Ford Motor Co's penchant for advanced thinking in the van field has arrived this year in the form of the 1995 Ford Windstar minivan.

The Windstar is Ford's next-generation minivan, with size specifications that are greater than the 1994 Ford Aerostar. The company says the design and features take engineering, manufacturing and comfort to levels never achieved by a minivan.

"I hope to get my first one about the middle of next month," said Bud Callahan, vice president and general sales manager of Chuck Callahan Ford. "They (Ford) have already started to build some of them."

The Windstar follows the current van concept of being as much an automobile as a minivan. Ride, handling and comfort and convenience features are on a par with cars. The van's bonus is additional utilization.

It's evident the design people put on their thinking caps before laying out this vehicle. There are numerous little niceties that make the Windstar user-friendly.

Examples are a floor with the lowest step-in height in the minivan field, a power door lock switch located on the left inside rear quarter panel, and standard rear-seat radio controls.

The low step-in height provides easier entrance and exit through the Windstar's sliding center door to the rear seats. And the rear power lock switch permits locking or unlocking all other doors before the rear lift gate is closed.

The lock switch is a convenience feature not found on other minivans. However, I have a hunch it soon will be. It's a really good idea.

The rear radio controls let second-seat passengers operate the van's sound system.

The Windstar has a functional aerodynamic form that enhances fuel mileage and lowers wind noise at interstate speeds. It has a wide stance courtesy of a track width of 64 inches, with exterior contours rounded for aerodynamic air flow over and around the body.

The front-wheel drive accommodates a two-box design, with the engine and drivetrain in the forward box and the passenger compartment in the trailing box.

The Windstar is a seven-seater laid out in a 2-plus-2-plus-3 configuration. Driver and front passenger seats are wide and separated by a floor-mounted console. The second row has a pair of individual seats separated by walk-through floor space. The third row is bench-type seating.

There's an optional seating configuration available with a two-passenger bench seat for the second row. Second- or third-row individual or bench seats also are removable or fold flat for up to 144 cubic feet of cargo space.

Another functional new feature is optional overhead air conditioning outlets that bring cool air to the second- and third-row passengers. Air is fed to the rear "C" body pillar, which then feeds three overhead vents.

The Windstar's engine and drivetrain are based on the Lincoln Continental power train.

The engine is a 3.8-liter V-6 whose 155 horsepower equals the 1994 Aerostar's 4.0-liter V-6. It features aluminum cylinder heads for lightness and efficiency, and it's coupled to an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission.

The package is controlled by Ford's new generation EEC-V (electronic engine control-5) system that is both faster and has greater capability than its predecessor EEC-IV system.

The powertrain is designed to handle 220 foot-pounds of torque, which is guaranteed to give the van respectable get up and go off the line, as well as easily accommodating highway cruising speeds.

From the very beginning, the van was designed to have car-like handling characteristics. It adopts Ford's independent MacPherson strut front suspension and a twist-beam rear axle with coil springs and gas shocks.

This should give it the ride qualities of Ford's passenger automobiles. But with 68 inches of overall height, the center of gravity is going to be higher than a car, and that can be expected to contribute to some body roll in fast turns.

With deliveries to Indianapolis Ford dealers anticipated in March, Callahan say s he still is awaiting a pricing schedule.

"We usually know (prices) a little in advance," he said. "But so far I haven't heard on this one."

1995 Ford Windstar Base price: Not available.Type: Front engine, front-wheel drive, seven-passenger minivan.Engine: 3.8 liters, OHV V-6, 12 valves, fuel-injected, 155 horsepower, 128.7 foot-pounds of torque.Transmission: Four-speed automatic.Wheelbase: 120.7 inches.Length: 201.2 inches.Width: 75.4 inches.Height: 68 inches.Cargo: 144 cubic feet.Curb weight: 3,730 pounds.Options: Rear seat air conditioning, compact disc player, keyless entry system, anti-theft system, electronic instrument cluster, child's safety seat.