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2012 Ford C-Max: First Drive Page 4

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Packaging for pleasure

The C-Max is significantly smaller than the standard Grand Caravan, at 167.3 inches long, with a 109.8-inch wheelbase. Inside, though, it has the flexibility of many larger minivans, and some features common with vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz R-Class. The front bucket seats give great support to big adults, and are tailored in a natty cloth, though leather's sure to be on an options list. Knee room is decent enough, and the dash omits the intrusive plastic pieces that make small cars a hit-or-miss on comfort. Headroom? Take as much as you want.

In the second row of seats, passengers find a little more flexibility, while they also find the wide open spaces of a true minivan missing. With the front seats ratcheted in place for middle-size adults, the second row has acceptable leg room--and on the test cars, fold-up trays on the front seatbacks that evoke unpleasant airline flashbacks. The sliding side doors make it easy to clamber in, but the doors have molded-in can holders that press into adult knees on the outboard side. The seats themselves are a little short in bottom-cushion length but recline back for a nice cruising position. For kids, they'd be a B+; for anyone beyond 21 years old or 180 pounds, they're a solid C.

They do have a nifty trick in their optional playbook. The C-Max's middle second-row seat can be folded and stored under the right-side, second-row seat cushion, giving it an R-Class-like walk-through to the two-child third-row seat, which absolutely isn't intended for adults except possibly Linda Hunt. Both the second- and third-row seats fold down for maximum cargo space, with easy-pull fabric loops.

Ford plans to pitch the C-Max to young urban families who don't want a big van, but want the features it's baked into its other small cars. The base price should start slightly above $20,000, with a well-equipped pricetag of around $25,000. For options, Ford's run through its current hit list for features such as blind-spot warnings and park assist, which steers the vehicle into a tight spot by taking control of the electric power steering.

Also in the options plan are a rear-seat entertainment system, a panoramic sunroof, a navigation system, Sony audio systems, and MyFord Touch and SYNC, which integrate Bluetooth voice controls into the audio system with redundant steering-wheel controls at the driver's fingertips.

At first pass, the C-Max fits lots of garages, and lots of duties that could be assigned to a Dodge Journey, a Honda Element or a Mitsubishi Outlander. It's difficult to see a business case for huge volumes or anything but cult status, but fuel prices and electric cars have begun to erode the American birthright to bigger-is-better cars, trucks and minivans. The C-Max may be ahead of the curve--but it could also be a well-timed surprise, if Ford can convince us that the emphasis in the word "minivan" belongs on the first syllable.


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