Why launch a car at a mobile phone conference in Barcelona? Besides the obvious appeal of simply going to Barcelona, the broadening intersection between cars and technology actually makes Mobile World Congress 2012 a not-so-crazy place to unveil a car. Ford, a company standing right at the middle of that intersection, underscored that point when it yanked a sheet off the tech-savvy B-Max MPV on Monday at MWC.
True, we’ve seen the B-Max before, but at MWC, executive chairman Bill Ford revealed the digital heart beating within the little MPV: It will be the very first vehicle in Europe to sport Ford’s Sync in-car connectivity, and plenty more are to follow. By the close of 2012, the Ford Focus, Fiesta, Kuga and Transit Connect will all offer Sync in Europe.
While the trip across the pond might seem inconsequential to American drivers who have snapped up 4 million Sync-equipped vehicles since 2007, the long delay highlights the complexities of adapting connected cars for different countries. Besides the usual hassle of getting a new car approved by multiple governing agencies and regulatory bodies, Ford had to adapt Sync to understand nine spoken European languages. (Fortunately, it looks like voice-recognition partner Nuance did the heavy lifting.) The emergency crash response system also had to intelligently switch emergency numbers based on location: You don’t want your car calling the police in Berlin when you careen into a lamppost in Zurich.
Of course, the European version of Sync will do all the things it does stateside, like reading incoming text messages aloud, letting you select music just by saying the name of an artist or song, and tethering with phones to make calls through your stereo.
Beyond Sync, the B-Max offers a number of frills not common in cares its size, including a jumbo glass sunroof, rear camera, clever Easy Access doors that eliminate the B pillar (the one between the front and back seats), and a 1.0-liter turbocharged engine that Ford claims will deliver best-in-class fuel economy. Active City Stop will even automatically brake if the car senses obstructions ahead that you’re not responding to. Like, you know, that lamppost. Bottom line: If you live in an urban area, the B-Max is looking like a promising way to still snag those tiny parking spaces without losing some of the luxuries found in larger vehicles.
Ford hasn’t discussed pricing on the B-Max yet, but it should be bound for dealerships in Europe later this year. Sadly, it looks like it will stay only in Europe for the time being, unless Ford decides to let follow in the tracks of the successful Fiesta and bring it back stateside.