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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Richard Truett
April 2, 1992
Can a big van be chic? Chances are you might say yes after taking a look at Ford's Econoline Club Wagon Chateau, the luxury version of Ford's recently redesigned full-size van. Ford has overhauled the Econoline for 1992. It is no longer a
utilitarian brick on wheels. There's a more aerodynamic front end, a better interior and something rarely found in a big van: class. This is a people-mover par excellence. Comfortable and quiet, the Club Wagon can be ordered with a variety of
engines and transmissions, and it can be outfitted to transport as many as 15 passengers. PERFORMANCE The test vehicle came with Ford's 200-horsepower 5.8-liter V-8 and four-speed automatic, a drivetrain that provided reasonable performance and
excellent fuel economy. On a trip from Orlando to Naples - about 235 miles - the 4,500-pound van got nearly 18 miles per gallon, terrific for such a large vehicle. There's ample power for passing slower traffic and hustling onto the interstate.
Once cruising speed is reached, the engine - located under a cover between and slightly ahead of the front seats - becomes nearly inaudible. When accelerating, though, you can hear the engine more so than in a passenger car, but it is not distracting.
The column-mounted shift lever has a push button for the overdrive located at the tip of the shifter, a nice touch. I never accidentally turned overdrive off or on. HANDLING At more than 17 feet in length, the Club Wagon Chateau is the biggest
vehicle I have ever tested. However, its size does not make it unwieldy. The power-assisted steering is light but has a solid feel, and the van can turn a tight circle for a vehicle its size. Ford says the turning radius is 46.6 feet, so making a
tight U-turn presents no problem. The Club Wagon has a soft ride, but it isn't bouncy. The big van cruises over rough pavement, while isolating the trauma and noise from the interior. Stopping the Club Van are heavy-duty power-assisted disc/ drum
brakes with an anti-lock system installed on the rear. During the trip to Naples, I got caught in a rainstorm, and that uncovered what may be the Club Wagon's only bad habit: The rear wheels lose traction easily on slippery surfaces. This doesn't
mean the Club Wagon is dangerous or that it won't stay on the road. It means that in certain situations, such as pulling out of a wet parking lot on a slight incline, the rear wheels will spin easily unless you proceed with a light foot. The
Econoline's fuel tank is not mounted over the rear axle as it is on many other full-size vans. So, there is not as much weight over the rear wheels to keep them from spinning on wet roads. Perhaps a better set of tires or a traction control system would
help. Traction control prevents wheels from spinning on slippery surfaces; it's the opposite of anti-lock brakes. FIT AND FINISH Ford engineers really
did a great job inside the Club Wagon. For starters, it's the only full-size van you can buy with a driver's side air bag. The analog instruments are clear and easy to read. Switches, buttons and controls for the air conditioning, radio and
accessories are easy to locate on the Econoline's huge dash and they are simple to use. A large storage compartment under the center of the dash can hold most small parcels. An auxiliary air conditioner for rear passengers gives each person his or her
own outlet, much like on an airplane. The test van had seating for seven, two bucket seats up front, two in the middle, and a bench in the rear that can be folded into a bed. Visibility is good up front because the view is unobscured by the hood,
but the view is not as good through the small square windows in the rear swing-open doors. Two huge rear-view mirrors help compensate. All passengers are likely to find that there is more than enough room. The interior is simply c
vernous. Another big improvement involves the way the two front doors open. Instead of swinging straight open, the doors also swing out and down slightly. You still have to step up into the van, but getting in and out is very easy because the doors
open so wide. The Econoline has been named Motor Trend's ''Truck of the Year.'' Since being introduced in 1962, Ford has sold more than 6 million. Ford spokesman Jim Treanor says the company thinks it will sell 225,000 Econolines this year. Ford's
big van is available with a menu of engines that range from a 4.9-liter straight six to a 7.3-liter diesel. There's also another body, one that is even longer. The ''Super Van'' model adds almost two more feet in length. Since hitting the streets late
last year, sales of the new Econoline have been strong.