Launch report:

Ford C-MAX (2011) review

by Tom Stewart (22 November 2010)

The original C-MAX, launched in 2002, was a decent enough car, but it lacked the zest and sparkle that has since made its bigger S-MAX brother such a soaraway success. So, cue the all-new, second generation C-MAX which boasts much improved styling, new and improved engines, new technologies, a new chassis and, not least, a new seven-seater version – the Grand C-MAX – which has sliding rear doors, clever seating flexibility and, with a 140mm longer wheelbase and 58mm more height, added interior space.

But let's start with the C-MAX's new chassis which is essentially the same as that of the all-new Focus that is due to be launched in early 2011. (In time this global C-segment platform will underpin at least ten different models or derivatives.) As you might imagine, it's a significantly stiffer, stronger structure than before and this has helped improve not just the driving dynamics with improved steering and suspension performance, but also helps reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

No doubt about it, the new C-MAX, whether a five- or seven-seater, is quiet, refined and taut. It rides very well, steers faithfully and is an accomplished and rewarding driving machine. Contrary to the beliefs of motor industry marketing types, I've yet to meet any mum or dad who expects or even wants their MPV to handle like a sports car, but if you are one of those then the C-MAX won't disappoint.

Ford Grand C-MAX Interior.The new C-MAX and Grand C-MAX are available in two trim levels (Zetec and Titanium) and prices start at £16,745 for the former and £18,745 for the latter. Standard equipment on both includes 16" alloys, air-conditioning, a Thatcham alarm, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity with voice control.

The Grand version also adds those sliding rear doors, two third-row seats, remote child door locks, rear parking sensors and a second-row centre seat that folds away into the base of the offside seat next to it, thus making a kid's walk-through space from middle to rear or vice versa. As on the previous C-MAX, with the middle second-row seat folded away, Ford's optional Comfort System allows the two outer second-row seats to slide backwards diagonally to create a roomier 2+2 layout.

Other equipment available includes satnav, a Sony DAB audio system, a Blind Spot Information System, a speed limiter, a powered tailgate, a rear view camera, a panoramic glass roof and Active Park Assist which not only selects a suitably sized space, but automatically steers the car into it. It's uncanny, but amazingly, it works.

Petrol engines available in the new C-MAX models are 104bhp, 123bhp and 148bhp 1.6-litre units, while the diesel choice is either a 113bhp 1.6 or a 138bhp two-litre, the larger being available with Ford's twin-clutch PowerShift auto transmission.

Both the six-speed manual diesels are more-than-adequately grunty on the road, and although the 1.6 TDCi that I drove is no rocketship (114mph max), its 61.4 combined mpg and 119g/km figures have definite appeal. (All figures quoted are for the marginally faster and more economic/greener five-seater.) The two-litre TDCi is quite a little performer, both in the real world and on paper with a quoted 0-62mph in 9.6 secs and a 125mph top speed.

Sadly the new 148bhp 135mph Ecoboost petrol version wasn't at the press launch, and nor was the 104bhp variant, although that's probably a good thing because the 123bhp petrol motor could easily be mistaken for a engine with at least 20bhp less. It's smooth, sounds sweet and revs freely if not under load, but it can really struggle up hills, frequently requires a lower gear (unlike the torquey six-speed diesels, this one only has five forward ratios), and it needs a lot of clear road ahead for any overtaking. In short, this 123bhp petrol borders on being feeble and so it's not an engine I can recommend. And, by presumption, nor would the 103bhp version be either.

Ford C-MAX Interior.As mentioned, the C-MAX has been completely restyled throughout and it takes a real nit-picker to find fault with its exterior aesthetics. On the launch I did hear a colleague make mild criticism of the Grand C-MAX's angular and van-like rear end, but looking at the photos as I write I reckon Ford has done a fine job of the front, side, rear and all points in between.

The interior is impressive too. It's comfortable and spacious, with ample head and legroom – unless, that is, you're an adult squished into either of the Grand's two small third-row seats or into the smaller second-row middle seat. The instrument and centre console design is bold, cutting-edge and attractive, while the quality, fit, finish and feel of the interior fabrics and plastics are all beyond reproach.

According to Ford the company has sold 130,000 C-MAXs over the past eight years. Based on my day with the new models I expect it will easily top that figure by 2019, although if you're a potential C-MAX buyer I'd advise you take an out-of-town test drive before signing on the dotted line for either of the lower-power petrol-engined variants.

445stars

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