First Look: 2012 Ford C-Max

Jeffrey Jablansky
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Ford's Focus-based C-Max MPV is now in its second generation, and the good news is that it will join the Focus sedan and hatchback in showrooms in the United States for the first time. Ford has admittedly acted the part of dilettante in offering the unremarkable Windstar and Freestar over the past decade, but looks to become a player by introducing the C-Max.

The C-Max was previewed at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, and the seven-seat Grand C-Max was announced for U.S. consumption shortly thereafter. (Consumers in Europe and export markets will have their choice between five- and seven-seat versions.) It will compete in the C-segment against the likes of the Mazda5 and the upcoming 2012 Chevrolet Orlando. Like the Mazda5, the Grand C-Max features dual rear sliding doors, but will trump the Mazda's six-passenger seating by offering one additional chair. The sloping roofline makes the way-back a kids-only affair, however. The shorter C-Max comes with four standard doors.

Because the C-Max is based on the Focus' architecture, it will occupy a shadow slightly larger than a compact car but offer the seating configuration of traditionally larger vans and SUVs. Introducing the C-Max -- and later, the stretched Grand C-Max -- is another link in the One Ford chain to homogenize the company's global offerings. It bears a resemblance to the Focus sedan and hatchback range in its exterior and interior styling, and will utilize many of the same powertrain combinations.

The exterior shows a clean adaptation of the Focus hatchback's front and rear. Viewed from afar, you are forgiven for thinking that it's a scaled-up Fiesta or Focus hatchback; Ford's designers extended the theme of chunky proportions and large wheels to both the C-Max and its longer sibling. Similarly, the interior design was plucked nearly straight from the Focus, albeit the center stack stretched vertically to make better use of the C-Max's additional height. All the features we can expect on the Focus, including Ford's Sync infotainment system, will likely be available on the U.S.-market C-Max.

In terms of powertrain, the C-Max also doesn't shy far from the rest of the Focus lineup. While Europeans will be treated to several gas and diesel powerplants, Americans will have to make do with a gas engine, likely the Focus' 2.0-liter inline four; it produces 155 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, enough to keep it competitive with the Mazda5, but certainly not a track star. A 1.6-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine may be on its way, and will produce about 180 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. The C-Max will also adopt the Focus' six-speed manual and dual-clutch transmissions -- a plus for minivan/MPV drivers looking to preserve the feeling of driver involvement.

Ford will sell the C-Max in the U.S. alongside its other European immigrant, the Transit Connect, to compete with MPVs, and not traditional full-size minivans. Pricing hasn't yet been announced, but we expect a pricetag close to $20,000, as opposed to a full-sizer's MSRP that pushes $30k. We expect the C-Max will be available just as the redesigned Mazda5 hits our shores.

Ford is betting on the One Ford strategy of globally integrated vehicles to bolster its segue into the MPV market. The C-Max's potential success hinges on whether or not Americans have an appetite for a dish that packs more minivan flavor in a smaller bite.

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