Having four-wheel drive in a minivan is a logical edition to a practical item.
The Ford Aerostar, Chevy Astro and GMC Safari have had optional four-wheel drive since the 1990 model year; Chrysler's minivans are getting it this year. Several imports have it, too.Having four-wheel drive removes one of the major drawbacks of the Aerostar, Astro and Safari in a comparison with the front-wheel-drive Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager: the poor foul-weather performance of rear-wheel drive.
In ride and handling, the Aerostar is more truck-like than the Chryslers. But, then, it's more of a truck. Though it is no longer or wider, it is much higher and that means an extra 25.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the second and third rows of seats removed. The Ford's floor is higher, too, making entry and exit more awkward than in the Chryslers.
The engines in Ford's and Chrysler's four-wheel-drive versions are similar in horsepower output, but Ford's engine delivers more torque. That's another measure of engine power that indicates, among other things, a vehicle's ability to climb hills without forcing the transmission to downshift. The Aerostar's acceleration is quite strong - for a car or truck.
Like most minivans, the Aerostar has a sliding side door, a rear door that swings up, and can be had with five- or seven-passenger seating. Like other minivans, it is less agile than a car, something that is most noticeable at highway speeds. The Aerostar is available in an extended version, as are Chrysler's minivans; Ford's is 15 inches longer than the basic model. The longer Aerostar, which we drove, costs about $1,000 extra; our tester, an "XLT" version packed with goodies, had a sticker price of $22,773, including freight.
The XLT's equipment includes "captain's" bucket seats that have armrests and a power lumbar support. They offered good lateral support, but short people might find them a bit too high. The backrest adjuster for the passenger's seat was tucked between the seat cushion and center console and was difficult to reach. The second row is a two-person bench unless you order captain's chairs, for $610. The third row is a three-person bench.
The console, a $174 option, includes cubbies for coins, cups, cassettes and such. While it adds convenience, it blocks the center aisle, which would provide access to the rear - for a parent to attend to a child, for example.
Our test vehicle's sound system had a feature that parents would appreciate: rear-seat headphone jacks and controls for volume and tuning. Parents can override them if the music gets too raucous and they can turn off the front speakers.