significantly updates its E-Series "Econoline" full-size commercial and passenger vans for the first time in years with a bold new look up front and an upgraded chassis underneath offering improved handling and braking along with greater load-carrying capability. An engine-only traction control system is also available on most models.
As a fixture on America's highways since way back in 1961, the Ford E-Series (a.k.a. Econoline) currently accounts for about half of the full-size passenger and cargo vans sold in this country. Offering lots of space, versatility and durability, this rear-wheel-drive cargo van has long been a staple of commercial fleets, independent contractors and small businesses that need to transport materials and equipment economically.
While popular, Ford's van has suffered from antiquated underpinnings that lagged behind more modern rivals from GM and Dodge. The 2008 Ford Econoline Cargo addresses many of our complaints by modernizing the handling dynamics with a revised front and rear suspension, more refined steering and an all-new braking system. These changes promise to elevate the drivability and ride of Ford's vans to a level similar to the Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana twins and Dodge's Sprinter, its chief rivals that have already received engineering upgrades in recent years.
Not much has changed inside, but the latest E-Series is visually distinguished from its predecessors outside with a rugged new front end treatment borrowed from Ford's Super Duty trucks featuring a new grille, bumpers, fascia and headlamps. Ford is obviously hoping for a more macho look here, though it's not entirely cohesive in our opinion.
Those chassis and suspension improvements made to the 2008 E-Series have not only resulted in a better riding and handling vehicle than in the past, but also one that can handle especially heavy loads. The 2008 E-350 Super Duty, for example, offers a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 9,500 pounds and a maximum available payload of 4,110 pounds -- meaning many customers won't have to move up to larger, truly heavy-duty van-based cutaways to meet their needs.
Carrying over are a multitude of choices in terms of power and hauling capability, depending on the size and weight of the gear you need to carry. With four engine/transmission combinations utilizing gas or diesel power, several different capacities, sliding or swing-out side doors, and standard or extended lengths, buyers will need to pay close attention to E-Series specifications in order to choose the particular combination that best fits their needs.
The 2008 Ford Econoline Cargo lineup starts off with the E-150, which should be more than sufficient for many customers given its 3,340-pound maximum payload rating. For heavier-duty needs there are the E-250 and E-250 Extended with its 20 additional inches of length and 52 extra cubic feet of cargo space. And for those who truly need to maximize their hauling capability in a standard-issue full-size van, there's the E-350 Super Duty and longer E-350 Super Duty Extended variant.
With its makeover for 2008, the Ford E-Series is much closer to its rivals, especially in terms of road-going dynamics. Thanks to its high-roof options, the Dodge Sprinter offers the most cargo-friendly compartment (that you can walk upright in), while its class-best build quality and fuel economy make it the best choice for those with a bit more cash to spend. The Ford therefore aligns better with GM's Express and Savana (which feature mildly updated interiors this year), as they too feature a more traditional American work van design, providing a similarly rugged chassis design, ample interior space and torque-rich engines. However, the 2008 Ford Econoline Cargo is probably the preferred choice for heavy-duty users with its combination of high payload ratings, available diesel V8 and gasoline V10 engines, and legendary reliability record. If that describes what you're looking for, you won't go wrong choosing a 2008 Ford E-Series work van -- just ask five decades worth of customers.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Ford Econoline commercial van is offered to the public in half-ton, 3/4-ton and 1-ton sizes. Shoppers with lighter-capacity needs can start with the E-150 model, while those with more demanding requirements should focus on the E-250 and E-350 SD models. These heavier-duty vehicles come in two different lengths -- 212 inches for the regular version and 232 inches for the Extended model -- and can haul more than 2 tons of gear in the case of the E-350 Super Duty van. Standard Ford cargo vans are pretty basic with 16-inch steel wheels, front vinyl bucket seats, air-conditioning, tilt steering wheel, manual mirrors and an AM/FM radio. Functional extras include halogen headlights, a second-row bench seat, upgraded towing packages, a limited-slip differential and performance axle ratios for increased towing capacity. Those desiring more creature comforts and style can spring for forged aluminum wheels, interior insulation, cloth upholstery, captain's chairs, cruise control, keyless entry, powered accessories and a six-speaker CD stereo. For tradespeople who demand organization, Ford also offers several special packages that equip the E-Series with a variety of racks, bins and drawers.
Powertrains and Performance
E-Series cargo van buyers have four different engines to choose from, all sending power to the rear wheels. The standard 4.6-liter V8 on E-150 and E-250 models is rated at 225 horsepower and 286 pound-feet of torque. A larger 5.4-liter V8 putting out 255 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque is optional (and recommended) on these models, and standard on the E-350 Super Duty. These two gas V8s are backed by a four-speed automatic transmission. Engine upgrades on E-350 Super Dutys include a 6.8-liter V10 good for 305 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, or a durable and more economical 6.0-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel V8 that produces 235 horses and 440 lb-ft of torque. These larger optional engines are coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission. Maximum tow ratings range from 6,000 pounds for a base E-150 to 10,000 pounds for a properly equipped E-350 Super Duty with 4.10 gearing and the V10 or diesel engine option. The Econoline Cargo's Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) -- the maximum amount a vehicle can carry including passengers, cargo and trailer -- ranges from 11,500 pounds on the E-150 to an impressive 20,000 pounds on a properly equipped E-350 Super Duty.
All 2008 Ford Econoline Cargo vans come standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes and a manual deactivation switch for the passenger-side airbag. A reverse-sensing system is available, as is traction control on all E-Series models.
Interior Design and Special Features
E-Series Cargo vans practically define the term "stripped," but can be made a bit more civilized by adding an optional second-row bench, front captain's chairs, insulation package, side or rear window glass and/or a sliding side cargo door. Unlike the Dodge Sprinter, there is no optional driver side door, nor different roof heights. Standard-length vans have a maximum cargo capacity of 230 cubic feet, while extended-length vans check in with a voluminous 271 cubic feet of space.
It takes a lot of grunt to get more than 2.5 tons rolling, so we recommend the more powerful optional 5.4-liter gas V8 on the E-150 and E-250 models. With the 2008 Ford E-350 Super Duty vans, our choice is the available diesel V8 due to its superior torque and added cruising range. However, if you're partial to abundant power in a gasoline engine, Ford is the only manufacturer that offers a V10 in a full-size van. The E-Series benefits from improved ride and handling dynamics this year that give it a newfound confidence on the road, but despite its chassis improvements this is still a massive full-size vehicle with a huge turning circle that can make it awkward to maneuver in city traffic. But that's a minor consideration in a commercial vehicle and certainly understandable given the substantial amount of equipment and materials this van can transport in an enclosed and relatively economical manner.