2012 Ford C-Max: First Drive

October 5, 2010

In the world of the 64-ounce Big Gulp, the sizzling buffet and the Expedition EL, can a size-medium MPV make a big noise?

Drive the 2012 Ford C-Max, and you'll hope so. Minivans are a gang of four: the Chrysler twins, the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey dominate the niche, and for families wanting something a bit smaller and a bit less expensive, there aren't many other choices.

With the C-Max, Ford is setting out to change that, in about a year and a couple of months when the classic European-style "MPV" hits American showrooms with less interior room and outward bulk--but with better performance and little more visual sprezzatura than you'll see in the more mainstream vans.

It's part of a vast C-class conspiracy. Ford is spinning off at least ten new vehicles from the "C"-body family in the next few years, while it's also making its American lineup line up much more closely to what it sells around the world. Rather than another abortive attempt at a domestic-flavored minivan--in the Freestar vein--Ford's decided to offer some of its global goodies to fill the usual minivan niche. For people-hauling supreme, it already has the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT, not to mention the Expedition and 2011 Explorer. Cargo hauling? An F-150 or even the Ford Transit Connect commercial vehicle.

For young families just emerging from the millennial generation, it has the C-Max. It actually has two C-Max vehicles, but what's known as the C-Max proper in Europe, will remain over there. According to Ford, that five-seat hatchback sits a little close to the next-generation Escape crossover in size and mission. What we'll get--what will be branded as the C-Max in the U.S.--actually is the seven-seat Grand C-Max everywhere else in the world.

Will it nibble away at the base Grand Caravan and Kia Sedona, and elbow aside the vaguely related Mazda5, and win over converts? Or will its appeal be narrow like the now-dead Kia Rondo and the old Mitsubishi Expo LRV? High Gear Media took off after the 2010 Paris Auto Show to find out firsthand.

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