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For years, Ford’s Windstar has been popular as a sort of family appliance. It has served families well—and also sold well based on its value proposition—but most owners would probably admit settling for the Windstar based on its packaging or the deal they got rather than because of its style or the way it drove.In the scenic backdrop of Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay region, Ford officials presented the Freestar to us as extensively redesigned and much improved in drivability areas. The “new” minivan revealed to us looked more than a little familiar, with the same basic proportions and the sheetmetal only slightly changed from the Windstar.
Max Kapadia, the chief engineer for the Freestar and Monterey, confirmed that the body shell is essentially the same, but about 60 percent of the parts within are new.
Faced with more competition in the minivan segment, Ford has opted to give the Windstar a new name and a partial redesign. As with the outgoing Windstar, the Freestar’s emphasis is on safety features, but the new minivan places greater emphasis on refinement, plus some new, clever packaging tricks that up the ante for the competition. Other targets in the Freestar’s development were greater versatility, better quality, and improved performance.
The 3.8-liter, cast-iron ‘Essex’ V-6, which dates back to the 1983 Thunderbird and has gone through a series of improvements over the years, carries into the Freestar with some more significant improvements focused on damping its noise and vibration. A new camshaft profile for the pushrod engine allows smoother low-rev operation and 90 percent of torque is now available at 1500 rpm. Peak torque of 245 lb-ft is made 500 rpm lower than last year’s engine, but horsepower still lags the competition at 193. The 4.2-liter engine offered in the higher trim levels is simply a larger-displacement version of the 3.8, making 201 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque, with no other significant differences.