1990 Ford Aerostar

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Orlando Sentinel

What's in a name? $7,873, if that name is Eddie Bauer and it's attached tothe rear of the extended length all-wheel drive Ford Aerostar van.

The Eddie Bauer package on the Aerostar I tested knocked the price of thispopular vehicle from a respectable $15,408 to an expensive $22,317.

The Eddie Bauer Aerostar is like a miniature motorhome. To start with, Fordadded 15 1/2 inches to the rear of the Aerostar, almost taking it out of theminivan segment.

Four cloth-covered captain's chairs plus a large bench seat provide ampleroom for seven people, and the seats are not just comfortable, they areluxurious. The added length gives the Aerostar 168.8 cubic feet of cargocapacity, which Ford says is the best in its class. That should provide enoughspace to handle the luggage. If not, there's a luggage rack on the roof tohold the rest. Rear-seat passengers have their own air-conditioning, heatingand sound systems.

Stowage compartments and pockets are sprinkled throughout the interior.

The center console, for instance, has three cup holders accessible to thedriver, front passenger and the occupants of the two middle seats. There aretwo compartments in the rear cargo area that can keep soft drinks andsandwiches cool. Another convenience is the rear seat, which folds into a bed.And the interior lighting is excellent.

The seats are wonderful, but I wish they had adjustable head restraints.With little or no neck support, especially for tall people, a hard rear endcollision could be dangerous. Also, the leather covered steering wheel isunforgivingly hard. Though the wheel looks nice, there isn't much padding.

Mechanically, the Aerostar has power to spare thanks to the optional 155horsepower, 4-liter, fuel-injected V-6. The engine is connected to a smoothfour-speed overdrive automatic transmission, and though the van weighs 3,732pounds, it moves with authority in city traffic and cruises effortlessly athighway speeds.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 4-liter Aerostar at 16 milesper gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. I got slightly bettermileage. With the air conditioning running, the Aerostar returned 16.4 mpg incity driving and 21 mpg on the highway, according to figures provided by theAerostar's computer package located on an overhead console and on the dash.

A flick of a switch converts the vehicle's gauges to the metric system.That'll come in handy for trips in Canada or Mexico. Another switch tells youhow have far you've driven, how much fuel you've used getting there, and howfar you can travel before running out of fuel.

Another switch controls the gauge readout for the engine temperature, oilpressure and charging system. To be honest, I haven't been a fan of the ''PacMan'' type video instrumentation that has been offered in some vehicles, butthe gauge package in the Aerostar is one of the easiest on the eyes I'veencountered. It's not difficult to figure out and it has some nice touches.

The fuel is displayed in a bar graph and by the amount of fuel in gallonsleft in the tank. You also can change the configuration of the fuel gauge whenthere is a quarter tank left. Press a button and the whole bar graph lights upas well as a red '' 1/4 Tank Fuel'' light, allowing you to keep an eye on theremaining fuel.

If you've never owned a van, it takes a significant attitude adjustment tolearn how to like one. They do not drive like cars, nor do they drive liketrucks. They are somewhere in between. The Aerostar had a soft, yet stableride. It seemed very comfortable in nearly every type of environment Iencountered. But it felt big.

One of the most surprising things I discovered in driving the Aerostar isthe excellent visibility. Two big (electronically adjustable) side mirrorseliminate the traditional blind spot. At all times I could see other vehicleson both sides. Also, you sit high up in the Aerostar, and have a commandingview of the road.

The all-wheel drive option is electronically controlled. Ford says thatduring normal driving, two-thirds of the power is transmitted to the rearwheels, while the rest is sent to the front wheels. However, if the front orrear wheels begin to slip on a wet road or in dirt, the computer will send aburst of power to the other axle for about four seconds.

The Aerostar is equipped with anti-lock drum brakes on the rear and discson the front. The system has an excellent feel to it and stops the vehicle ona dime.

I have two minor gripes about build quality. I noticed some metal filingsin one of the window seals - obviously left over from manufacturing - thatwere beginning to rust. Also, there was a run in the paint near the gas tankcap.

The sales manager at a local Ford dealer says that after all the rebatesand negotiations, the average selling price of the Eddie Bauer Aerostar isabout $19,500. All in all, it's a nice package whose forte is to transportfamilies comfortably and economically.

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