Amen Amen Amen. I have a 96 Aerostar XLT - bought as a program car in 1997 with only 21,000 miles on it. It now has 164,000.
The A/C compressor crapped out on me at about 140,000 and we've had to put some money in to things like brakes - which go from fine to metal-on-metal in the blink of an eye. Also had quite an expense at about 120,000 when the head gasket went. The interior still looks great and all the electrical gadgets work fine - even the lumbar support - which is pretty cool. My side door handle on the outside broke and I just haven't put the effort in to fixing it yet - it will still open from the inside.
I love the dual heat and air. Love the rear stereo controls and headphone jacks. Love love love the room in the XLT. Numerous trips taken, especially camping, with five people, a yellow lab, all the camping gear, luggage, food, etc. and no-one felt cramped. Head room is great, leg room is great, storage compartments are super.
I have always felt safe in my van - like a second home. I love the feeling of being above the other cars as well.
I was really sad when they stopped making the Aerostar and moved to the Windstar. The Aerostar may not be very aesthetically pleasing - kind of like a small school bus - but for a family it's great.
We own a 4x4 1995 Aerostar, what a tremendous vehicle - tows like a dream, the torque off the line is incredible - outpulls my 1/2 ton Chev PU with a V8. No problems as of yet - 11 years later.
There are some real fans of this van out there. I had one (see: '94 "roomiest van" review) Searching the web can lead too many improvement ideas. I once read of a guy who drilled hole in the floor to easier get to a particular hard to reach spark plug. Another one figured out a way to replace all spark plugs in about one hour! Yet another one reported that he gained outstanding fuel mileage after an accident destroyed the grille and the air filter box. He assumed there was some ram air effect.
To me the biggest disadvantage was the noisy interior. If that bothers you as well you could apply "quiet car" to the body of the van. I would also try to insulate the noise from the air ducts for the rear vents.
I agree, these vans are tough. The extended van looks really well proportioned. It get better gas mileage than the Windstar. BTW the Windstar was not a direct replacement for the Aerostar. They were built and sold parallel until '97. They intended to drop the model, but there were too many buyers for them! With this many fans these vans may actually get some cult following.
What a tough little truck..and I do mean truck. When Ford went into the mini-van business it gave the project to their truck dept which put full a frame underneath..that's why it can pull more than those unibody minivans. I bought mine with 123,000 miles a year ago and it is still going strong. I've pulled 6000 pounds with it, loaded it with sakrete, loaded it with wood and pull around a bunch of tools with it everyday and it keeps on going..it can also fit a 4x8 sheet of plywood in the back (seats removed) I'd recommend it.
I just bought my second Aerostar van yesterday (now I have a matching pair). I was first introduced to this model through my place of employment in 2000. After seeing what this van could endure over the years with the high turnover of drivers we had (50+), I was sold on it and bought one after my Olds Dustbuster gave out. These vans are not plush, but they are durable and comfortable for long trips.
The best part is the standard features on the control panel are very basic and easy to have serviced (not a bunch of digital displays and complicated relays).
I paid $1200 for a 93 Aerostar XLT RWD 4L 5 years ago, and put 100,000km on it and absolutely loved it. Put shocks, battery, tires, windshield, exhaust, and thermostat in it. I have hauled dirt, kitchen cabs and a million other things in it, and am amazed at the usefulness of this machine! Take it camping, and sleep in the back of it with my wife and our 2 big huskies and all our gear, with room to spare!
It now has 306,000 km and the engine is still very strong, however it needs all new brakes, it's pretty rusted out and the interior is in rough shape.
I just bought a mint condition looking 96 Aerostar. Got it inspected and it needs head gaskets, which these vans are apparently famous for. Hopefully that's all it needs, and I can get 100 to 200 thousand more km out of it!
I bought my 93 XLT Aero in 2005 with 138,000 miles on it for $2000, and today it has 340,000 and still doesn't use a full quart of oil between changes. (every 15,000, whether it needs it or not).
The A/C didn't work when I bought it in TN, but the weather didn't really require it there. I now live in OK, where it has been over 100* for some 65 days straight. The A/C is being replaced as I type.
I love this little truck/van. All my friends keep bugging me to buy a new vehicle, but I just keep fixing things as they wear out. Notice I said "wear out", not break! You can have my Aero when you pry my cold, dead... well, you know the rest.