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New Car/Review

1997 Ford XLT Econoline Van Chateau

by John Heilig

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:  6.8-liter V-10
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  265hp @4250 rpm/405 lb-ft @2750 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:  13 mpg city,  18 mpg highway,  12.2 mpg test
WHEELBASE:  138.0 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  232.0 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  79.3 in.
FUEL CAPACITY:  35.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  275.9 cu. ft. (max.)
TIRES:   LT225/75R16
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature,
             oil pressure, battery voltage, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors,
           power driver's seat, cruise control, air conditioner,
           AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, anti-lock braking,
           dual air bags.

Constant readers who may be familiar with the Heilig family of automobiles may remember that our "family car" for over 14 years was a full-sized Chevrolet van. That van took us from Girls Scouts through college and proved to be a very valuable asset to our family. But toward the end of its life, as I was driving better vehicles and the minivan revolution took over, that vehicle became less practical. And with the proliferation of minivans, we haven't had an opportunity to drive a big van recently.

Our tester this week is the Ford Econoline full-sized van. For those who really know our automotive history, the big Ford is what we originally ordered, but it was too late in the model year and we shifted to Chevy instead.

We drove the Econoline on a long ride and driving it brought back some pleasant memories. It also reminded me of some of the deficiencies our old family van had.

For example, the new van is much smoother than our clunker was. Granted, my memories of that van are of an old vehicle, but the Ford has a four-speed automatic transmission and a V-10 engine that deliver levels of smoothness our old van never did, even when it was new. This van was a lot safer, too. We had dual air bags and ABS, which weren't even in cars in 1978.

And it's far more practical as well. We had a glove box, extra power outlet for our cellular phone, cupholders and storage compartments all over the place. None of these existed in 1978.

As tested, the Econoline was set up for seven-passenger seating. It's probably more practical for six, but you can fit three people in the rear bench seat. There are individual captain's chairs up front with a matching pair of captain's chairs in the second row. Even with three rows of seats, there is still an enormous amount of carrying capacity behind the rear seat. On our trip to our daughter's house, we transported enormous amounts of "stuff." We had plenty of room to carry all these articles. art of our problem as a family is that we were spoiled by that van. We've never learned how to pack down to one small suitcase.

The Ford is powered by a Triton V-10, Ford's first entry in the V-10 arena. This engine is based on the 5.4-liter Triton V-8, with the same bore, but a longer stroke than the 4.6-liter V-8. I wouldn't want to work under the hood, though.

Styling is not drastically changed from Ford vans of the past. The nose is a little rounder and has some of the character of the F150 truck, just so you won't forget where it came from. Other than that the styling is the same. I was impressed by the solidity of the Ford. There were no rattles from the sliding side door, for example, a constant pain in the old van. This was a far more solid vehicle than full-sized vans of the past.

We did have a blind spot in the center of the rear view mirror because of the swing-out doors.

Because of their large volume, vans don't heat up or cool down quickly. The Econoline had an excellent heating system that did the job quite efficiently. It did have an "old style" control panel with a minimum of options--a surprise.

I was impressed with the Econoline. It brought back great memories of our family's traveling around the country in our van. I'd like to pack a tent and camping gear in the back of an Econoline and make a similar six-week trip to see how it would hold out. We had a lot of fun with this van.