The Ford Econovan is manufactured by Mazda, and it is also marketed in Australia as the Mazda E-series. The Econovan is a commercial vehicle, with a passenger equivalent labelled the Ford Spectron. It came to market in 1966 and was redesigned in 1977 and 1983. In 1984, a long wheelbase version was brought to market, known as the Econovan Maxi, which was also marketed by Mazda as the E-series.
The Econovan is probably one of the most versatile vans in the market. The long wheelbase version is popular as a camper, allowing around two metres for the bed and one metre for the kitchen area, with either a flat top or an 'Auto Free Top' elevating roof that offers extra headroom and sleeping space for two.
The Econovan comes with typical Ford styling in a boxy and attractive design. The overall look is clean and compact.
Early Econovans came with a choice of a petrol or diesel engine. The Econovan is not about speed or power; as its name would suggest, it is designed to be an economical workhorse and, on that basis it more than delivers. Its drive is pretty basic, but it does what it says on the tin. Cornering can be a bit loose, but then the Econovan almost begs to be thrown around a bit.
Fourth-generation Econovans remained in production until 2012 when Mazda withdrew from the commercial vehicle market in order to focus on the fuel-efficient car niche. The fourth-generation vans were introduced in 1999 and come with a range of engine options. The petrol engine choices came in a 1.8L F8 SOHC I4, 2.0L RS-V I4, 2.0L FE SOHC I4, and 2.5L RF-V V6. The diesel options came in a 2.0L RF I4 and a 2.5L turbo diesel, the latter a popular choice for power and economy.
The manual transmission enables drivers to get the best out of the power available. Maximum speed on the clock is 160km/h, but many users report taking it well beyond this limit on the flat, open road.
Some users raise reliability as an issue, but this seems to have a direct correlation to the level of care that has been expended on the vehicle. If you choose to buy an Econovan which has been regularly serviced and well looked after, you are likely to reap the rewards.
Models from 1999 onwards feature air conditioning, climate control, and, in the camper versions, electronic blinds as standard. Options vary from van to van, particularly the campers, which are fitted with various levels of kit, from standard camper packs to the products of do-it-yourself conversions. If you are thinking of buying an Econovan for this purpose, be sure to check carefully what kit is included, that it matches your requirements, and that it is of sufficient quality for your needs.
As an added benefit, many sellers sell on their Econovan campers with plenty of additional camping or travelling kit included. The Auto Free Top raised roof is an added bonus for those looking for extra headroom and the ability to accommodate two more sleepers when using the van as a camper.
Most Econovans come with a two-speaker integrated stereo system and central locking. Many also feature power steering, but this is not standard in all models, so check for this if power steering is important to you and particularly if you are likely to be using your Econovan to transport heavy goods.
Competition to the Ford Econovan comes from its own Mazda-branded sibling, the E-Series. Other competitors in the market come in the form of campers, people carriers, and trade vans. The Toyota Reliability is a popular option, with a long wheelbase and 2.4L petrol engine, as is the good-quality VW Transporter that makes for an excellent people carrier and workhorse. For a more compact van with plenty of poke, try the Mitsubishi Express medium wheelbase High Top with 2.4L engine and 5-speed manual transmission.