If you can't join 'em, beat 'em. That's what Ford is attempting to do for the 1999 model year by bringing out a redesigned Windstar mini-van with two--count 'em, two--sliding side doors. With two sliders, Ford joins the club in which Chrysler and General Motors belonged among the Big Three. But wait, not only will Ford offer two sliding side doors on the 1999 Windstar, for $800 you can have both those sliders power-controlled. Two power sliders is one more than General Motors offers, and two more than Chrysler offers, though it should be pointed out that it's also two more than Ford had offered up until the new model year. While Chrysler and GM previously analyzed consumer buying preferences and opted to come up with dual sliding doors on their mini-vans, Ford peered into its crystal ball and saw only snowflakes. So Ford went with only one sliding side door and no power option when it introduced Windstar in the 1995 model year and hasn't changed its door set up since then. We tested the top-of-the-line '99 Windstar SEL with the optional $800 power sliders. At last Ford has the complete mini-van package. If you're outside wanting to get in, power doors on both sides means either or both doors open at the press of a button on the key fob, a most handy scenario if hands and arms are burdened with kids, groceries or the week's dry cleaning--especially if it is raining or snowing. If hands are empty and the doors are unlocked, you need only pull the handle and the power doors will automatically power open. If on the inside waiting for others to enter, power doors mean Dad or Mom can pull up to the soccer field and as the rugrats approach pop the door open and let them slip in without having to get out and open the door or wait 10 minutes while a 6-year-old makes 12 fruitless attempts to open a sliding door that weighs as much as he or she does. Buttons in the overhead console and the rear passenger compartment pillars allow occupants to activate or deactivate the power doors. And, before you ask, yes, we stuck a hindquarter in the door opening, pushed the button to close the door and it stopped and backed off without doing physical damage. And, before you ask again, yes, we took the key fob and walked several feet away from the van to see how it would work at a distance. We ended up across the street and down one house on our block before finding the fob no longer in range. The base Windstar is offered only with a single manual sliding side door. The LX and SE can be equipped with dual manual sliding side doors for $350. Only the top-of-the-line SEL offers dual power sliding side doors for $800. Not having dual sliders until now hasn't hurt Windstar, thanks to a government crashworthiness program that awarded the van a 5-star rating. We still aren't too sure what a 5-star rating means other than your reportedly having a 50 percent better chance of surviving a collision without serious injury than in a 4-star van. Ford was able to add the extra door and offer power on both sides because it redesigned Windstar for 1999. It still looks a lot like the old model in size, and the side profile makes it look like Ford rented the sheet metal dies from the Dodge Caravan. But there are some more than subtle differences in the '99 version Windstar, such as a bigger rear hatchlid window with a few stylish bends in the glass, and a new chrome grille that borrows the same look as the Ford Expedition sport-utility vehicle. Wheelbase and length haven't changed, but Windstar is a couple of inches wider for '99, a much appreciated dimension in a hauler designed to carry lots of people and their cargo. And to carry all those folks in relative safety, Ford has come up with some noteworthy new features. Ford joins GM in offering side-impact air bags to complement the dual front air bags. GM's side bags are standard, Ford's a $390 option. And Ford has come up with a clever new system called Reverse Aid, which means that when you slip the gearshift into reverse and back up, a low-pitched beep sounds when you come within 6 feet of a person or object. When you're within 8 inches, the sound becomes a steady beep. The $245 option is aimed at making it easier to parallel park without damaging your vehicle or the one behind you and at alerting motorists to possible obstructions, such as kids, in the blind spots. As we said in an earlier column it's a nice system, but it needs some tinkering so that the beep sounds sooner, allowing more time and distance to avoid an impact. Anti-lock brakes are standard. Traction control is part of a $275 family security option package that includes self-sealing radial tires. And for '99, the traction control system doesn't just apply the ABS at the slipping wheel as it did in the past; it now manages fuel flow to the engine to reduce speed as well. Another safety feature is a convex mirror that pulls down from the overhead console above the traditional rearview mirror. The convex mirror gives parents upfront a view of the kids in back without having to turn around -- especially useful to keep track of infants in child safety seats in back, where they should be. Though officially not a safety feature, your back and hands will benefit from the fact that the third-row bench seat and second-row bucket seats in the Windstar are on wheels and can be slid forward to provide more cargo capacity. For optimum cargo space while carrying the family, you can remove the second-row buckets and roll the three-seat third-row bench to that position. The old 3.8-liter, 200-horsepower V-6 is standard in the LX, SE and SEL, but with a boost in torque for quicker off-the-line and up-the-hill performance. A 3-liter, 150-h.p. V-6 is offered only in the base model. Ride was very smooth. When Windstar appeared in the 1995 model year, it seemed as if the long wheelbase fell short on ride comfort. Not the case for 1999. Handling, however, is typical of a mini-van, which means you don't take sharp corners or merger ramps at excessive speed without expecting to lean a little. But, then, in a family hauler, remember there are no checkered flags when you come out of a sharp corner or merger ramp. Other noteworthy features on the '99 Windstar include a power plug in the rear cargo compartment; second-row bucket seat backs that fold flat with cupholders built into their backs to serve as mini-tables for third-seat passengers; and second-row bucket seats that move forward and tilt to provide easier access to the third-row bench seat. Also, the radio antenna is in the rear side window glass to eliminate wind noise from the traditional standup whip antenna; the sound system comes with separate controls and headphones so rear-seat passengers can listen to a compact disc while folks upfront listen to a ball game on the radio; beefed-up brakes promis e 10-foot shorter stopping distance at 60 to zero m.p.h.; and a 26-gallon fuel tank replaces 21-gallon tank for more driving range. Then, too, on the SEL, the lower body is clad in plastic to prevent rust and power lock interrupt keeps you from locking the car with key in ignition when you exit the vehicle. A feature that should be appreciated by families with little kids is the "baby sleep" mode on the interior lights. Typically, little ones who are fast asleep are startled and wakened when you arrive home, open a door and the cabin lights go on. With a "baby sleep" setting, interior lights won't go on to wake them. The Windstar SEL starts at $30,415. Standard equipment also includes air conditioning; AM/FM/CD/cassette audio with rear-seat controls; power front seats; leather seating surfaces; power windows; keyless remote entry; power mirrors; cruise control; dual power plugs; tilt steering; roof rack; and 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels. 1999 Ford Windstar SEL mini-van
Wheelbase: 120.7 inches
Length: 200.9 inches
Engine: 3.8-liter, 200-h.p. V-6
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 17 m.p.g. city/24 m.p.g. highway
Pluses: New design. Dual side power doors. Dual side air bags. Upgraded traction control. Increased engine torque. Second and third seats on rollers for easier movement. Larger fuel tank. Nice Expedition-like grille.
Minuses: What took so long for dual side power doors? Profile identical to Chrysler mini-van.
Closest Dealers Listing this Car
Featured Services for the Ford Windstar
- Sell your current car quickly and easily on Cars.com.
*Invoice prices are made available by Cars.com and are not dealer advertising. All prices are subject to regional variations. Prices last updated 9/23/10. Click here for more information.