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CarGurus Expert ReviewThe Good
Loads of passenger and cargo space, an available upsized V8 engine, an even more potent optional V10 and nearly endless customization configurations make the 2012 Ford E-Series Van a solid choice for getting heavy jobs done.The Bad
A pitiful base V8 engine, no diesel option, sloppy handling characteristics and dismal mileage numbers in all powerplants, not to mention an outdated look and the lack of all-wheel-drive availability, continue to dog the boxy Ford E-Series Van.
The CarGurus View
It’s not pretty, and it’s certainly not luxurious, but Ford’s 2012 E-Series Van lineup remains a solid choice for heavy work. Make no mistake, however, that this brute is a laborer, not a tourist. Driving this full-sized cargo carrier is a chore best left to those who need hauling and payload capabilities far above and beyond the minivan norm.
At a Glance
Now in its 33rd year of providing no-nonsense muscle to nearly any towing and hauling job, the 2012 Ford E-Series Van just keeps on keepin’ on. Its outdated big-box profile won’t win any beauty prizes, but 237.8 cubic feet of cargo area in standard-length trims will get all the needed gear to the job. The base 4.6-liter V8 engine is painfully inadequate to most of the demands required of it, but a competent 5.4-liter V8 and a kick-butt 6.8-liter V10 powerhouse are each available for those projects that require more than bare-bones oomph.
In any case, this hefty workhorse again comes in three trims, the half-ton E-150, the three-quarter-ton E-250 and the one-ton E-350 Super Duty. All trims are offered in either commercial or recreational format, as well as extended (Ext) versions, and all are delivered in rear-wheel-drive (RWD) configuration only. Standard-length vans measure 216.7 inches overall, with a 138-inch wheelbase, while Ext versions stretch to 236.4 inches overall on the same 138-inch wheelbase. Look for a cavernous 278.3 cubic feet of cargo space in Ext variations, or 319.1 cubic feet with the front passenger seat removed.
Handling is ponderous, at best, in these sizeable brutes, while standard amenities are sparse, and seating is designed for straightforward local journeys. A plethora of appearance, comfort and convenience options, however, might make for somewhat more pleasant journeys, while Ford’s available Work Solutions packages are among the best in the business.
One advantage to this Ford van’s spare design is that little effort is required to update standard amenities and features—thus it gets a couple of minor changes for 2012. All trims now get a standard audio input jack with the base stereo system, and 16-inch alloy wheels are now available for all trims.
Finally, rivals to Ford’s workaholic full-size cargo/work van include GM’s Chevy Express and GMC Savana, each of which boasts a turbodiesel option with better gas mileage figures and hauling capabilities, though fewer of the E-Series’ techno-options. Nissan's just-introduced NV, meantime, though close in utilitarian capabilities, offers a tall-roof option that the E-Series glaringly lacks… though the smaller, less-potent Ford Transit Connect does. For those needing less beef and more lightweight efficiency and practicality, Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter, with its signature V6 turbodiesel fuel efficiency and ultra-tall roof option, would be worth a tire kick or two, but bring lots of money.
The standard powertrain aboard the Flex-Fuel (FFV) 2012 E-Series E-150 and E-250 (both standard length and Ext variations) remains a tepid 4.6-liter V8 engine and its accompanying 4-speed automatic transmission. This combo puts out 225 hp at 4,800 rpm and 286 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm, with EPA gas-mileage estimates running 13 mpg city/17 highway burning regular gas. Alas, burning E85 ethanol brings these figures even lower. However, this undersized V8 is still rated to tow up to 6,100 pounds of trailer when equipped with the available 4.1 rear axle ratio. Towing with the standard 3.73 rear axle ratio, meanwhile, is maxed out at 5,600 pounds.
Stepping up to the 5.4-liter FFV V8 that’s standard in the E-350 Super Duty trims and optional in the lower trims gets 255 hp at 4,500 rpm and a respectable 350 lb-ft of torque at 2,500 rpm. Mileage is estimated at 12/16 with the standard 4-speed automatic transmission, while a more contemporary 5-speed automatic is also available with this potent V8. Unfortunately, there’s no word from the EPA on whether or not the 5-speed automatic helps mileage. Towing capacity, however, is upped to 10,000 pounds with the E-350 Super Duty Ext, again toting the 4.1 rear axle ratio, while an E-150 equipped with this potent V8 and the standard 3.73 rear axle ratio can haul 7,500 pounds of trailer. The 5.4-liter V8 can also be configured to burn CNG/LPG gaseous fuel in an attempt to run a bit greener.
For those who want a one-ton van that packs some truly titanic torque, a 6.8-liter V10 powerplant is available to the E-350 Super Duty trims. Managed by its standard 5-speed automatic with tow/haul mode, this beefy mill boasts 305 hp at 4,250 rpm and a git-‘er-done 420 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm. Of course a corresponding drop in mileage (10/14) won’t endear this big V10 to bean counters, but its 10,000 pounds of towing capacity and 3,840 pounds of cargo-toting ability will doubtless make life for the grunts among us a bit easier.
In any case, reviewers find the smaller V8 to be all but useless for any heavy hauling and barely adequate to any sort of highway driving, even with an empty box. The larger V8, on the other hand, draws raves from reviewers for its potent performance anywhere and everywhere, especially with the available 5-speed automatic.
The torque-rich V10, of course, is that much more powerful, but according to many reviewers, might simply be overkill for most of the duties this venerable van will need to perform. Also according to a number of reviews, those unconscionably dismal mileage figures may make it more a lodestone than a lodestar for efficient commercial utility.
Ride & Handling
All work-oriented cargo haulers, like the 2012 E-Series, are going to be a bit sloppy on the road. Equipped with a twin-I-beam front suspension, solid live-axle rear end, and a stabilizer bar front and rear, not to mention 16-inch steel wheels and all-season tires, these big Ford vans are designed for work, not sedan-like touring comfort. Reviewers, however, generally find this boxy brute to be about average for its class as far as ride comfort goes, with the caveat that cargo stashed directly over the rear axle will be jostled and agitated over any sort of rough surface.
Steering and handling in this work-horse van is described by most reviewers as ponderous, at best, though no worse than many in its class. Expect significant rocking and rolling in any sort of cornering, while crosswinds on the highway can be challenging. Finally, most reviews advise travelling with a load on over wet roads, as traction gets a little iffy with an empty box.
A massive turning radius, meantime, will present obvious challenges to those unfortunate enough to end up in city traffic or crowded spaces, according to all reviewers. And that’s for the standard-length versions. Those with Ext trims would be wise to avoid parking lots and congested side streets altogether.
Reviewers find braking in the E-Series to be powerful and true, but note that it’s not going to stop with minivan-like precision or alacrity, especially when packed to the rafters.
Cabin & Comfort
Those accustomed to fine leather, luxurious appointments and abundant state-of-the-art techno-gizmos will be sorely disappointed with the 2012 Ford E-Series. All trims offer the obligatory bare-bones necessities, such as vinyl upholstery, a pair of captain’s chairs, tilt-wheel steering, air conditioning and AM/FM radio oozing through 2 door-mounted speakers. Finally, a standard auxiliary audio input jack is an added feature for 2012.
Options such as Ford’s Work Solutions include Crew Chief technology that allows owners to monitor vehicle location, speed and idle time. An in-dash computer is also available as part of the Work Solutions bundle, allowing mobile Internet access, tool inventory and remote file retrieval. Numerous configurations of bins, drawers and racks, meanwhile, make for easy cargo storage and accessibility. Finally, a trailer-towing package and an integrated trailer brake controller are further noteworthy utilitarian options.
Further options include a sliding side cargo door, cruise control, cloth upholstery, power driver’s-side seat, customizable upfitter switches, second-row bench seats and full power accessories. A single-CD player with 6 speakers and satellite radio, 16-inch alloy wheels and remote keyless entry can also be delivered as part of a wealth of cabin upgrade packages, many of which are also standalone options.
In keeping with tradition, Ford offers the available Sync voice-activated audio and communications system that can be installed with or without an available hard-drive-based navigation suite.
Reviewers accept the sparse amenities offered with the E-Series lineup as about standard for the class, noting that low-rent hard plastics bearing few soft-touch surfaces dominate the cavernous interior. Virtually all reviews, however, extol the large and legible gauges and well-placed, if somewhat simplistic controls, while the Work Solutions options are lauded as state-of-the-art. Seats, finally, are described by a majority of reviewers as barely adequate for the short trips expected of these workhorses, while side and rearward visibility is noted to be essentially non-existent.
In keeping with its no-frills image, the 2012 E-Series Van is equipped with the bare minimum of standard safety features. Relying on its size and heft to guide it through those ordinary driving perils, this Spartan draught animal includes 4-wheel antilock disc brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution, traction and stability control and a post-collision safety system.
Ford’s E-Guard Cargo Protection system and a remote antitheft alarm are available security measures, with rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera as added safety options.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has tested the high-standing 2012 E-Series only for rollover protection, giving standard-length versions their third-best 3-star rating, and Ext trims their next-to-worst 2-star score. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), meanwhile, has no data on Ford’s brutish behemoth, assuming, no doubt, that its hulking size will see occupants safely through most hazards.
What Owners Think
Those few owners of an E-Series Van who care to comment are adamant that handling capabilities, ride comfort, wallet-thumping mileage and pavement-consuming maneuvering characteristics are among the obvious detractions inherent in such oversized vehicles. Steering, meanwhile, is described by one owner as frustratingly sloppy, while at least one other describes the 4.6-liter V8 as all but unacceptable in such a demanding brute.
On the plus side, immense cargo capacity in this full-size cargo carrier, as well as the all-encompassing power in the larger V8 and the potent V10 powerplants seem, in the minds of owners, to be just what the doctor ordered for those tasks that require major muscle.
by Eric Tallberg
Talk about the 2012 Ford E-Series Van
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