Ford S-Max Concept First Look

DEARBORN, MICHIGAN – Even in a world of One Ford, the automaker has no plans to sell a production version of its S-Max Frankfurt auto show concept in North America.

“We constantly look at it, but it’s not possible at the moment,” chief creative officer J Mays said at a preview here Tuesday.

The S-Max concept has everything going for it. Ford’s new design language, which includes an unbroken sweep from the headlamps to the rear spoiler, integrated exhaust in the lower rear fascia, “refined” but not overdone side surfacing, elegant exterior lighting, and of course, the Aston Martin–style grille, gives the S-Max the look of a “visually premium car,” said Mays

“Premium doesn’t scream,” Mays says. The top-of-the-range Titanium trim level on the current S-Max accounts for more than 70 percent of sales.

The Ford S-Max went on sale eight years ago in Europe, incorporating the company’s new “kinetic” design language. Ford’s claim is that the dynamic driving modes, highly flexible configuration, and driver-focused technology make it something different from the multi-purpose vehicles – essentially small minivans – that are popular in Europe. Ford called it a sport-activity vehicle and said it was “better than an MPV,” but its proportions compared to small sport-utility vehicles make it a non-starter, for now, in the U.S. market.

Ford calls it a concept, but the 2013 Frankfurt show S-Max looks ready for production once you add such details as exterior door handles. It will be shown there as a “5+2” vehicle, with first-row buckets, a second-row bench with a middle seat that folds flat into the floor, and two seats in the third row using the company’s “thin-seat” technology. Premium interior touches include stitched leather seats combined with carbon-fiber and suede accents and high-tech gadgetry. Before its official Frankfurt preview, the S-Max concept will appear next week at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin, the European equivalent of our Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

There, Ford will highlight the S-Max’s Sync with MyFord Touch available in 19 languages, a wireless Internet connection, and a tablet docking station for the second row. Through MyFord Touch, it can also handle Spotify, Kaliki, Glympse, and AHA radio, plus your own device’s smartphone apps, says Ford’s tech guru, Jim Buczkowski.

At IFA, Ford also will show an ECG heart-rate-monitoring seat and in-car glucose-level monitoring, plus car-to-car communications, Intelligent Protection System with Pre-Collision Assist, Dual-View Display, and the latest version of Active Park Assist, which can help a parallel parker pull out of a spot as well as pull into one. Buczkowski said Sync and MyFord Touch will be available next year in Europe in the B-Max, Fiesta, C-Max, Focus, Kuga, and Transit Custom. The systems will be virtually the same as those available in the United States, and he believes the technologies are ready for the European market, despite the fact that problems with ease of use have hurt Ford in initial quality and satisfaction surveys in the U.S.

“We’ve made large improvements,” Buczkowski said. “We feel we’ve learned a lot along the way.”

Ford says EcoBoost engines are gaining traction in the European market, as well as in the U.S., and the featured engine in the new S-Max will be a 1.5-liter gas EcoBoost turbo with twin-independent variable camshaft timing.

Ford sells the smaller C-Max in North America only as a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid. Its larger Escape crossover covers a similar market demographic here, but surely Dearborn will be watching such models as the Buick Encore and the BMW X1 (both two-row vehicles, versus the 5+2 S-Max) to determine whether there’s any market for its “SAV” in the United States. Would Americans buy a Ford S-Max?

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