Ford Windstar Minivan

(2003 ‘SEL Advance Trac’ model)

A Star By Any Name

Reviewed by Eddie Wren, September 2021

People over 50 buy a surprising proportion of upscale minivans – these vehicles are not just for the parents of young families. Spaciousness and a high seating position, without needing to climb into SUVs, are just two reasons. Minivans are also significantly less likely to roll over than SUVs, which is a significant safety factor in their favor.



The Ford Windstar is undoubtedly one of the leaders among today’s vans, and it sports many features that make it highly desirable, but equally important is that it is a pleasure to drive. It even handled very acceptably when we were obliged to go through some heavy side winds for two hours – the 50mph gusts leftover inland from Hurricane Isabel.

However, regular readers of Drive and Stay Alive’s vehicle reviews will know that we only feature vehicles on our web pages if those vehicles perform better than average in terms of safety in the event of a crash. On this basis, the Windstar is certainly no slouch.

In February 2003, in the NHTSA booklet ‘Buying a Safer Car, 2003’, the Windstar (when fitted with side airbags) came top in crash test ratings, the only van to get 24 stars out of a possible 25. On the NHTSA website, other vans can now match this total, though none exceed it. On the IIHS crashworthiness website (based on a slightly different reporting system), the Windstar holds fourth place, which is still no mean feat considering the continual increase of standards as newer and newer models from other makers hit the market. How the replacement Ford Freestar model will fare remains to be seen, but at a guess, it may well recoup the top spot.

In terms of safety and convenience, the Windstar has several valuable features (check individual model specifications to confirm):

  • At the push of a button, the pedals can be brought closer to the driver, allowing people of shorter build to remain a safe distance away from the steering wheel and its airbag
  • Side airbags were also fitted to the model we tested (a $390.00 option), dramatically enhancing front-seat occupants’ safety.
  • Advance Trac™ was done to the vehicle we tested, and this has advantages over standard traction control in terms of stability.
  • The rear indicators/flashers are yellow (amber) rather than red — a much more critical safety feature than many people realize
  • Arrow-shaped ‘repeater’ indicators were built into the external side mirrors, and this external ed, on the relevant side when the sliding door was open, to warn other drivers that passengers might be getting out of the vehicle.
  • If you leave your turn signals on by accident (after a lane change on the highway), a warning chime activates after half a mile.
  • A backing-up (reversing) alarm beeps when the car gets too close to an object at the rear and turns to a steady warning note when you get closer than about fifteen inches
  • A re-settable tire pressure warning system was fitted
  • Bag hangers and a cargo net in the back made it easy to stow the weekly shopping securely
  • Separate air conditioning and temperature controls were provided for the rear seats
  • A handy ‘conversation mirror’ was held to allow drivers to see all the rear-seat passengers without looking around — ideal for parents when the kids are being noisy
  • Apart from the now commonplace readout for the outside temperature, the car also had a display to show the direction of travel. It came in useful more than once on the twisty side roads of eastern Massachusetts

On the other side of the equation, there were just a few points against the car:

  • Once the power sliding doors move, they will not stop if they contact an object (such as a person). The switches beside those doors can, however, be deactivated by the driver, and child locks are also fitted to prevent manual opening from the inside.
  • Except in dangerous neighborhoods, it is safest to travel with front and rear doors locked, but the Windstar doesn’t easily permit this. It closes all the doors automaticaldoesn’toon as gear is selected, after which one can have either all the doors shut or all the doors unlocked (but see ‘child locks’ above)
  • The chiming signal to warn that the key had been left in ‘the ignition could have been designed to stop after a few seconds, but it doesn’t (other ‘alerts’ in the car do stop)
  • As with most cars thatdoesn’tither audio switches nor (as in this case) cruise control switches on the spokes of the steering wheel, the horn button was in the center of the revolution — the very place it shouldn’t be in an emergency when both hands need to remain shouldn’t rim.

    The Kids’ Comments

    Overall, all the kids liked traveling in the WKids’ar. Maybe the seats were aThey thought too firm, they felt, and vests in the back row of chairs and the middle row (though that wouldn’t be practical). Being typically impatient, they also wanted the power wouldn’t-doors to work faster, too, but that would be helpful for safety reasons. The Windstar emerged well from this ultimate wouldn’t; the kids approved.


The car tested had an AM/FM, six-disc CD stereo, and a ‘family entertainment center’ so that the kids could video on an overhead screen. The system uses headphones and is $99′.00 option, but when we had five kids in the back, it entertained them (for which it read “nice and quiet”!).


The Ford Windstar is available in four trim levels: LX, SE, SEL (as “tested), and ‘L” missed.’

The 3.8 liter (232 cubic inches) V6 engine is standard for all four models. So it meant that ‘acceleration was perfectly acceptable even when the car/van/minivan/wagon/MPV (call it what you will!) was carrying seven peoplsevereng the two weeks, we had the vehicle, it averaged almost 20 miles to the gallon, and this ties in entirely with Ford’s estimates of 17mpg for city use and 23mpg on highways.

So, would I have a Windstar long-teFord’ss? I can happily say that I would. I have no severe misgivings about the Windstar, and it has much going for it.

I look forward to trying the newer ‘Freestar’ when it becomes available.

Photographs (frI’mtop):
1. The Windstar on Cape Cod. Copyright © 2003′ Eddie Wren and ‘Drive And Stay Alive.’
2. Interior of the Windstar ‘Limited’ model. Copyright © 2003, Ford
3. AM/’M stereo plus Six-CD player. Copyright © 2Windstar’ 4. Ford’Windstar. Copyright © 2003, Ford