Machine Design

2004 Tuscany conversion van

The Tuscany van we tested was one of the most tasteful and good-looking conversion vans I've ever seen.

Its body moldings, paint scheme, and graphics might not turn heads, but along with the many entertainment and comfort features, they give the van a definite step up in class over most minivans.

Tuscany vans are built on Ford chassis. Ours started out as a chassis for a 2004 E250 cargo van. It has Ford's twinindependent front suspension, gas-filled shocks, power steering, four-wheel ABS and disc brakes. And it's powered by a Ford 5.4-liter V8 with electronic fuel injection. The engine provides enough power to cruise at 70 mph (or faster), but passing power takes a while to build up. Mileage hovered in the 14-mpg range, which isn't that bad considering the van's size and the fact it was usually carrying a full load of passengers and luggage.

A few minor complaints came from backseat passengers accusing the van of having a stiff ride. But the ride seemed fine from the front seats. Perhaps the towing package contributed to the bumpy ride in back. Another complaint revolved around the outside mirrors. They were split into two sections, with the top 75% or so carrying regular mirrors and the bottom quarter fitted with panoramic fish-eye mirrors. The bottom section could be tilted down, but not moved left or right. The two-part mirrors made parking difficult because you could not judge distances looking in the lower sections. They also distracted from the "normal" mirror sections when driving.

On the inside, good-looking leather seats and muted carpeting seem the main attraction, until you sit down. Then you notice the 20-in.-wide LCD perched above the front seats for viewing DVDs, videotapes, or watching local television. The screen had an amazing picture and, like most TVs, keeps children and adults amused for hours. And there are always good views out the oversized windows for those tired of videos and no longer interested in music from the front or back radios and CD players.

And for those who are just plain tired, the Class III seats are about the most comfortable I've ever sat in. Even the headrests are superlative, with just the right amount of give in the middle and support on the sides to keep my head from rolling off of them. They made napping easy on a 13-hr trip to the coast.

The van carried a sport roof that accommodated the TV screen and made the interior much airier and less confining. This bumps up the van's height to about 8 ft and makes it difficult to garage the vehicle, a minor inconvenience for all the extra headroom. The van also carried a fold-down rear bench that converted into a bed of sorts.

Conversion vans definitely drain some of the stress from long trips and make them more enjoyable. And the Tuscany line, which is only available at Ford dealers, seems to stress craftsmanship and quality. The price, $29,000 for the chassis, powertrain, and basics, $25,000 for the conversion part ($54,000 total), makes it somewhat pricey. But you'd be hard pressed to find a more comfortable, well-equipped ride for you and six of your closest travelling companions.

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