Ford to debut C-MAX minivan in Detroit

Ford will debut at the 2011 North American International Auto show a minivan that you won't make you look like a soccer mom. At first glance it looks like a crossover, and it's not until you see its rear doors slide to the side that you realize that it's a minivan that can seat up to seven.

Ford's newest family hauler is a compact minivan with a lot of hands-free features.
Ford's newest family hauler is a compact minivan with a lot of hands-free features. Ford

Ford will debut at the 2011 North American International Auto show a more mini minivan. The C-MAX is a compact family vehicle that was developed for the European market but will be making its way into the U.S. next year. Despite its Americanization, it retains European proportions. At 178 inches the C-MAX is almost 15 inches shorter than the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Town and Country, yet it still manages to seat up to seven.

Ford describes the vehicle as a 5+2, meaning it seats five in the first two rows with two smaller seats in the third row. Rather than three rows of full-size seats that other full-size minvans offer, the design compromise gives you a midsize vehicle you'd rather drive but with the option to haul around half a basketball team if you need to. Of course, that third row eats into cargo room. With the third row up, there's only 8.4 cubic feet available for storage. But folding the third row flat opens almost 33 cubic feet behind the second row, similar to the Ford Escape.

Hands-free seems to be a running theme in the new C-MAX. The minivan will be equipped with voice-controlled SYNC and MyFord Touch. Intelligent key access eliminates the annoying fumbling for keys routine by automatically unlocking the door as the driver approaches. A first for the carmaker, the C-MAX includes a hands-free liftgate that is opened by leg motion instead of keys or hands. Here's how it works: if a person with a key stands behind the liftgate, the vehicle looks for a sweeping leg motion under the rear bumper. If it detects that motion and a person with a key is within proximity, the hatch will automatically open. It sounds a bit contrived, but it could make loading up the family hauler a lot easier.

The base model C-MAX will be outfitted with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The upgrade to the 168-hp 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine is expected to deliver up to 20 percent better fuel economy than a larger naturally aspirated gasoline engine with similar output. For the sake of comparison, the 170-hp 2.5-liter in the Ford Escape with a six-speed transmission receives 28 mpg on the highway. Doing the math, the C-Max could see up to 33 mpg on the highway.

Personally, I like the idea of a seven-seater minivan that's the size of an Escape, and combined with better fuel economy, it should appeal to a lot of families. We'll let you know more when we see it next year.
 

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