Ford Airstream concept
Ford's Airstream concept is more than just an MPV inspired by a classic caravan. It also showcases the future of alternative propulsion. We put it to the test
The Airstream is more than a flight of fancy. The idea of having passengers sitting on either side, rather than facing the direction of travel, won’t have Ford’s safety experts jumping for joy. But the Dynascan screen is an interesting way of injecting fun into a car. The HySeries Drive power system is clean and functional. And it proves that MPVs don’t all have to look the same. If Ford could make it drive like an S-MAX, it might be on to a winner.
A car inspired by a caravan? Although we are used to designers telling us that the ideas behind the latest vehicles have come from the unlikeliest of places, Ford’s Airstream represents the first time we have ever encountered a family runaround with its roots in a mobile home!
Admittedly, the beautifully crafted aluminium body of the classic Airstream caravan isn’t your average house on wheels. But then Ford’s radical interpretation of it hasn’t created an average car either... which is exactly why we had to drive it!
There’s no doubt that Ford’s take on the Airstream brings the notion of caravanning right into the 21st century. It features a wheel in each corner stance and aluminium coloured bodywork, as well as chrome inserts that shimmer in the sun.
Inside, the cabin is equally wild. Apparently, the designers’ other key inspiration was the classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey. As a result, the driver’s door is supposed to represent the escape hatch in a spacecraft, so it’s awkward to climb through.
Once inside, the seats are surprisingly comfortable, while the dash is smooth white plastic, and stretches away in front of you in classic MPV style. The driving position isn’t bad, either, but rather van-like with pedals that feel as if they’re beneath you rather than in front.
On the road, it’s clear the Airstream has been built more to be looked at than to drive. The steering requires a bodybuilder’s arms and the length of the wheelbase means this isn’t the most manoeuvrable motor around, and far from nimble.
Ford says it’s in the back that it expects people to be having the real fun. Rather than being laid out in consecutive rows, the chairs are positioned around the edge, so it’s a much more sociable environment than conventional MPVs. The centrepiece of the rear is a 360-degree screen called a Dynascan. It actually resembles the Time Rotor part of the console in Dr Who’s Tardis, but it could play a part in future models.
Ford claims that the screen is the smallest of its kind ever made, and you can use it to play games on, or even simply as a decoration. At the Detroit Motor Show – where this model was first shown off – bosses had it replicating a lava lamp and the flames of a fire.
However, perhaps the most serious part of this car is the power source. Just like the Ford Edge we have already driven it features the firm’s electric- hydrogen fuel cell HySeries Drive.
The lithium ion battery is charged up from the mains supply. When this runs down to 40 per cent of its power, the hydrogen fuel cell seamlessly steps in to recharge it. This gives the vehicle a range of about 225 miles, until both the batteries and hydrogen are exhausted.
The system works remarkably well, with instant power delivery, thanks to the Airstream’s two electric motors – one over either axle, offering all their available torque in one lump. It’s quiet, too.
The only noise that you hear is a whirring sound as the vehicle rolls away. However, that’s soon drowned out by the wind. And of course, the only emissions that the Airstream kicks out are water and hot air, so the environment is the big winner.
But the most impressive thing about the Airstream is its sheer size. The dimensions are about the same as the Range Rover Sport’s, although with its paintjob it looks bigger. And that means this is one MPV you wouldn’t lose in the supermarket car park on a Saturday afternoon.
Rival: Citroen C4 Picasso While it can’t claim to have links to classic American caravans, the Citroen Picasso is one of the most exciting looking people carriers on the market. With up to seven seats it’s also extremely practical, and there are a range of efficient diesel engines, too.