To any other company, a car-based, seven-passenger family vehicle with dual sliding side doors would be called a minivan. Not to Ford Motor Company. After abandoning the minivan market in 2007 following the failed Freestar, Ford used the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show to introduce a new seven-passenger anti-minivan that it confirmed will make it to production in North America - the 2012 Focus C-Max. One advantage that the C-Max will have is that it will not be pigeonholed purely as a minivan, but rather it will likely compete against a wide variety of varying segments including minivans, hatchbacks and, primarily, compact people movers such as the Mazda MAZDA5 and Kia Rondo. Based on the next-generation Focus that will debut next year in the U.S., the C-Max will offer an innovative seating arrangement, Ford's stylish European design language and a powerful, fuel-efficient powertrain when it debuts in late 2011 as a 2012 model.
According to Derrick Kuzak, Group Vice President for Product Development, the Focus C-Max avoids the slab-sided 'refrigerator on wheels' design of conventional minivans, while still offering conveniences of dual sliding doors and a power rear liftgate. From the initial pictures Ford released, the 2012 C-Max does manage to offer a more unique design than what is offered currently on minivans with negatively affecting passenger or cargo space. Using Ford's kinetic design language that recently debuted on the all-new Taurus sedan and Transit Connect work van, the C-Max incorporates multiple sporty design elements including the trapezoidal grille and swept front headlamps, the upswept beltline and the forward-raked D-pillar. Widely flared wheel arches and short overhangs complete the sporty look of the C-Max.
Inside, the 2012 Focus C-Max will have a cabin very similar to the 2011 Fiesta hatchback we recently drove but will get a more upscale design thanks in large part to the dual-tier instrument panel and contrasting leather stitching on the door panels. Like the Fiesta, the C-Max features a small, central LCD screen atop the instrument panel with controls mounted on the center stack or the steering wheel, while the instrument cluster features two large, circular gauges flanking a central information display. The second row seats seem to have ample head and legroom, but we imagine the third-row seats will be reserved for smaller occupants.
Unlike the MAZDA5 and Rondo competitors, the C-Max will have the ability to seat seven passengers, but it will also feature a trick seating system that will allow the middle seat of the second-row bench to fold under one of the other seat bottoms to create a 2+2+2 seating arrangement with a manageable walk-through to the third row. Its compact chassis does not allow for innovative features such as the Dodge Grand Caravan's Stow 'n Go system, so the C-Max's second-and third-row seats will not have the ability to fold flat into the cargo floor instead just folding and/or tumbling forward to offer a flat load surface.
Ford hopes that 'non-minivan' C-Max will help attract existing customers from the Fiesta and Focus up to the more family-oriented people mover given its small size and hatchback-like design. About the only thing that is likely to make the minivan label stick to the 2012 Ford C-Max is the dual-side sliding doors, which make loading and unloading passengers a much easier task in confined areas such as parking lots.
"The Focus C-MAX will be great to look at, great to sit in and great to drive, bringing Ford DNA to a new market segment in the form of an aspirational, fuel-efficient people carrier," Kuzak said in regards to the C-Max's position on the market.
While the European-spec Grand C-Max will come with a full array of gasoline and diesel engines, the U.S.-spec will most likely offer just one engine option - Ford's all-new 1.6-liter EcoBoost inline-4. The EcoBoost engine uses direct injection and turbocharging to improve fuel efficiency without sacrificing power, and the engine made its debut in V-6 form on the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO, 2010 Ford Flex and 2010 Lincoln MKS. In addition to this 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine, Ford is also planning to use a 2.0-liter EcoBoost inline-4 in a number of midsize vehicles including the all-new Ford Explorer which will also be available by 2012. By 2013, Ford plans to have EcoBoost technology available on more than 90 percent of its vehicle lineup in North America alone.
As is evident by Kuzak calling this new model the Focus C-Max, Ford is attempting to build on the name of the popular Focus sedan and coupe that continues to be one of the top-selling compacts on the market despite having a chassis design from the late 1990s. Echoing the words of Ford president Alan Mullaly and the company's One Ford plan, the Focus underpinnings will spread to future Ford models creating sportier, more competitive offerings in the lucrative C-Segment vehicles that currently includes the Toyota Corolla and Chevrolet Cobalt.
'This is the segment globally and this is the platform that for us will provide more than 2-million units annually, as well as up to ten new models as we go forward, demonstrating our commitment to that segment most important to the global industry," Kuzak said.