Ford Windstar is First Produced
The Ford Windstar is a minivan that was produced and sold by the Ford Motor Company from March 1994 (for the 1995 model year) to 2003.
This front-wheel drive minivan would eventually replace Ford's aging rear-wheel drive Aerostar minivan. The two ran concurrently for three model years until the Aerostar's demise in 1997. For the 2004 model year, it was replaced by the Freestar. All Windstars were built in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.
Unlike most Fords, the Windstar did not have a similar Mercury vehicle "twin", and was completely unrelated to the Mercury Villager (although the Windstar's successor the Ford Freestar did have a twin, the Mercury Monterey).
The all-new Windstar was released in March 1994, for the 1995 model year. While smaller than its predecessor, its sleek design, front-wheel drive, and better car-like handling made it more competitive with similar offerings from Chrysler and GM. The Windstar had beaten the third-generation Dodge Caravan to the market by over a year, which played a crucial role in Ford taking significant market share in the minivan market.
Though its size was between the smaller front-wheel drive Mercury Villager and the larger rear-wheel drive Ford Aerostar, for its first year, it was priced above both of them. By 1997, however, the Villager's base price had surpassed the Windstar's by several hundred dollars, and top-of-the-line Villager Nautica models went for some $6,000 USD more.
Among standard features were anti-lock brakes, dual airbags, seven-passenger seating, and a 3.8 L V6 engine, borrowed from the Taurus/Sable. This engine produced 155 hp (116 kW), but produced 220 lb·ft (298 N·m) of torque. For its inaugural year, the Windstar was available in base GL and high-end LX trim, as well as a cargo version called Cargo Van.
1996: A new 3.0 L 150 hp (112 kW) Vulcan V6 became standard on base GL models, while the larger 3.8 L V6's horsepower was upped to 200. The driver's seat gained an available tilt/slide feature for access to the rear from the driver's side. The only exterior change is the addition of a contrasting metal strip inside the side rub stripe (1995 models are solid plastic).
1997: A bare-bones unnamed base model was now available. A CD player became a new option on models.
1998 Ford Windstar
1998: The Windstar received minor cosmetic changes including a new grille and headlights; in compensate for the lack of a driver's side rear sliding door, the driver's door was extended six inches (152 mm) , as it was not possible to create a driver's side sliding door with the current bodyshell. Ford, at the time, claimed that a drivers-side sliding door was not noted a key feature needed by focus groups. An ultra-luxury Limited model was new. It included leather seating and faux wood interior trim.
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.