The Ford Windstar is a minivan that was produced and sold by the Ford Motor Company from March 1994 (for the 1995 model year) to 2003. This front-wheel drive minivan would eventually replace Ford's aging rear-wheel drive Aerostar minivan. The two ran concurrently for three model years until the Aerostar's demise in 1997. For the 2004 model year, it was replaced by the Freestar. All Windstars were built in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. It was Ford's only minivan in North America to spawn two generations.
The all-new Windstar was released in March 1994, for the 1995 model year. While smaller than its predecessor, its sleek design, front-wheel drive, and better car-like handling made it more competitive with similar offerings from Chrysler and GM. The Windstar had beaten the third-generation Dodge Caravan to the market by over a year, which played a crucial role in Ford taking significant market share in the minivan market.
Though its size was between the smaller front-wheel drive Mercury Villager and the larger rear-wheel drive Ford Aerostar, for its first year, it was priced above both of them. By 1997, however, the Villager's base price had surpassed the Windstar's by several hundred dollars, and top-of-the-line Villager Nautica models went for some $6,000 USD more.
Among standard features were anti-lock brakes, dual airbags, seven-passenger seating, and a 3.8L V6 engine, borrowed from the Taurus/Sable. This engine produced 155hp (116kW), but produced 220lb·ft (298N·m) of torque. For its inaugural year, the Windstar was available in base GL and high-end LX trim, as well as a cargo version called Cargo Van.
- 1996: A new 3.0L 150hp (112kW) Vulcan V6 became standard on base GL models, while the larger 3.8L V6's horsepower was upped to 200. The driver's seat gained an available tilt/slide feature for access to the rear from the driver's side.
- 1997: A bare-bones unnamed base model was now available. A CD player became a new option on models.
- 1998: The Windstar received minor cosmetic changes including a new grille and headlights; in compensate for the lack of a driver's side rear sliding door, the driver's door was extended six inches (152 mm) , as it was not possible to create a driver's side sliding door with the current bodyshell. An ultra-luxury Limited model was new. It included leather seating and faux wood interior trim.
- Cargo Van • 1995–1998
- base • 1996–1998
- GL • 1995–1998
- LX • 1995–1998
- 3.0L • 1998
- Limited • 1998
Throughout its life, the Windstar proved to be a somewhat problematic vehicle. The 1995 3.8L V6 Essex engine was susceptible to headgasket failure, like in the Taurus and Sable; however, the Windstar's problem was exacerbated by an even tighter engine bay and higher loads, the van being 700 pounds heavier. Ford exteneded the warranty on the headgasket to 100,000 miles on most Windstar models. The 3.0L V6 Vulcanengine was not susceptible to headgasket failure, being a different engine design.
The Windstar was paired with an AXOD-E/AX4S transaxle, which was prone to internal failure. The AXOD transmission suffered from cracked forward and reverse clutch pistons. These transmission failures were more susceptible with the 3.8L engine, as the transmission could not handle the extra torque and the extra vehicle weight. Windstars with the 3.0L engine could go far past 150k miles with regular maintenance.
Windstars also suffered from a myriad of electrical wiring problems.
The Windstar was completely redesigned for the 1999 model year, now featuring dual-sliding doors. The 3.0L and 3.8L V6 engines were carried over from the previous generation. Among new features were front seat-mounted side airbags, dual power-sliding doors, and rear reverse sensors. From lowest to highest, 1999 Windstars were available in Cargo Van, base, LX, SE, and SEL. Dual sliding doors came standard on SE and SEL models, and were optional on the other models. SEs and SELs were equipped with 2nd row captain's chairs, while base and LX models came with a 2-passenger 2nd row bench seat.
- 2000: The Limited model returned as the most luxurious model. A VCR-based rear-seat entertainment system featuring a flip-down LCD screen was a new option on SE, SEL, and Limited models.
- 2001: Slight cosmetic changes were made to front and rear fascias for '01. LX became the base model, and a new SE Sport model joined the lineup. The smaller 3.0L was gone, leaving the 3.8L as the sole engine choice. Models with 2nd row bucket seats now got their own center console. Front-seat side airbags became standard on Limiteds.
- 2002: Dual sliding doors became standard on all models.
- 2003: No major changes were made in anticipation of the redesign for '04.
- Cargo Van • 1999–2003
- base • 1999–2000
- LX • 1999–2003
- SE • 1999–2003
- SE Sport • 2001
- SEL • 1999–2003
- Limited • 2000–2003
For 2004, the Windstar nameplate was discontinued in favor of "Freestar" to go along with Ford's new theme of vehicles starting with the letter "F". Despite a restyled nose, front fascia, revised interior and new engine (4.2 V6 Essex), the new Freestar was built in the same factory as the Windstar and suffered the same problems. The redesign and new name did not help Freestar sales. The Freestar was pulled from the market after the 2007 model year.