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Ford’s new S-Max has just been revealed in Europe ahead of its official debut at the upcoming Paris Motor Show next month. It’s not a bad looking thing and incorporate’s Ford’s current design theme quite well. Let’s not get too excited here, it is still a practical people carrier and not a swooshy sports car. The 7-seater MPV, or people carrier, competes against the likes of the Citroen C4 Picasso and SEAT Alhambra in its home European market.

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It does a lot of sensible things well. Not only does it have the advantage of seating for seven, it also comes with a choice of petrol and diesel engines with outputs ranging from 118bhp to a very healthy 240bhp. You can even opt for a four-wheel drive version if you really wanted it. The S-Max is built on an all-new CD4 chassis which will underpin mid-sized Fords of the future including the Mondeo and Edge.

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But it got me thinking – in the New Zealand market there aren’t very many MPV options. Off the top of my head I can only think of 4; the Citroen Picasso, the VW Touran, the Chrysler Voyager, and the Kia Carens. Does the Peugeot 3008 count? That’s more a crossover anyway…. What I find interesting is none of the Japanese brands offer a practical van or MPV these days. The Toyota Previa is all but gone and Mitsubishi, Mazda and Nissan haven’t offered an MPV in decades while Subaru has never bothered. I know Honda will be bringing its new Odyssey soon but that’s it.

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MPVs have long been synonymous for cars that are the “anti-cars”. These weren’t designed to be objects to dream and aspire too. They’re not going to burn your pants off and they’re surely not meant to go on a track day. MPVs show the world you’ve done your biological duties and now just need something to carry your squishy things and airbags around. But all of a sudden MPVs started to improve. The previous S-Max received positive reviews for its impressive driving dynamics and now even BMW have joint the game with their recently launched 2-Series Active Tourer. However a quick look around any road in NZ will show you there aren’t very many people buying new MPVs these days. When was the last time you saw a new Citroen C4 Picasso on the road? Exactly…

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I guess that reflects the market’s demand, or rather lack of it. Everyone who’s anyone wants a high-riding crossover or SUV these days. Sure they sacrifice a bit of practicality in the pursuit of style compared to an MPV and people don’t seem to mind that. If you want to seat 7 people comfortably you have to step up to a relatively large SUV such as a Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Pathfinder, or Ford Territory. And its the Territory that has got me thinking about this whole MPV debacle because as we know Ford Australia will be pulling the plug on its manufacturing operations in 2017. That means goodbye to the Falcon and Territory.

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Which means that in three years Ford will lose a crucial 7 seater vehicle from its lineup. Sure the Ford could bring in the Explorer but that too is a large SUV and doesn’t solve the problem if people want 7 seats without taking up the equivalent space of Thailand for it. The Territory will be replaced by the Edge but unless that comes with the option of 7 seats, which is unlikely, then it seems MPVs such as the S-Max have to be considered.

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Is that really such a bad thing? Shouldn’t we have the option to choose whether we want a wagon, crossoer, SUV, or MPV? And in terms of style you have to admit looking at this and the Citroen Picasso, MPVs aren’t as embarrassing to be seen in as they once were. The advantages are also plentiful. For a start MPVs tend to be more economic than SUVs or crossovers as they are smaller and lighter. They also don’t need large capacity engines so small petrols and diesels are adequate. Unlike SUVs four-wheel drive isn’t needed as MPVs aren’t expected to take on off-road tasks, unless its a Mitsubishi Delica. So, could there be a market for these sorts of cars again in NZ? Should Ford NZ consider bringing European MPVs into NZ such as the S-Max and the smaller Focus-based C-Max? Or are we all happy sticking with our crossovers and SUVs?

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