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2006 Ford Econoline Cargo review

February 10, 2006 10:43 AM EST | Ford , Vans/Minivans | Email to Friend

View large imageAlthough the option of a powerful diesel helps in the engine department, the E-Series is still a relic compared to the modern full-size vans from GM.

Massive cargo-hauling ability, wide range of configurations, powerful diesel engine option.

Offers very few convenience features, aged design, gas-powered V8 engines can't match strength of GM's offerings.

What's New for 2006
Stability control is now standard on the extended-length E-350.

Tough, roomy, rugged and reliable, Ford's Econoline van has a favorable, well-earned reputation. Since the van's introduction in 1960, Ford says it has sold more than 6 million Econolines. The current Econoline lineup is extensive. There are the base-model E-150, the E-250, the E-250 Extended, the tougher E-350 Super Duty and the E-350 Super Duty Extended. Ford equips each of these vehicles in either recreational-use (Econoline Wagon) or commercial-use (Econoline Van) trim. Recreational trim is for large families or people who want customized conversion vans or RVs, while the Econoline Van commercial models are used by tradespeople to cart equipment from job to job. If you want to purchase a new full-size van for business use, you're going to end up with the Econoline, the Chevrolet Express, the GMC Savana or the Mercedes-engineered Dodge Sprinter. Each is similar in price and size. The GM vans offer more powerful gas- and diesel-powered V8 engine options and better ride dynamics, while Dodge's Sprinter, originally designed for European markets, features a tall cabin, carlike handling and a fuel-efficient turbodiesel five-cylinder engine. The Econoline is the way to go if you're looking for a gas-powered V10, since neither competitor has this option. Beyond that, your buying decision should come down to pricing and getting a van configured the way you want it.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
Ford's commercial-use Econoline cargo van is available to the general public in half-ton, three-quarter-ton and one-ton sizes. For those whose hauling needs aren't too intensive, there is the base E-150 model. If you have a bit more on your plate, select the E-250, which comes in two lengths -- regular (211.9 inches) and EXT (231.9). Finally, for contractors with the heaviest payloads (up to 4,000 pounds), there is the E-350 van, also available in regular and extended lengths. In base form, the vans are sparsely equipped -- two vinyl bucket seats, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel adjustment, power mirrors, a two-speaker stereo and 16-inch tires with steel rims. Among the available options are functional items like a second-row bench (so that you can carry the whole crew), a towing package and shorter axle ratios for enhanced towing ability (most with a limited-slip differential), as well as "luxuries" like cloth upholstery, captain's chairs, cruise control, a six-speaker stereo with a CD player and a power group with keyless entry and power windows and locks.

Powertrains and Performance:
The Econoline is available with four different engines. The 4.6-liter V8 produces 225 horsepower and 286 pound-feet of torque, while the 5.4-liter V8 makes 255 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. E-350 Super Duty and Super Duty Extended models have the 5.4-liter V8 as standard. To upgrade, you can go with a 305-hp, 6.8-liter V10 or Ford's 6.0-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel V8, which produces 235 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque. All engines come with a four-speed automatic transmission, except the diesel, which gets a five-speed automatic (optional with the V10). Trailer ratings range from 6,400 pounds for an E-150 with the 4.6-liter V8 to 10,000 pounds for an E-350 Super Duty with the 4.10 axle ratio and either the V10 or diesel engine option. In terms of the payloads, the range goes from 7,000 pounds GVWR for the E-150 to 9,400 pounds GVWR for the regular-length E-350.

All Econolines come standard with four-wheel antilock brakes, second-generation front airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners for the driver and passenger. A stability control system is standard on the extended-length E-350 but not available on other Econolines. Ford's full-size van earned four out of five stars for both the driver and passenger in the NHTSA's frontal crash test.

Interior Design and Special Features:
Besides adding an optional second-row bench to accommodate your staff, you can increase your van's day-to-day livability (for people, anyway) by equipping it with swing-out side glass and fixed rear glass and/or a sliding side cargo door (in place of the standard hinged doors). Maximum cargo capacity ranges from 257 cubic feet in the E-150 to 309 cubic feet in the E-350 Extended.

Driving Impressions:
Despite their old-fashioned suspension designs, Econolines feel relatively stable and confident at highway speeds. Given their size, of course, they can be rather cumbersome to park or maneuver through heavy traffic. The Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana have a stronger lineup of gas-powered V8s than the Econoline, and this year GM's vans have an optional diesel V8 with slightly higher output than Ford's Power Stroke diesel. Still, if you're looking for a gas-powered V10 for heavy-duty hauling jobs, Ford is the only manufacturer that offers in a full-size van.

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