Ford Aerostar – The Minivan Pioneer

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Are you looking for a garageable minivan that offers car-like convenience but gives truck like performance? You need to have a look at the Ford Aerostar, which came out as an influential and versatile model in the market and left permanent marks in history. Stay with us as we explore the history and features of this minivan.

Overview of Ford Aerostar

The Ford Aerostar was produced as a minivan as a 1986 model in the summer of 1985. This essentially marked the entry of Ford into the minivan or M-segment. This minivan combines the towing capacity of a truck-like rear-wheel drive with the design of car-based minivans. Aerostar was basically the first-ever minivan by Ford.

Though this vehicle had to compromise on space due to the rear-wheel drive design, it gained a lot of popularity for its towing abilities. It stood out from other minivans due to the fact that Aerostar was built on neither a truck platform nor a car platform.

It was also the first minivan that was powered by V6 engines and also became the first one to introduce an all-wheel drive system to the minivan segment in North America.

Keep reading to know more about this vehicle’s performance and features.

History

The idea of the Ford Aerostar started with the desire to develop a garageable van that would fit easily into the garage. Not only that, this van was also supposed to have more interior space compared to station wagons and better styling than ordinary full-size vans. With a couple of other features, the concept van was started, which was called the Carousel. However, this one missed a chance due to financial constraints.

While the Carousel prototype was finished, Ford still saw the potential in the idea of a garageable van, which ultimately led to the production of Ford Aerostar after further design and market research. This van had to be rear-wheel drive to lower the engineering and production costs. The two major features of the Carousel that Aerostar carried include a long wheelbase and about 6-foot “garageable” height.

Finally, the word Ford Aerostar Airlift was used by the company to officially launch this vehicle in the summer of 1985. For general knowledge, this vehicle lineup cost about $300 million to the company compared to $3.5 billion for the Ford Taurus, which was also developed at the same time.

Below is a quick overview of the model years, engine options, and some other details about the Ford Aerostar.

EnginesModel Years AvailablePerformance InformationFaceliftTransmissions
Lima inline-4 2.3 L (140 cu in)1986–1987100 hp (75 kW)5-speed manual
Cologne V6 2.8 L (170 cu in)1986115 hp (86 kW)4-speed automatic
Vulcan V6 3.0 L (182 cu in)1986–1997145 hp (108 kW), Better performance and comfort5-speed automatic
Cologne V6 4.0 L (245 cu in)1990–1997160 hp (119 kW), continues refinement and updates1994 Facelift5-speed overdrive automatic for 1997

Engine, Transmission, and Performance

The Ford Aerostar came with a couple of engine options throughout its production span. Its initial models had a 2.3L Lima I4 engine that was not really a well-powered option. However, with the evolution of this vehicle, the company came up with better engine options, including the 4.0L Cologne V6 that was capable of producing 160 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. This engine option came standard in all all-wheel drive models but was offered as an option in the rear-wheel drive models.

The availability of the Electronic All-Wheel Drive (E-4WD) option in the models from 1990 resulted in the popularity of the Ford Aerostar as it became capable of providing traction in different driving conditions.

As for the transmission, this minivan was available in a 5-speed manual initially, which transitioned to a 4-speed automatic in later years. However, the manual transmission option was also retained in the later models.

Although this vehicle had a lot to be praised, it still faced many challenges with the rear-wheel-drive design. This drive system actually congested the interior space, thus impacting the comfort of passengers. Despite its eventual discontinuation in 1997, this vehicle left a lasting legacy of being a pioneer minivan.

Exterior

The Ford Aerostar made its debut with a “one-box” that was quite similar to that of the Ford Transit. Due to its long wheelbase, the wheels had to be placed near the corners. The bumper cover, rear hatch, and fuel tank were adopted from the 1984 concept car in order to improve its aerodynamics and fuel efficiency.

Its initial models also featured sealed-beam headlights, which evolved into flush-lens composite headlights in later years. It was not as boxy as other vans of its era, but the Aerostar still maintained a utilitarian appearance. It also featured a prominent grille, with the Ford logo positioned strategically.

The exterior was upgraded for the very first time in 1989 when its classic chrome grille was replaced by a black-trim grille. Later, in 1992, this vehicle received another major exterior update. This time, the update was on the grille color as well as the headlights and wheels.

Inside the Ford Aerostar

The idea of Ford Aerostar was based completely on the standards and market demands. That said, it came with a seating configuration consisting of 2-2-3 (seven-passenger layout). There was another option where you could fold down the two rear seats, making it more like a bed. They were both also removable.

The interior materials were durable but not luxurious. They were only meant to be practical. With its evolution, the Aerostar came with quad bucket seats and rear-seat climate control options. There’s also the option to slide open the second-row windows. Its extended-length variant was also introduced in 1989, which provided some extra cargo space. Ford Aerostar was also influenced by European interior designs. A floor-mounted shifter was introduced in both the manual and automatic transmission at its launch.

Finally, in 1992, both the interior and exterior underwent some serious changes. This resulted in the addition of a driver-side airbag and a redesign of the dashboard. Later, child safety seats were introduced as an option in the 1993 model.

Cargo space in the standard-length model was reasonable, but the rear-wheel-drive layout impacted the floor height, which also affected the overall interior space.

Coming to the infotainment system in the Ford Aerostar, it had options like audio systems and even a digital dashboard in the later models. Though its interior was nowhere competitive with Aerostar’s rivals, it still reflected Ford’s commitment to practicality.

Aerostar was a super affordable vehicle when it was first introduced. You would get the extended-length version for $12,292, which was only $650 more than the base version.

Driving Experience

First things first, this minivan is not intended for off-road driving, neither with rear-wheel drive, nor with an all-wheel drive system. However, its rear-wheel-drive configuration holds a towing capacity that feels a lot like inspired by a truck.

When behind the wheel, the driver feels confident because it is very different from regular minivans. It features a commanding driving position that allows for visibility and better control, more like any typical truck. The Aerostar’s suspension, with its 3-link coil spring rear setup and live axle, makes the vehicle super stable yet comfortable. Consumers also reported its sturdy feel on the road, particularly when towing or carrying heavy loads. It is also the availability of multiple engine options that allow for varying degrees of performance, catering to different driving preferences.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Ford Aerostar stood as a pioneer in the history of minivans. Though its introduction in 1986 challenged the norms of minivan design, the vehicle practically proved how a concept could be turned into reality with a commitment to dedication.  It is also the first minivan that was powered by V6 engines. This vehicle was sold in multiple configurations, including the cargo and passenger vans.

Apart from some drawbacks in the rear-wheel drive system, this vehicle turned out to be successful in the market.

Pros

  • Super affordable
  • Highly stable in all kinds of driving conditions
  • Amazing towing capacity
  • Comes with an eye-catching appearance

Cons

  • Compromised design in rear-wheel-drive models
  • Aerostar’s design became outdated with SUVs’ popularity

Automotive Journalist Verdict

Journalists have thoroughly acknowledged the effort and commitment of Ford in designing and bringing the first ever minivan to the market. From the concept to the design and inspiration behind the Ford Aerostar, automotive experts applauded everything very well. Undoubtedly, all the recognition that Aerostar got was very well deserved.

FAQs

What were the rivals of the Ford Aerostar?

The Ford Aerostar was the first minivan manufactured by Ford that was marketed against the Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari and Chrysler minivans.

What trim levels were available for the Ford Aerostar?

The Ford Aerostar was available in base-trim XL and deluxe-trim XLT. Many standard XLT features were available as extra-cost features on XL trim.

How was the Aerostar cargo van different from the wagon versions?

The cargo version was equipped with double doors at the rear. It also had a larger license plate opening designed for American plates. On the other hand, the wagon featured a rear hatch.

Written by: Motorcardata

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