Matching style, space and a sporty personality with impressive technology, the 2012 Ford C-MAX makes its formal U.S. debut in Detroit. Already on sale in Europe as the Grand C-MAX, this latest microvan/crossover variation of the automaker's global C-platform architecture shares a good deal of basic design elements with the Fiesta and upcoming Focus but rides on a considerably longer 109.7-inch wheelbase. Available in S/SE/SEL trims and aimed at young, active lifestyle buyers looking for a unique package that provides exceptional versatility and fuel economy with room for up to seven, Ford sees it as a unique "white space" vehicle for the North America market -- although the Mazda5 clearly exists in that same relatively uninhabited realm.

>See more new cars unveiled at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show

Fashionably flexible

The bodywork of the new Ford C-MAX embraces the latest iteration of the automaker's kinetic design themes. Complementing its clean, contemporary lines are welcome practical touches like dual sliding rear-side doors, an industry-first available hands-free power rear liftgate and 17-inch wheels wrapped in 225/50 tires. While the passenger compartment also displays a good deal of Fiesta flair, it, too, boasts a number of dedicated C-MAX touches and will offer numerous upline comfort/convenience features. Heading that extensive list are leather upholstery, MyFord Touch with SYNC, dual-zone auto climate control, navigation, Intelligent Access with push-button start,  a nine-speaker Sony premium audio system with HD Radio, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, panoramic glass roof, Active Park Assist, rear view camera, and ambient lighting as standard or available, depending on trim. Highlighting this formidable mix is the aforementioned hands-free liftgate. This world-exclusive uses sensors mounted beneath the C-MAX's rear bumper that respond to a subtle leg motion coupled with the presence of the vehicle's key fob in a driver's pocket or purse to automatically activate the hatch.

Ford refers to the C-MAX's cabin configuration as a "5+2" layout. Up front, supportive bucket seats offer a raised "command position" view while its middle row split-folding bench slides fore/aft, provides adjustable back recline and incorporates a trick mechanism that permits the center element to tuck under the right-side seat and create an easy pass-through to the C-MAX's 50/50 fold-down third-row. Ford plans to offer this more modestly-scaled perch as a delete option for those who prefer seating for five. When moving stuff takes priority over moving people, folding both second and third rows in the C-MAX creates an impressive 70.2 cu ft of cargo space.

Dynamically refined

Extending C-platform architecture literally to the max required Ford engineers to create an extremely robust unit body structure and match it with chassis bits optimized to deliver "a class-leading combination of responsive, sporty handling, and overall refinement and quietness similar to the standard found in larger luxury vehicles." In addition to the extensive use of high-strength steel, key enhancements include a redesigned front subframe for better isolation, revisions to the Control Blade multilink rear suspension that improve handling precision, an all-new electric power-assist steering system and standard torque-vectoring control that integrates with the C-MAX's also-standard AdvanceTrak with Roll Stability Control and Curve Control.

Base motivator for the 2012 Ford C-MAX is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder rated at 168 horsepower and 167 lb-ft of torque. However, the star of the show is likely to be the optional 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine that develops 168 ponies on regular unleaded gasoline or 180 on premium. This turbocharged/direct-injected gem also turns out 173 lb-ft of twist from 1,500-4,500 revs. Both engines ship power to the front wheels via a standard six-speed automatic. While formal EPA figures don't exist at this time, Ford expects the EcoBoost four will net the 2012 C-MAX the best highway mileage of any seven-passenger vehicle sold in America.

The 2012 Ford C-MAX will go on sale in the U.S. late in 2011. Pricing will be released at a later date.

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