This is the best and cheapest vehicle I have ever owned. I recommend them to everyone, and bought another one myself 4 months ago for the wife.
It was a fleet vehicle for a mental hospital, and had a ton of miles on it. Picked it up for under $400.
I've used it for hauling, interstate trips, and the occasional logging road. I've never been disappointed or scared of it leaving me stranded.
The extended version has a ton of room. I am 6'3" and slept comfortably in the back a few times. The captain's chairs are great for keeping the kids from annoying each other, and with the back bench seat out, we have plenty of room for a dog and weekend camping gear. The flat floor of this truck-based minivan is great for hauling.
I had the cruise control set at 72, at 5:00 a.m. on day and whammo! A large black lab bolted onto the freeway, there was nothing I could do : (But to the van's credit, nothing really broke. I just had to replace my front license plate, adjust the headlight, and pull mightily on the wheel well (plastic rubbed on turns). I feel that in any other minivan, I would have been out a couple hundred bucks in repairs.
A well tuned engine with clean filters will give you 17 to 19.5 mpg. The 21 gal. tank gives you a nice fuel range. The 4.0 is one of the best Ford engines, it has all the torque you need.
The air lumbar is nice for long trips.
The steering wheel feels light as a feather.
When the catalytic converter went belly-up, I thought the tranny gave out. The converter got so hot, and do to the proximity to the tranny, it super-heated the tranny fluid to a boil and smoke was pouring out of the overfill tube. When I got to thinking, and calling around, I realized what had happened. I then ripped off the heat shields, drilled 2 holes in the CAT, and took a saw and cut a 3 inch wide U shape. Next, I took a big screwdriver and hammer and knocked out all of the 'honeycomb' ceramic. Since it was pretty easy, I went ahead and did the rear converter as well. I bent the metal back, put in some sheet metal screws, and fired the old girl up. Good as new! (quite a bit louder now). The next week I had a kid come over to weld it correctly.
The Aerostar is built tough, and about as low-profile as it gets. Besides from the bolt-on engine parts that are designed to fail, these vans run forever. The 4wd models are build with the heavy-duty transmission, if you keep an eye on the fluid, you should have no problems. Take a look around, Ford hasn't produced this car domestically for over 10 years, and they everywhere.