Used 2003 Ford Econoline Cargo Van Review

Edmunds expert review

Buying a commercial van for business use is easy. Pick from Dodge, Ford or General Motors. The E-Series is now a decade old in terms of design and engineering, but it remains competitive. If Ford can outfit one they way you want, there's no reason to look elsewhere.

What's new for 2003

For 2003, all vans get power exterior mirrors, and you can get a deluxe set of mirrors with puddle lamps as an option. Additionally, you can select an optional sliding side cargo door in lieu of the standard hinged side doors. Other changes include new cloth headliners, a few new interior and exterior color choices and a new grille with an integrated blue oval emblem.

Vehicle overview

Introduction: Tough, roomy, rugged and reliable, Ford's Econoline Van has a favorable, well-earned reputation. Since the van's introduction in 1960, Ford says it has sold more than 6 million Econolines.

The current Econoline lineup is extensive. There are the base-model E-150, the E-250, the E-250 Extended, the tougher E-350 Super Duty and the E-350 Super Duty Extended. Ford equips each of these vehicles in either recreational-use (Econoline Wagon) or commercial-use (Econoline Van) trim. Recreational trim is for large families or people who want customized conversion vans or RVs, while the Econoline Van commercial models are used by tradespeople to cart equipment from job to job. It is upon the latter that we will concentrate here.

If you want to purchase a new full-size van for business use, you're going to end up with the Econoline, the Chevrolet Express, the GMC Savana or the Dodge Ram Wagon. Each are similar in price and size. The GM vans have the advantage in horsepower, but otherwise your buying decision should come down to pricing and getting a van configured the way you want.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options: Ford's commercial-use Econoline Van is available to the general public in half-ton, three-quarter-ton and one-ton sizes. For those whose hauling needs aren't too intensive, there is the base E-150 model. If you have a bit more on your plate, select the E-250, which comes in two lengths -- regular (211.9 inches) and EXT (231.9). Finally, for contractors with the heaviest payloads (up to 4,000 pounds), there is the E-350 van, also available in regular and extended lengths.

In base form, the vans are equipped rather sparsely -- two vinyl bucket seats, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel adjustment, power mirrors, a two-speaker stereo and 16-inch tires with steel rims. Among the available options are functional items like a second-row bench (so that you can carry the whole crew), a towing package and shorter axle ratios for enhanced towing ability (most with a limited-slip differential), as well as "luxuries" like cloth upholstery, captain's chairs, cruise control, a six-speaker stereo with a cassette deck and a power group with keyless entry and power windows and locks. Powertrains and Performance: The Econoline is available with five different engines (or six, if you count the special-order 5.4-liter natural gas V8). E-150s, E-250s and E-250 Extended models come with a standard 191-horsepower 4.2-liter V6. Optional on the E-150 and E-250 is either a 4.6-liter V8 or a 5.4-liter V8. The 4.6-liter produces 225 hp and 286 pound-feet of torque, while the 5.4-liter makes 255 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. E-350 Super Duty and Super Duty Extended models have the 5.4-liter V8 as standard. To upgrade, you can go with a 305-hp 6.8-liter V10 or Ford's 7.3-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel V8. This monster cranks out 215 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque.

Four-speed automatic transmissions are standard across the model line. Trailer ratings range from 6,600 lbs for an E-150 with the V6 to 10,000 lbs for an E-350 Super Duty with the 4.10 axle ratio. In terms of the payloads you can carry, the range goes from 6,700 lbs GVWR for the E-150 to 9,500 lbs GVWR for the regular-length E-350. And then there's the matter of cargo space -- up 309 cubic feet of it.

Safety: All Econolines come standard with four-wheel ABS, second-generation front airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners for the driver and passenger. E-150s come with rear drum brakes, while E-250s and 350s have four-wheel discs. Interior Design and Special Features: Besides adding an optional second-row bench to accommodate your staff, you can increase your van's day-to-day livability (for people, anyway) by equipping it with swing-out side glass and fixed rear glass and/or a sliding side cargo door (in place of the standard hinged doors).

Driving Impressions: Despite their old-fashioned suspension designs, Econolines feel relatively stable and confident when driven on the highway. Given their size, of course, they can be rather cumbersome to park or maneuver through heavy traffic. However, the virtues of sitting tall with a panoramic view of the road ahead can outweigh many a minor inconvenience.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.