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Introduced in the mid-1990s, the front-wheel-drive Ford Windstar minivan campaigned with an emphasis on, and reputation for, safety. And in the hotly contested family minivan market of the time, that was an especially solid piece of ground to be on. As long as buyers didn't need to haul adults in back on a regular basis -- or find it necessary to remove the heavy third-row bench seat from the van often for additional cargo room -- the Windstar generally served a family's needs just fine.
Unfortunately, the Ford Windstar's general reputation for reliability was notably poorer than other competing minivans, particularly those from Honda and Toyota. The van's engine and transmission were particularly troublesome. In addition, we often criticized the Windstar for its noisy engines, poor interior space utilization and floppy handling.
Consequently, we suggest most shoppers take a look at other choices in this segment. But if you are set on getting a used Windstar, we'd at least suggest focusing on the most recent generation and consider opting for an extended warranty, if available.
Most recent Ford Windstar
During its nine years on the market, there were two Ford Windstar generations. The most recent was produced from 1999 to 2003. (Ford renamed it the Freestar for 2004.) The '99 van was completely redesigned to look more modern and sporty while upgrading mechanicals and adding a driver-side sliding door. The second- and third-row seats were now on rollers for easier maneuverability, and up front the instrument panel was reworked for improved ergonomics. There were also upgrades made to the suspension, transmission, brakes and air-conditioning.
Models now included base, LX, SE, SEL and Limited versions. Powering the van was either a 3.0-liter 150-horsepower V6 engine or -- a much more desirable -- 200-hp 3.8-liter V6. In reviews of the Ford Windstar at the time, our editors lauded the 3.8-liter engine for its power but complained that it was noisy under acceleration. We were also unhappy with its disconnected ride and handling, poor interior space utilization and weak reputation for reliability. Positive attributes included a plethora of convenience and safety features and top-notch crash test scores.
If we were shopping used Windstars, this new-and-improved second-generation version is as far back as we'd go. There were a few updates made through the years. The most significant of these were standard power-adjustable pedals, an optional rear-seat video entertainment system for 2000, the switch to the 3.8-liter engine as standard for all models in 2001 and the availability of safety-enhancing AdvanceTrac stability control for 2003.
Past Ford Windstar models
Ford introduced the front-wheel-drive Windstar in 1995 to replace its outgoing Aerostar rear-drive minivan. The new Windstar featured an extensive list of standard equipment, including dual airbags, antilock brakes, a four-speed automatic transmission and V6 power. Inside was seating for seven, including a unique integrated child seat.
The Windstar's only available engine was a 3.8-liter V6 which produced just 155 hp, but a more generous 220 pound-feet of low-end torque. Only a base GL model was available, but a more luxurious LX trim level was added in 1996 when a 3.0-liter 150-horsepower Vulcan V6 was made standard and an upgraded 3.8-liter V6 engine rated at 200 horses was optional. That year also saw four-wheel disc brakes fitted on vehicles equipped with traction control or the towing package. In 1998 -- the final year of its first generation -- the Windstar's driver's door was widened as a stop-gap measure to help access to the second row until the completely redesigned Windstar arrived a year later with a fourth door.