After a few months of owning the Excursion ('04 6.0L diesel), covering a touch over 6K miles towing so far, I'm impressed.
Honestly, I expected to have a bit of buyers remorse for spending nearly double my original budget on this truck, now I look back and wish I had done it last December to include the nearly 20K miles spent in the Aerostar this year. I loved the Aerostar, it never let us down (except that one time), and without it, I would have never appreciated the Ex as much as we do now.
The raw numbers... (calculated by hand, not the overhead display) without a trailer, with just my son and I, one of his karts behind the second row seat, and the stuff needed for a 'not serious' day of racing, it turns in 21 to 22.5 mpg at 65 mph highway. Although we are a lot more comfortable than we were in the Aerostar without a trailer, the smells of tires and mixed fuel can't be completely eliminated with the ventilation system. Not real fun, but way better than the Aerostar. The Aerostar could be convinced to turn in 22 mph on the highway without a trailer.
With the 6X12 enclosed trailer, mileage falls to 15 to 15.5 mpg at 65 mph, those numbers rise to a solid 16.5 mpg drafting a friendly tractor trailer at any speeds the lead vehicle will run. Yes, drafting is not a great idea for some people. I speak to the trucker on the CB, we set up a safe distance (usually my trailer in his mirrors) and after an hour or two, he'll usually allow me to move in to about two seconds. Drafting or not, the Aerostar turned in 9 to 12 mpg, depending on how many exit ramp hills we had to cross. 55mph with the 4.0 V6 Aerostar and trailer was about max speed.
I'd read with great ineterest all of the testemonials about how great a diesel engine was for towing. Between the near death of the Aerostar and the purchase of the Ex, I borrowed a friends 2006 Ram 1500 5.7 Hemi automatic. The first trip in that truck, on one of our regular trips from Atlanta to Ocala, provided 12 to 13 mpg at 65mph until an exhaust valve spring broke and we finished the trip (maybe 250 miles) at about 10 mpg and unable to run less than 3000 rpm. After fixing it (new head, piston, and rod), it returned to 13 mpg. Aside from the fuel mileage, both the Aerostar and the Hemi Ram (with trailer) were constantly searching gears up and down even on the relatively flat roads between Ocala and Atlanta. The Excursion hits high gear just after clearing Atlanta traffic and only downshifts on the exit ramp in Ocala or if we stop to pick up more fuel. I think it downshifted going over the mountains outside of Chatanooga (sp?) in Tennessee on our way to Shawano, Wisconsin, but we still averaged 16.5 mpg on the trip there.
If your local events are five or more hours away, comfort should be a big part of your choice. Yes, we made the long hauls to Ocala, Miami, and St. Louis with the Aerostar, and survived, but they sucked. Without a trailer, it wasn't bad, just smelly. We'd pull all the rear seats out of it, and my son was trapped in the passenger seat, constantly hoping I'd stop so he could stretch out. We were Team Low-Budget, and proud of it. On the long trips, 10 or more hours, leaving Atlanta directly after I got out of work and driving all night, we had all kinds of opportunity to prove to each other that we were hardcore and really wanted to be at the racetrack. Work on Monday morning, on just a couple hours sleep, still punchdrunk from the fumes, led to an obsession with winning the lottery. Adding an enclosed trailer to the package after surviving a few serious thunderstorms in South Florida under an EZ-UP (the pit fire at Moroso clinched the deal), made life in the van better for my son, who could move around in the back, but added hell to the task of driving. Without a load distributing hitch, a Miata could push the trailer and van around, seriously. With it, only the big trucks, blasting by at 70mph while were were stuck at 55mph would suck us in, then push us away. White knuckles for five or more hours makes work on Monday a lot of fun....
Life with the Excursion, very different. On the way back from Shawano, we ran into Hurricane Ike in Indiana and I believe Kentucky. Trees across I-75, no power at most truckstops, exit ramps blocked by debris caught in the armco, and we had just topped off a 44 gallon tank. The radio said the winds were between 60 and 70 mph, headwinds and sidewinds. I could feel the winds hit, but never was pushed out of the lane. The trailer didn't seem to mind, although it had flexed enough to pop 10 or 12 of the screws attaching it's siding out. We were taking pictures, driving through the grassy median around trees, amazed at the green walls of leaf debris, calm and safe. I'm quite certain the Aerostar would not have been able to beat the headwinds, stay on the road, or travel the distance required to make it from one operation gas station to the next. For those keeping score, the mileage during the hurricane dropped to 13.5 mpg
A 'double' airmattress (a queen is too big, so are two twins) fits perfectly behind the second row of leather reclining seats. The back seat of the Ram is awful, the second row seating in the Aerostar wasn't much better. On multi-day race weekends, we sleep onsite, or in the WalMart campground in the Excursion. We pick up a $4 DVD from Walmart, and watch it before falling asleep, and the battery isn't dead in the morning like it would have been in the Aerostar.
On the cold days, it was cold and rainy on race day in Wisconsin, the kids can dry off and warm up while playing videogames in the Excursion, or will cool off this January in Miami in it. The Aerostar couldn't idle for very long without overheating...
Now I know why people drive their 100K+ motorhomes and buses to the events. But, until we need a stacker trailer, and finally win the lottery, the Excursion is a pretty good version of low-budget. With fuel prices fluctuating wildly, sometimes it's cheaper to run the higher mileage diesel, sometimes it's a break-even affair, and sometimes it's actually cheaper to fuel the gasser. Over a 10 hour trip though, even if the diesel does cost more, it's cheaper than screwing up a race because of exhaustion or ending up arguing with a 9 year old over something stupid....
Next on the list for us is replacing the worn tires. Maybe a programmer is in the future, several are creating 'economy' modes as well as the power modes.