Ford's Windstar has been a perennial almost in the minivan field. It's always had power, comfort, plenty of room, and a low step-in height. The main criticism in the past has been a lack of a driver-side sliding door.
Notice that "in the past". For 1999, Ford has added a driver's side sliding door on both mid-level SE and premium SEL trim levels. On the SEL, both sliding doors are power-operated, with controls inside near the doors, on the overhead driver's console, and on the remote entry fob. The '99 Windstar has also been restyled inside and out. An angular, "New Edge" look erases the typical minivan dowdiness and replaces it with a degree of visual excitement. Interior changes are, appropriately, more functional than stylistic, with larger radio controls, particulate air filtration, new seat trim, and increased seating flexibility.
More doors are not the only useful new features available on the new Windstar. The available ultrasonic sonar-based "Reverse Sensing System" enhances safety when backing up. The Windstar's rear visibility is good, thanks to a larger rear window and usefully- large mirrors. But anything close behind and low may be out of the driver's field of vision. This includes parked cars, tree stumps, kids, pets, fire hydrants, large rocks, and other disasters waiting to happen. Sensors in the rear bumper detect items between six feet and ten inches to the rear. A beeper alerts the driver. The beeping increases in speed as the Windstar gets closer to the object, and becomes continuous at ten inches. Stop. Now. Before the crunch. It's a great idea that has been used on expensive luxury cars, but this is its first use in a minivan.
The 1999 Windstar is offered in one "Van" cargo-carrying configuration and four "Wagon" passenger trim levels -- 3.0, LX, SE, and SEL. I've just spent a week with an SEL with all of the bells and whistles. It's a modern near-luxury station wagon, with no trace of truckishness in feel or handling. It has room, comfort, and interesting looks. The power doors and reverse sonar are more than gimmicks, they are useful convenience and safety features.
APPEARANCE: Thanks to Ford's "New Edge" styling, the 1999 Windstar stands out from the crowd. It's a successful balance of angles, planes, creases, and rounded forms on the standard two-box minivan theme, with more definition than the previous Windstar. The prominent grille (chrome-colored on the SE and SEL) and the headlights are similar shapes, but reversed for contrast. Well-defined fenders sweep back from the headlights. The steeply-sloped hood is lower, and blends into the grille. Angular fender blisters, reminiscent of early-1980s sports car style, are an interesting touch on a minivan. Above the creased beltline the Windstar's rounded cabin is more typical of minivan styling, with well-hidden door tracks. The SEL has SUV-like contrasting-colored lower trim, and luxury car-style chrome bumper inserts. It looks its part -- an upscale people-mover.
COMFORT: Minivans seem to be growing, and some aren't so mini anymore. The Windstar used to be one of the larger entries, and now is closer to the average for the class in size. It still has plenty of room inside for seven people, and is not so large as to be difficult to dock, er, park. Access to the SEL is easy, thanks to the dual power sliding doors. A sedanlike floor height, plenty of headroom, and comfortable distance between seating rows ensures spaciousness and easy access, even to the rear seat. My SEL was configured with front power- adjustable captain's chairs, second-row captain's chairs (adjustable fore-and-aft and for full reclining) and a third-row bench. Appointments are as expected in the near-luxury class, with leather upholstery and woodgrain trim. Cupholders abound, as do air conditioning and heater vents. Rear passengers have their own controls for air and audio. Back up front, the driver's office places controls and instruments well. Typically of Fords, accessory and radio buttons are large and well-marked, and a pointer on the instrument panel to the gas filler saves embarrassment for the occasional driver.
SAFETY: All outboard seating positions three-point safety belts, and the dual front airbags are supplemented by head and chest side-impact bags. Antilock brakes are standard.
ROADABILITY: Chassis revisions ensured that the addition of the driver's-side sliding door did not compromise the Windstar's rigidity. It feels like a car, with no flexing or rattling. The suspension is firmer than that of some competitors, for improved control with no loss of comfort. It's quiet, and visibility is good.
PERFORMANCE: Two V6 engines are offered in the Windstar line. A 3.0-liter, 150-horsepower engine is found in the commercial van and entry-level wagon. All other levels have the familiar 3.8-liter V6. It has the same 200 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque as before, but now meets nationwide low emission vehicle (LEV) standards and more stringent California ultra-low emissions (ULEV) standards. It has good low-speed torque response for quick acceleration when needed, and is matched to a smooth-shifting 4-speed automatic transmission. It goes further on a gallon of gas than an SUV, and holds more people and cargo.
CONCLUSIONS:The 1999 Ford Windstar meets and beats minivan expectations, particularly in upscale SEL trim.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 30,415 Price As Tested $ 31,395 Engine Type pushrod overhead valve V6 Engine Size 38 liters / 231 cu. in. Horsepower 200 @ 4900 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 240 @ 3600 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 120.7 in. / 200.9 in. Curb Weight 4,270 lbs Pounds Per Horsepower 21.4 Fuel Capacity 26 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P225/60 SR16 Michelin Symmetry Brakes, front/rear disc / drum, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson struts / twist beam axle Drivetrain front engine / front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17 / 24 / 17 0 to 60 mph 9.9 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 17.5 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Floor Console $ 155 Reverse Sensing system $ 245 Destination & delivery $ 580