Ford came up with the Aerostar in the 1980s to compete in the minivan market. This model was a success as it outsold several vehicles such as the Volkswagen Vanagon and the GMC Safari. However, in terms of sales, Ford was still second best. So to up the ante, the company released the Ford Windstar in 1994. Over the years, this model received its fair share of highs and lows. In 2004, Windstar was given a total overhaul and was rebranded as the Ford Freestar as part of the manufacturer's efforts to name all its vehicles with words starting with the letter F.
1994-1998: the Windstar as a competitive minivan
Released in 1994 as a 1995 model, the Windstar is known for its front-wheel drive layout, sleek exterior, and improved car handling. As such, Windstar was able to stand its ground against its GM- and Chrysler-built competitors. Standard features included a 3.8 L V6 engine, dual airbags, anti-lock brakes, and a seven-passenger seating capacity. It was also available in several trims: GL (base), LX (top-end), and Cargo Van.
Over the years, several changes were made. The list included a new 3 L-engine that was introduced in 1996, an optional CD player in 1997, and a brand-new grille, headlights, and a relocated Ford logo in 1998. Despite several performance issues, the 1996 model earned a good rating from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).
1999-2003: Design overhaul
The second-generation model was completely redesigned, with the new dual sliding doors as the most obvious proof. This new generation also got rid of the old Ford Taurus-based platform. Aside from the sliding doors, features now included front-seat mounted side airbags and reverse sensors. Available trims were Cargo Van, GL, LX, SE, and SEL. SE and SL models were built with easy-to-adjust head restraints and captain's chairs in the second row. As for the LX model, it came with non-adjustable head restraints and a second-row bench seat. Changes over the years included an upgraded entertainment system for the Limited model in 2000, a new front and rear fascia in 2001, and dual sliding doors as standard features on all models in 2002.
2004-2007: from Windstar to Freestar
In 2004, the Windstar was given another total overhaul. And as part of the company's efforts to come up with vehicles with names that start with the letter F, Windstar was rebranded as Freestar. Backed by a $600 million budget that aimed to improve driveline durability, the four-speed transmission was carried over and was upgraded with bigger wheel bearings, improved heavy-duty axles, and standard four-wheel disc brakes. The 3.8 L V6 engine was also replaced with a 3.9 L V6. The Freestar now also featured a foldable third-row seat. All these changes earned the 2005 model a second place spot in a Vehicle Dependability Study by J.D. Power. Despite its discontinuation in 2007, the Ford Freestar is one of the company's highly reliable, front-wheel drive minivans to date.