Like its competitors from Chevrolet, GMC and Dodge, Fords full-size, rear-drive van is an old-timer, with a heritage dating back to 1961. For the past 21 years, the truck-based Econoline has been the best seller among full-size vans, though sales dropped by more than 7 percent during 2000.
Cargo versions are called Econoline Vans and outsell the passenger-carrying Econoline Wagons by more than a 5-1 ratio. Vans come in three capacity ratings: E-150 (half-ton), E-250 (three-quarter-ton) and E-350 Super Duty (one-ton). Wagons are offered only in the E-150 and E-350 forms, in two trim levels, XL and XLT. Econolines also are marketed in cutaway form or as a stripped chassis.
Changes are few for 2001. A deluxe engine cover console has been installed with dual-bin storage, four cupholders, coin slots and a cellular phone holder. The console is a cover that fits over the engine and extends into the vans passenger compartment, where the storage areas are located. A heavier-duty battery is used now, and front seats add inboard armrests. Vans get a newly standard Class I Trailer Tow package as standard equipment, and a passenger-side airbag has been added to commercial, RV and conversion vans.
Regular-length Vans and Wagons have a 138-inch wheelbase and stretch to 211.9 inches in overall length. Extended models ride the same wheelbase, but their bodies are 20 inches longer and reach beyond the back wheels. The E-150 is available only in regular length, while the heavier-duty models come either way. Maximum van payloads range from 1,735 to 4,045 pounds, depending on the model. Swing-out 60/40-split doors are installed on the right side, but a sliding cargo door is available as a no-cost option. Swing-out doors are the only choice at the rear.
Cargo Vans are fitted only with two bucket seats up front. Regular-size passenger models have seating for eight, with two front buckets and a pair of three-passenger benches. Captains chairs can replace the center bench to attain a seven-passenger capacity. A four-place rear bench boosts capacity to a dozen, and extended Wagons add yet another bench seat to carry 15 passengers.
A cargo organizer goes behind the rear bench seat. A new optional Traveler Package for the E-150 XLT includes two video screens, leather-trimmed seven-passenger seating, running boards and Tu-Tone body paint. Econolines offer 256.5 cubic feet of cargo space in regular form and 309.4 cubic feet for extended models.
Under the Hood
Five engines are available under Econoline hoods. The base engine for the E-150 is a 191-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-6. Next up are two V-8s: a 225-hp 4.6-liter and a 255-hp 5.4-liter. The strongest gasoline engine offered is a 6.8-liter V-10 that cranks out 305 hp, while the heaviest-duty models can have a Power Stroke 7.3-liter turbo-diesel V-8 that generates 215 hp. All models have a four-speed-automatic transmission. When properly equipped, an E-150 can tow up to 7,000 pounds 400 pounds more than the E-150 passenger wagon. The E-350 Super Duty can pull up to 5 tons.
Four-wheel antilock brakes and front seat belt pretensioners are standard.
People who havent driven an Econoline in a while are likely to find that its changed quite a bit in some ways, but not much in others. As a whole, this van is still the same big box on wheels sporting rear-wheel drive and a separate frame, which Ford launched back in the 60s. On the positive side, the current Econoline Wagon can be equipped with an array of comfort and convenience features and, after a few minutes, its possible to forget its truck origins.
Engine drone, for instance, is less noticeable than in the distant past, which helps to make the latest Econoline less trucky than its ancestors. It maneuvers almost as easily as a smaller van, with relatively light steering. But more effort is needed to judge position on the highway and while parking.
The 5.4-liter V-8 engine in an E-150 is strong enough to deliver satisfying and safe response to the throttle. Ride quality is decent enough not as cushioned as most minivans, but easily tolerable. An Econoline needs more correction on straightaways than many smaller vans, and its slab-sided body is affected by wind, but on the whole its reasonably stable. Drivers certainly get a commanding view and, despite the high stance, getting in and out isnt too difficult.
How does the Econoline stack up against Chevrolet, GMC and Dodge? Brand loyalty is often just as important as the available features for people who want or need a big van.