On our recent trip to the east coast, I was pleased to locate a dealership that rented us a 15-passenger van. What's more, it was a 2009 model with only 4,000 miles on it.
We own one of these vans. A 2003 model. With seven children in the family plus two adults, we exceed the capacity of even the eight-passenger minivans. Add a few friends and a dog or two, and a 15-passenger van can begin to seem kind of crowded. Actually I am just kidding about the dogs.
Like many people, we removed the rearmost seat. Unlike the other bench seats, the rearmost is a four-seater. That leaves us with 15 - 4 = 11 seats. And plenty of storage room in the back.
Anyway, back to my point. I was excited to drive a 2009 model because there are so many things we dislike about our 2003. Surely anyone at Ford who drives one of these could come up with a laundry list of improvements after only an hour or so.
First, there is the handling. It's a cross between driving a lumber truck and a beer wagon. The center of gravity is high, so side-to-side swing is pronounced. Rather than driving, you kind of herd it down the road. If it were an animal, this van would be an ox. Or maybe one of those African water buffaloes. Also, the van has a ribble. That is, at certain speeds it has an annoying vibration. On our own van, I've had the tires balanced several times, replaced, balanced again. I've bought wheels from the local salvage yard that were guaranteed to be round instead of the stock square wheels. Well, we drove the 2009 van up Interstate 91 in Vermont, and guess what? The brand new 2009 vibrates, too.
Then there are the other annoying things like:
- doors that don't close properly
- lots of wind noise
- frequent brake replacement, even with gentle driving
- gas mileage
- console that squeaks
- uncomfortable seats
- seats with sharp exposed metal underneath (stuff a sleeping bag under a seat and listen to it rip when you take it out)
- air controls that leave the front passengers freezing and the rear passengers suffocating, or the front passengers boiling and the rear passengers suffocating
Apparently the only thing Ford did to these awful beasts since 2003 was to add a digital odometer, a "Line in" jack for a MP3 player, rig the seatbelts so it is impossible to install a rear-facing carseat, and redesign the plastic cupholder console. Oh, and add a tire pressure monitor (which read "Low pressure" on our rental -- we had to have the dealer fix it).
The E-350 XL Wagon Extended, as Ford likes to call it, is essentially a truck with some bench seats thrown in. We own one because we want a vehicle that transports our family. But that doesn't mean we have to like it.
On the other hand, now that our oldest is (gulp!) old enough to drive, I figure if she can drive the van, anything else ought to be easy.