Focus 4x4 is here

Exclusive preview as Ford's dramatic new X-MAX prepares to take fight to RAV4

Prepare to get 'X-cited' - Ford's all-new 4x4 has broken cover, and here it is! Called the X-MAX, it goes on sale early next year, and thanks to these pictures, we can show you how the eagerly-awaited SUV will look.

Aimed at rivals such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, the X-MAX is the first Ford 4x4 since the much-maligned Maverick was axed from the range back in 2002. Entering a rapidly growing sec­tor of the market, it will also fight it out with models such as the Nissan Qashqai and forth-coming Volks­wagen Tiguan. Our main pictures are a preview taken from an actual prototype, and prove the car will certainly have style on its side.

Retaining many of the stand-out design cues which made the Iosis X concept car such a head-turner at the Paris Motor Show last autumn, the X-MAX is bold and sporty.

It sits low to the ground for an SUV, and the short overhangs give the X-MAX an athletic appearance. That's enhanced by jutting tail-lights, chunky extended wheelarches and steeply angled rear pillars - features which were all first seen on the Iosis X.

Detailing is neat, with projector-style headlamps, S-MAX-style upper and lower grilles, integrated spotlights plus sporty raised bonnet ridges. The newcomer is similar in size to Ford's C-MAX MPV, and buyers can expect a similar amount of space inside.

The dashboard borrows much of its design from the all-new Mondeo, with high-quality materials and Ford's Human Machine Interface (HMI) control system displaying vital information in the driver's eyeline. While it's strictly a five-seater, the X-MAX should offer a high degree of practicality and flexibility, with split-fold rear seats, an underfloor boot compartment and a fold-flat luggage area. The standard equipment tally will include climate control and Bluetooth phone compat­ibility, with sat-nav and a panoramic glass roof on the options list.

Under the skin, the X-MAX uses parts from the Focus platform. Ford will sell two and four-wheel-drive ver­sions to cater for different customers.

The latter will use the 4x4 transmission from Volvo's V50 estate. This operates in front-wheel-drive mode in most conditions, but diverts torque to the rear wheels when the surface becomes slippery.

Ford doesn't want to tread on the toes of sister firm Land Rover, and the X-MAX is unlikely to feature the complex 4WD system from the more expensive Freelander 2. A raised ride height means the X-MAX will offer some off-road ability, but its primary bias will be towards a sporty on-road driving experience. That is emphasised by the range-topping engine choice: it's the same 222bhp 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged powerplant as used by the Focus ST hot hatch.

With a sporty suspension set-up to harness the considerable performance of this unit, the flagship variant will offer a combination of pace and practicality that's unique for the class.

Elsewhere in the range, there will be 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre petrol motors taken from the Focus line-up, as well as 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre TDCi diesels. Six-speed manual and Durashift auto transmissions will be available.

Testing of the newcomer has been underway for a number of months, with the company's engineers carrying out cold weather development programmes on disguised prototypes in the Arctic Circle. Buyers can expect the covers to be pulled from the finished article at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. The X-MAX will reach UK showrooms in early 2008, priced from around £16,000.

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