Used 2003 Ford Econoline Wagon Van Review

Edmunds expert review

Why buy a minivan when for the same price you can have a full-size van? Oh right, parking and fuel economy, to name just two. Well, if you've got nothing but wide-open spaces and lots of cash to plug into the tank, give the Ford Econoline Wagon a try.

What's new for 2003

Ford has deleted the family-friendly Traveler Package from the options list for the E-150 XLT, but two-tone exterior paint, running boards and a rear cargo organizer have been added to the Chateau Package. You can pick up the rest of the Traveler features -- including leather upholstery, rear entertainment system and trailer preparation -- as stand-alone options. Additionally, all models get a standard set of power exterior mirrors. If that's not enough, there's an upgraded set with convex blind-spot mirrors and puddle lamps newly optional across the line. Inside, XLT models are now equipped with dual-illuminated vanity mirrors. Finally, the Ford emblem is moved from the hood to the grille.

Vehicle overview

Introduction: What if someone offered you a vehicle with better gas mileage and almost twice the interior cargo volume of a Ford Excursion? What if this vehicle could hold as many or more people (in greater comfort) than an Excursion, while also costing less? Finally, what if the vehicle offered superior ride quality over an Excursion, while being no more difficult to drive?

"What's the catch?" you might be asking. Well, it only comes in two-wheel drive, and it won't earn you a membership in the not-so-elite club of SUV Pilots Unlimited. That said, the Ford Econoline Wagon, in either E-150 or E-350 Super Duty designation, is better than an Excursion in nearly every way. The vehicle offers 257 cubic feet of cargo volume (309 cubic feet in E-350 EXT trim), compared to the Excursion's paltry 146 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Ford's Econoline is also a foot shorter than an Excursion (except in EXT trim), has a nearly identical wheelbase and turning radius and, depending on trim and equipment, can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds less than Ford's King Kong SUV.

In the real world, this translates to a vehicle far more capable, and efficient, at toting people and gear from points A to B, unless extreme offroad conditions exist between those two points.

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

If you want to purchase a new full-size van or wagon, you're going to end up with the Econoline, the Chevrolet Express, the GMC Savana, or the Dodge Ram Wagon All four vehicles have similar prices, wheelbases and maximum passenger capacities (15 people). The GM vans have the most powerful engine lineup, but beyond that, we recommend that buyers in this market focus on the pricing and packaging that meet their needs.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options: The current lineup is extensive. There is the base-model E-150, the tougher E-350 Super Duty and the E-350 Super Duty Extended. Each of these vehicles is offered in either XL or XLT trim. Both XL and XLT come standard with items like driver and passenger second-generation airbags, tilt steering, air conditioning and a Class One trailer-towing package. XL models have front bucket seats, while XLTs get front captain's chairs. Available options include an upgraded tow package and an in-dash six-CD changer. If you want a family-oriented van, stick with the E-150 XLT, as it can be optioned with second-row captain's chairs (as part of the Chateau Package), a rear entertainment system and leather upholstery. Powertrains and Performance: Five different engines are available. E-150s come with a standard 191-horsepower 4.2-liter V6. Optional on the E-150 is either a 4.6-liter V8 or a 5.4-liter V8. The 4.6-liter produces 225 horsepower and 286 pound-feet of torque, while the 5.4-liter makes 255 horsepower 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-horsepower 6.8-liter V10 or Ford's 7.3-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel V8. This monster cranks out 215 horsepower and 425 lb-ft of torque way down at 1,800 rpm. Trailer ratings range from 6,600 pounds for an E-150 Wagon powered by a 4.2-liter V6 to 10,000 pounds for an E-350 Super Duty.

Safety: All Econolines come standard with four-wheel ABS, but otherwise safety features are pretty basic. The van hasn't been fully crash-tested, but it did earn four out of five stars for both the driver and passenger in NHTSA's frontal crash test. One downside is its rollover rating -- "poor" -- which can be attributed to its high center of gravity and relatively narrow track and wheelbase (particularly in E-350 Extended form). When heavily loaded with passengers or gear, passenger vans of this type are especially susceptible to rollover incidents. Interior Design and Special Features: Inside, the Econoline offers comfortable seating (particularly if your van has the optional captain's chairs), though legroom is a bit tight for those sitting in the second row. Depending on which model you choose, the Econoline can seat 7 (E-150 XLT with Chateau Package), 8 (all other E-150s), 12 (E-350) or 15 passengers (E-350 Extended). Cargo space is prodigious, with anywhere from 257 to 309 cubic feet at your disposal. Driving Impressions: Driving an Econoline, despite its passenger seating, differs little from piloting a delivery vehicle, so it's not a logical choice for everyday motoring -- though quite a few families happily employ their Wagons exactly that way. The virtues of sitting tall with a panoramic view of the road ahead can outweigh many a minor inconvenience. And despite their old-fashioned suspension designs, Econolines feel relatively stable and confident on the highway. Excessive wind noise tends to drown out conversation in the cabin, however.

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.