In the inconspicuous location of Neuss, near Dusseldorf, Germany, there lies the Langen Foundation Museum...a former cold war bunker. Now redesigned by concrete master architect Tadao Ando it was the location where Ford launched its latest S-MAX Concept in anticipation of the Frankfurt Auto Show 2013. The SMAX has been a game changer for Ford since it debuted back in 2005. Attracting customers to the brand that it never had before and securing their loyalties this latest concept was a measured and adventurous endeavour. The conundrum is that S-MAX customers are not keen to upgrade or change car segment within the Ford line, they love their SMAX just the way it is. So if it aint broke dont break it some might say. But technology moves on, materials move on, and so does the SMAX need to move on, and move it does into a brave new connected world.
The only eco higlight we can mention of the Concept seems to be the brand new, and revolutionary, 1.5 litre Eco-boost petrol engine. Don't let the lack of obvious visual 'greenification' cues fool you into thinking that the S-MAX is an inconsiderate (to the environment that is) vehicle. Ford prides itself in managing waste and materials from beginning to end very closely so although it doesn't have specific 'green' design elements that we love to delve into Ford ensures it will be a mindful car.
The S-MAX dons Ford's One Ford global design language with the signature new high-mounted trapezoidal grill, extremely swept back headlamps, and floating elements that adds to its product design feel. The rear is less successful on the actual Concept and looks unresolved. The sideview of the greenhouse seems to be stretched slightly too far back onto the rear as if the S-MAX literally needs a facelift. Heavy and clumsy compared to the tapered and exciting new front statement the rear lets the car down aesthetically. Much was also made about the arc feature that it inherits from its more toned and taught predecessor. In having to compete with a thick chrome frame that sets the side window graphic silhouette feature off from the side view of the car neither the arc nor the window graphic succeed in holding the car together. This is a real shame because a little less chrome and a little more tension would have gone a long way to creating a dynamic stance as intended by the drawings and making the S-MAX Concept a truly understated design magnet.
The interior is different and confident in attitude when compared with the exterior. Push through the monochromatic use of Ford's new Nocciola (Hezelnut) palette and you can begin to appreciate lovely materials and detailing. Firstly and most notably are the ribbed seats (I smell an 80's trend returning) have form and are relevant to the rest of the interior rather than just being nicely designed seats. The tapered sunroof motif adds to the slim and fit feeling of the interior where the use of layered design, rather than volume design, masterfully creates a desireable atmosphere. The centre console wears a strange perspex floating cover but its the lovely soft touch intrumentation below that really snaps the dashboard design together for me. I get the 'no compromise' promise Ford talks about on the interior. Why should my car look utilitarian just because it is a monovolume? Ford injects the inside of your car with character and quality. The thin seat design allows for seats to magically unfold and fold in the rear adding to the versatiliy of this vehicle. Its flexible and fun. As ever Ford excels in quality and finish on the interior to a level that probably make their competitors quiver...its amazing.
Thats not all! Big on connectivity and the digital wonders Ford will use the S-MAX to the safety-max (hence S-MAX!) by using it to showcase its Sync and MyFordbTouch technologies. Barb Samardzich, Product Development VP Ford of Europe, revealed that they are aware that people are more and more health conscious and suggested that in the near future Ford could offer a Ford Heart Rate Monitoring Seat and Glucose Level Monitoring. Whilst many would debate the relevance of these gadgets it highlights the fact that progressively we will become less involved in driving per se and more involved with travelling. When the new SMAX goes into production it will come with advanced safety and convenience technologies such as car-to-car communications, Intelligent Protection System with Pre-Collision Assist and Active Park Assist (self parking). What will be left for us to do? Every time I drive a Ford I think more and more about an affordable driverless future...exciting and sad at the same time. Exciting because its a new frontier for design and transportation and sad because as I board my automated Heathrow Pod back to pick my car up I realise how mundane 'not driving' might be! Here's hoping that the future holds more to it than a brown car.
Ford S-MAX Concept
Power: 1.5 litre Eco-boost petrol engine.
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