The Aerostar took a different approach to the minivan concept when it was introduced in 1985 as a 1986 model. Instead of using a front-wheel drive platform, the Aerostar instead utilized a rear-wheel drive platform derived from the Ford Ranger compact pickup truck. The Aerostar was offered in both standard and extended wheelbases, with four-wheel drive offered on the latter. The Aerostar was often considered a direct competitor with the mechanically and dimensionally similar GMC Safari and Chevrolet Astro.
The standard engine across most of the Aerostar range was the 3-liter V6. This engine produced 140 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque. The four-wheel drive version of the XLT Extended was available with a larger 4-liter V6, offering 152 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. The added muscle was necessary to properly move the four-wheel drive XLT Extended, thanks to its 4,000 pound curb weight, which nearly 1,000 pounds more than the two-wheel drive XLT Extended variant. The 3-liter V6 was paired with a 4-speed automatic transmission, while the 4-liter engine received a 5-speed automatic transmission.
Ford used components from the Ford Ranger and Bronco II trucks when creating the Aerostar, giving those vehicles a high degree of parts commonality with one another. Available in standard length cargo van and passenger van forms, the Aerostar was well known for its unique wedge-shaped side profile, noted in an early commercial ad that compared it to the profile of the NASA space shuttle. In 1988, the extended length version of the Aerostar was released, gaining popularity over the standard length variant. When the front-wheel drive Windstar was introduced in the 1995 model year, the Aerostar was sold along side it until it was finally discontinued in 1997.
Trim levels for the 1997 model year included the XLT and XLT Extended. The XLT Extended could be ordered with four-wheel drive. A cargo van variant was also available. Interior room is somewhat compromised due to the higher floor required by the rear-wheel drive hardware. The Aerostar makes up for this deficiency with a healthy towing capacity of over 4,000 lbs. Optional features for the Aerostar included an overhead trip computer, auto-dimming rear view mirror, rear climate control, second-row captain's chairs, 8-speaker Premium Sound System with equalizer, and anti-lock brakes. Passenger and driver side air bags were standard on most trims, as were power windows and door locks.
At a MSRP of $17,925 and $20,865, both standard and extended length Aerostars were cheaper than the Astro/Safari twins and competitive with other minivans on the market. The four-wheel drive XLT Extended retailed at a starting price of nearly $24,000. The four-wheel drive XLT Extended Aerostar paid dearly for its heavy weight in EPA fuel economy estimates, achieving a poor 14 miles per gallon in city driving and only 19 miles per gallon on the highway. Other Aerostar variants achieved 16 miles per gallon in town and 23 miles per gallon on the open road
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