When Chrysler dropped the concept of a “minivan” on the American public in 1984, they captured lightening in a bottle. Accidentally or by design, the automaker had created the right vehicle at the right time; while compact vans (like the VW Bus) weren’t new, Chrysler minivans offered the practicality of a van with the ride and handling of a car. Americans bought them (and products from the competition) by the millions, and today minivans are a staple product in nearly every non-luxury automaker’s catalog.
Ford hasn’t had a minivan in their lineup since they discontinued the Freestar in 2006. Sales of Ford’s full-size minivan had dropped to roughly 1/3 the number of Honda Odyssey’s sold, or slightly less than 1/4 of the Chrysler minivans sold that year. Ford chose to focus on building SUVs and crossovers, and turned their attention away from minivans. Until now, that is, as Ford is set to launch an entirely new category of minivan (a mini-minivan?) at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show.
Dubbed the C-MAX, Ford’s new vehicle looks like a car, but works like a compact minivan. Need sliding rear doors to get your kids and stuff safely inside? The C-MAX has them. Need flexible seating, so you can carry up to seven passengers or a wide variety of cargo? The C-MAX has it. Need a power liftgate, so you can open the rear with your hands full of groceries? The C-Max has that. By all definitions, it’s a small minivan, but it’s a minivan that doesn’t look like a minivan. It’s also a minivan that will get impressive fuel economy, thanks to the standard 2.5 liter four cylinder engine, or the optional 1.6 liter EcoBoost four cylinder.
If technology is your thing, the C-MAX will offer as much as you’re willing to pay for. The hands-free liftgate works by swiping your foot beneath the rear bumper when the key fob is in close proximity to the door. Active Park Assist will steer the C-MAX into a parallel parking space for you (but requires you to work the brake and gas). MyKey allows owners to set speed limits for various drivers, making the C-MAX ideal for families with new drivers. Finally, Ford’s Synch and MyTouch voice command and infotainment systems are available options, as are a panoramic moonroof, a rear view camera and a Sony-tuned audio system unique to the C-MAX.
The C-MAX will be based on Ford’s global Focus platform, so think of it as a minivan in 3/4 scale. Ironically, Ford won’t market it as a minivan, as it want’s to avoid the stigma associated with the word and will instead promote the C-MAX as a younger, hipper alternative to a minivan. Call it what you want, but a vehicle with this kind of practicality and this many features will certainly attract buyers, especially if it looks as good as the C-MAX. Expect sales to begin in 2012, with pricing to be announced closer to launch.