Pros: 15-passenger capacity; helpful work solutions packages; available V10 engine.
Cons: No head restraints or side curtain airbag on the passenger wagon's rear seats; no diesel engine option or all-wheel drive.
What's New: No major changes for 2013.
If you have big demands for moving people and/or cargo, a full-size van is probably your best bet. Thankfully, among the handful of vans capable of such feats is the 2013 Ford E-Series van, a time-tested workhorse loved by airport shuttle service and parcel delivery companies alike. With a well-established track record for reliability and longevity, the E-Series van outshines newer competitors who have yet to prove their worth.
Ford's E-Series van for 2013 comes in any number of configurations, including half-ton, three-quarter-ton and one-ton models (E-150, 250 and 350), with passenger wagons available on half-ton or one-ton platforms. There are also standard and extended versions and a choice of gasoline- or CNG-powered engines.
Comfort & Utility
The E-Series is offered in two distinct forms to serve two distinct types of customers. The E-Series Van is all about hauling stuff; it's equipped with solid metal sides and an empty metal cargo bay perfect for customization. The E-Series Wagon has glass windows all the way around, a finished cabin and additional seating for up to 15 passengers.
Available in regular (E-150) or Super Duty (E-250 and E-350) models, the E-Series Van can meet most needs, transforming from a simple cargo hauler to a platform for a decked-out conversion van. Helpful touches include rear cargo doors that open to a detent of 105 degrees or, with a gentle nudge, swing open to a full 178 degrees. The full-size van concept has been around for decades, but the E-Series isn't some dusty old relic prettied up with modern trim; it has a number of cutting-edge technology packages, including Ford's SYNC communication system and Crew Chief fleet management system. SYNC allows for voice control of a Bluetooth-enabled phone as well as control over an external MP3 player such as an iPod or a Zune. The Crew Chief system allows fleet managers to track vehicles, dispatch drivers, keep tabs on vehicle maintenance and track usage patterns.
Those interested in the E-Series as a work vehicle will find it very accommodating, and we're not just talking about its massive cargo volume. The Outflex Composite Rack and Bins package, for example, includes multi-tiered shelves with snap-in dividers and a hardboard back, lockable storage drawers, a triple hook bar and a removable 2-drawer toolbox. Opt for the Masterack Work Bin Rack system, and the E-Series becomes a rolling workshop, with steel drawers, shelves and storage cabinets as well as a full-length lockable partition between the van's work space and the passenger area. Other options for the E-Series include RV and Ambulance prep packages; the Crew Van package, which adds a 3-person second-row seat and a mesh bulkhead divider; and user-defined uplifter switches that permit aftermarket electronic devices to be wired to factory switches.
The E-Series Van and Wagon technology list is short but impressive. The SYNC communication system allows voice control of a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone and includes 911 assist, turn-by-turn directions and Vehicle Health Reports. To aid in tricky parking situations, the E-Series can be equipped with a rear-view camera. The camera is displayed in the rear-view mirror or on the optional voice-activated navigation screen when the vehicle is so equipped. Opting for the Sirius satellite radio subscription along with navigation opens the door to Sirius Travel Link, which provides up-to-the-minute sports scores, movie times, weather and gas prices. Sirius Traffic alerts you to traffic jams to help you avoid them.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The E-Series offers a choice of two V8 engines and one V10. The base engine for the E-150 and E-250 is a 4.6-liter V8 producing 225 horsepower and 286 lb-ft of torque. An optional 5.4-liter V8 good for 255 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque is available, standard on the E-350. The heaviest E-Series is also available with an optional 6.8-liter V10 rated at 305 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. Both V8s are E85-compatible.
Fuel economy for the 4.6-liter V8 is rated at 13 mpg city/17 mpg highway (9/12 mpg when running on E85). The 5.4-liter V8 sees mileage drop to 12/16 mpg (9/12 mpg with E85). The V10 is not rated, but if fuel costs are a major concern, the 5.4-liter V8 and 6.8-liter V10 can be converted to run on compressed natural gas (CNG).
When it comes to safety, the E-Series Van and Wagon shine in some areas but lag behind the times in others. Features such as AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control, ABS and an optional Trailer Brake Controller all help the driver keep control of the big Ford van, but the omission of rear-seat side curtain airbags and the lack of head restraints on the passenger model's rear bench seats give us pause.
Neither the Government nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have crash test results for the 2013 Ford E-Series.
The E-Series van isn't fun to drive on twisting mountain roads, it doesn't rocket from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds, and it won't impress anyone at the country club. But the vehicles that do those things can't haul 15 people, lug a small hardware store in their trunk or tow up to 10,000 lb. We'll just call it a draw.
Other Cars to Consider
Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana - The GM twins can do everything the E-Series can do and then some. The E-Series has the same amount of passenger volume as the Express/Savana, but both GM vans feature side curtain airbags for the first three rows. And, while the GM vans don't offer a V10 engine or the cool SYNC communications system, they do offer the options of a diesel engine and AWD.
Nissan NV - Nissan's full-size van is brand-new, so it's hard to gauge its long-term reliability and resale value. The NV offers a taller ceiling height than the E-Series, and we prefer its dash and front seat design. The NV also offers a more economical 6-cylinder engine as well as a V8 with more horsepower and torque than the E-Series' V8s. And, although the NV can only carry 12 passengers, it provides them with proper head restraints, seat-mounted seatbelts and side curtain airbags.
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter - The Sprinter vans cost a bit more than their E-Series counterparts, but they offer more interior volume, a more fuel-efficient diesel engine and lower step-in height. However, when it comes to gross vehicle ratings, the E-Series can haul and tow more weight.
If you're doing light to moderate towing and hauling, the standard-wheelbase E-150 with the 4.6-liter V8 should be more than sufficient. Heavier jobs require the V10 and E-350 chassis, but this combo will result in poor fuel economy. If you're running a fleet and fuel costs are a major headache, you may want to consider going with the CNG conversion.