1989 Ford Aerostar

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chicagotribune.com
Foolhardy. That`s what Ford Motor Co. called Chrysler Corp.`s plans to bring out front-wheel-drive mini-vans.

Big rear-wheel-drive vans may be hard to drive and park and may consume gas faster than some companies can spill it, but the public will never go for miniature versions featuring front-wheel drive, Ford said. Chevrolet seconded the notion.

History now relates that the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager from Chrysler proved to be an immediate success. Ford was forced to bring out its Aerostar mini-van, though Ford stopped short of total concession by keeping Aerostar rear-wheel drive.

Hardly had Ford responded to the Chrysler mini when the folks from Iacocca land stretched the Caravan and Voyager and came out with extended length mini-vans. Longer minis! Sounds like a contradiction. To Iacocca, the only sound is of bills rustling in the bag as he carts them to the bank. Another Chrysler success story.

Once again, Ford has been forced to respond. For 1989 it comes up with an elongated Aerostar, with pride dictating it remain rear-drive. Ford doesn`t add a front-wheel-drive van until 1991 from its joint effort with Nissan. That mini-van will carry a Mercury nameplate.

While Chrysler distinguishes its mini and extended length vans by calling the long ones Grand Caravan and Grand Voyager, Ford stuck with only the Aerostar name on its bigger version. Perhaps adding the designation EL would help Aerostar buyers separate the two when shopping.

We test drove the longer Aerostar in its dressed to the teeth Eddie Bauer version.

The mini and longer Aerostar vans are built on the same 118.9-inch wheelbase. The mini is 174.9 inches long, the EL 190.3 inches.

The extra 15.4 inches is in back and is a welcome addition. Seven can sit in comfort over three rows of seats and have plenty of room for cargo, luggage or groceries.

However, it would have been nice if the front end had beenextended a few inches, too, so you could see the nose while driving or parking. Being able to see the hood provides a feeling of security that there`s some metal between you and the object ahead. The Aerostar hood is sharply sloped and out of sight.

For long trips, the two back seats in the Eddie Bauer edition fold easily into flat beds. And there are no armrests on the back seats, so any member of the crew can lie down and catnap on a long vacation run.

Oddly, though, the second bench seat is more comfortable when folded down in bed fashion than when it`s upright. The metal seat belt holder sticks stiffly out of the seat. Put two adults on that seat sporting larger than size 32 waist Levis and each will bear the mark of the belt holder in the rear pocket. Imagine, if you will, sitting on a claw hammer and you can appreciate the poor design of the Aerostar EL seat belt holders.

While on annoyances, we might as well point out a few other troubles i n what otherwise is a honey of a people and cargo hauler.

Open the glove box door and a coin holder appears. But the driver has to have a 5-foot-long arm to reach the coins. So the coin holder is usable only when a passenger is on board. A more practical center console stowage bin with cup holders is optional.

Another gripe is the light switch, a push up or down button with a red stripe to indicate when the lights are on. A pull out/push in knob is easier to use and to let the driver know lights are on or off.

Also, the plastic door sill cover is a bit slippery for leather bottomed shoes; the power window controls would be simpler to use if they were a couple of inches forward in the driver`s door armrest; and the piller behind the driver`s door is so immense it creates a huge blind spot.

You can look out the side window into the rear-view mirror for a quick glance at traffic, but turn your head and look back to the left to ensure no vehiclesa e coming, and the 8- to 10-inch wide pillar blocks vision. Lane changes and left turns require extra caution because of that blind spot.

The Aerostar EL we drove was equipped with the standard 3-liter, 145- horsepower V-6 engine teamed with optional ($623) 4-speed automatic with overdrive. A 5-speed manual is standard.

The V-6 had ample power for normal daily driving. If the van had been loaded with seven people and luggage, we would have preferred a 3.8-liter V-6, however. Nothing larger than the 3-liter V-6 is offered for now.

The EPA rating with the automatic is 17 miles per gallon city/22 m.p.g. highway and with manual it`s 16 m.p.g. city/23 m.p.g. highway. The 17/22 m.p.g. rating seemed overly generous.

Ride and handling weren`t bad for such a long vehicle, but the center of gravity is a bit higher than in a Chrysler mini-van and you probably wouldn`t want to take any sharp corners at speed. Long distance travel in room and comfort is the Aerostar EL`s forte, not weaving in and out of traffic or zipping around corners or in and out of turns.

The Eddie Bauer edition starts out as an Aerostar XLT. Standard equipment includes a 21-gallon fuel tank, remote fuel filler door release, tinted privacy glass, underbody spare tire carrier, slide-open side windows, air conditioning, electronic digital clock, rear window washer/wiper and all- season radial tires.

The Bauer package adds luggage rack, electric remote mirrors, two-tone lower bodyside paint, rear seat air conditoning, electric rear window defroster, overhead console trip computer and map lights, AM-FM stereo with digital clock, dual premium captain`s chairs with power lumbar support/ recliners/inboard fold-down armrests/seat back map pockets, one two- and one three-passenger rear seat/bed, cruise control, tilt steering, power windows and door locks.

Base price is $12,292. The Bauer package adds $7,349. The vehicle we tested stickered at $20,228 minus a $930 discount on the Bauer package. Add $475 for freight.

>> 1989 Ford Aerostar Van Wheelbase: 118.9 inches. Length: 190.9 inches. Engine: 3liter, 145 h.p. V-6 Transmission: 5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic. Fuel economy: 16/23 m.p.g. manual; 17/22 automatic. Base price: $12,262 Strong point: Added room, comfort. Weakpoint: Driver blind spot. >>

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