There are scores of new car models on the market right now, but for people in wheelchairs, the selection is much more limited. Anyone looking for a wheelchair-accessible vehicle has to go to an after-market company, and these companies only work with certain models.
Vans (both mini and full-size) tend to be favored for this role because of their spacious interiors and wide-opening doors, but Ford and converter BraunAbility are offering an alternative.
The BraunAbility MXV is a converted Ford Explorer that the two companies claim is the world's first volume-production, wheelchair-accesible SUV. A concept version was shown earlier this year in Daytona Beach, Florida, but the production model has been changed somewhat to incorporate updates from the face-lifted 2016 Explorer.
Turning a stock Explorer into an MXV involves replacing the conventional passenger-side rear door with power-sliding one, and adding a power ramp with a shallow enough angle for a wheelchair-bound passenger to use. The ramp retracts into the floor when not in use.
Other parts of the interior were rearranged to provide more space, and the door height was lowered for easier ingress and egress. Wheelchair users can drive the car from their wheelchairs, or ride as passengers in either the front or second row.
The MXV uses Ford's naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6, which produces 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. It's one of three engine options on the stock 2016 Explorer, along with the turbocharged EcoBoost 2.3-liter four and 3.5-liter V6.
All Explorer models use a six-speed automatic transmission, and appears this version is only available with front-wheel drive. One option that probably isn't available on most wheelchair-accessible conversions is a towing package, which allows the MXV to tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Beyond that, though, the Explorer's capabilities aren't vastly different from those of a minivan. Ford's best-selling SUV is no longer a truck-based off-roader, after all. Still, owners will look a little cooler in one of these than in a Toyota Sienna, and no matter what the needs of the buyer, a greater array of choices is always a good thing.
Production of the Explorer-based MXV will begin in August. Customers will have to order one from a BraunAbility dealer, rather than one of Ford's dealers.