First Drive: Ford C-Max

This car is crucial in more ways than one. Its primary purpose is to replace the outgoing C-Max, Ford’s compact MPV and therefore one of its more important models competing for the business of expanding families everywhere. But what isn’t quite so obvious is that the C-Max also gives us a sneaky peek at what the next generation Focus is going to be like – so pay close attention.

The first thing to note is that the new C-Max is far more distinctive than the outgoing model. Thankfully Ford is right in the middle of a period where it is building cars that look and feel modern right from the moment you first set eyes on them, and in spite of the fact that this is car primarily designed to be practical it has enough about it to make you want to find out more.

It’s also important to point out that Ford is offering the latest C-Max in two flavours: regular and Grand. If you have the need or just want the extra space, the Grand C-Max offers a seven-seat configuration with the added bonus of sliding rear doors, which helps make the trip to the rear a little less fraught. But it’s the standard C-Max with five seats and conventional rear doors that is the least expensive way in.

Climb into the box seat and it’s hard not to be immediately impressed with the cabin. The word ‘premium’ gets used far too often now by manufacturers who really shouldn’t go near it, but the C-Max proves that even at this relatively modest price point there is a entitlement to be slightly smug. It’s a relatively busy layout, with intersecting lines and unusual angles, but it’s all the better for it. The way the dashboard is stacked puts the handsome Sony audio system at a nice accessible height, with the climate controls and assorted accessories below. There’s even an automated park assist technology which operates instinctively and effortlessly for quick and easy parallel parking.

All the materials you come into contact with feel of a high quality too, and although it’s mostly grey there are some brighter elements to it. Just as a small example, the thumb wheels used to open and close the air vents are ringed with bright chrome-effect trim but the part you touch is rubberised and so easy to use: it may be a small thing but how you interact with your car is a key factor to how you feel about it. Elements like this show Ford has been paying attention.

It’s well equipped in there too. The second-generation C-Max has a slimmed-down model range with just Zetec and Titanium trim, but even the Zetec model has all the kit you would want to have: 16in alloys, manual air conditioning, a leather steering wheel and a slick audio system with DAB, Bluetooth (for your phone and audio streaming) and USB connectivity.

This is all window-dressing however, because arguably the most important thing is how the C-Max swallows you and yours. Thankfully it’s more good news here too. Up front there is plenty of head and legroom, plus lots of storage space: the storage box beneath the armrest is virtually deep enough to swallow a bottle of wine. In the back there’s more of the same – it can swallow a six-footer with ease – as well as useful under-floor storage. The five-seat version also means a permanently capacious boot which although not particularly long, is deep and tall: over 600 litres of space is available with all the seats in place.

So the C-Max is attractive, well-equipped, practical and spacious and has a quality feel – all things you can get elsewhere, to a greater or lesser extent. But this is a Ford of course, which means it has the potential to offer a driving experience much more pleasing than the norm. To a large extent it does too. From the first few metres you can tell that the C-Max has been finely honed like all the best Fords, displayed in the measured, weighty responses of the steering and the other major controls.

The balance between ride and handling is perfectly judged: in fact it’s hard to understand why rivals that ride as well as the C-Max don’t handle in the same way, because the Ford clearly destroys the notion that a good ride comes at the expense of handling. A car this practical shouldn’t be so much fun to drive.

The entry-level diesel is the 1.6-litre TDCi unit offering 113bhp and a useful 199lb.ft of torque, which manages the remarkable feat of offering respectable performance (114mph and 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds) with truly impressive economy and emissions: 61.4mpg combined and 119g/km is very impressive. Out on the road it pulls well enough, but in an ideal world the beefier 2.0-litre diesel is the engine of choice.

Smarter, sharper, better to drive and more lavishly equipped, the new C-Max is packed with improvements and puts a considerable distance between it and the car it replaces. In an industry and a segment where progress is everything, the C-Max really is pushing hard to be at the head of the pack.

Ford C-Max 1.6 TDCi Zetec, £16,745
Engine: 1.6-litre diesel producing 113bhp and 199lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 114mph, 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds
Economy: 61.4mpg combined
Emissions: 119g/km of C02

By Matt Joy

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