Paul Horrell 07 March 2012

Geneva 2012: the rise of the mini-MPV

Fancy a small, versatile and roomy car? Then you’ve got a lot of choice… Paul Horrell reports

OK, so maybe this isn't the absolute key headline fact about Geneva 2012, but it must mean something. Out there in the show floor it's mini-MPV Babylon. Yes, if your fetish is in slightly tall, versatile and fantastically roomy supermini-sized cars, your cup absolutely runneth over.

Ford gets there first with acrobatically doored B-Max (above), available late summer. At the back end of the year Fiat will have the cute-as-a-button 500L (pictured below). And next year Nissan will be creating jobs around Sunderland with the Invitation, which blinked into Geneva's lights as a show-car.

Underneath, the B-Max is a tall Fiesta. But the special kicker is those doors: the front one opens as normal, but the rear one slides backward. Uniquely, there's no pillar between them, creating a wide wide opening handy for ramming in some flatpack, a pushbike or an unexpectedly pesky toddler. It's also super-handy in a narrow garage or parking space. By dint of clever latches and, Ford swears blind, stout crashproofing, you can open the front or the back door independently.

Once past those portals, people in the back will be impressed with the room, while the ones in the front get a fancy new connectivity system, Sync. Microsoft is involved. Insert crashing gag here.
Unlike many other mini-MPVs, Ford has used a simple and cheap rear seat fold arrangement. Sliding benches, Ford figured, are too heavy and expensive. Instead the money was diverted into lovely aluminium heater knobs.

From the outside it looks suitably Ford-kinetic, but in the end it can't hide its height.

Fiat's approach with styling the 500L has been to embrace the height and boxiness, rather than trying to disguise itself as a normal hatch. But the box is rounded off in a Panda-esque manner, with a definite whiff of 500 in the detailing. The dash is nicely detailed and jewelled like the 500's too. But unlike the B-Max, all doors hinge open in the time-honoured fashion, and the rear seat slides back and forth.

The 500L is bigger than it looks in pictures, and the sheer volume of it does strike you when you behold it for real. Despite the name, then, it's not a 500 relative, but sits on a new platform, about the length of a Punto but wider.

It's built in Serbia. The Serbian president came to Geneva to bask in the glory of the jobs it created. UK Business Secretary Vince Cable did the same for the Nissan Invitation, which should create 400 jobs at the Nissan Sunderland plant and 1600 among nearby suppliers.

It's a car to replace the Note. It was shown as a concept and it'll doubtless be afflicted with the usual watering-down process before production. More details here.

The Ford's engines are 1.5 and 1.6 diesels plus, among the petrols, the very fine 120bhp 1.0 three-cylinder EcoBoost. Fiat has the TwinAir and MultiAir petrols and its 1.3 diesel. The Nissan is supposed to be able to duck under 100g/km CO2, but being a concept, thinks it's above saying how. An engine? The power of thought alone? Who knows.

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