While multipurpose vehicles and sedans have been faltering recently at the onslaught of the never ending roster of SUVs and crossovers, the fact is families with kids will enjoy and find it more useful to have a purposely built vehicle.
This is part of the reason why Ford is among the European automakers with the biggest presence in the segment of MPVs – reaching from the subcompact B-Max to the large S-Max and Galaxy lines. The C-Max has been slotted in the middle, alongside its longer Grand C-Max brother. And while other carmakers are backing out of the segments, delivering crossovers instead – just look at Renault’s Espace, which was the prototype of the van segment in Europe and is now a cross…over. There’s nothing wrong about having more crossovers, but Ford is actually working in that direction diligently as well – they have the EcoSport, the Kuga and will bring to Europe the Edge – after pitting it in its second generation as a global model.
You might wonder why Ford is looking to spread its forces throughout the segments, covering all the possible grounds if that fractions the line and customer base. While others are on the retreat, Ford is aiming to bring Ford of Europe back to positive financial results by way of implementing the One Ford strategy even further – almost every model will have the same architecture around the world and will maximize spread to make up regional losses. We’ll see if this is a winning strategy, but so far it has worked very well for them – remember this is the only American automaker to survive the financial crisis without help from the US government to survive bankruptcy reorganization.
Back to our C-Max under review, the compact MPV has dropped the Focus C-Max moniker to make it a viable standalone offering, and is now in its second generation – also with a recently performed facelift. Yes, Ford likes to call now all of its refreshed models new, but let’s face it – it’s the same case as with the Focus, we’re looking here at a mid-life management update.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
The “new” C-Max falls in line with the B-Max, S-Max and Galaxy – all the MPVs in the Ford range share a common design pool, which is a bit different from the regular Focus or Mondeo, for example and features a wider gap with the SUV/crossover lineup (which is actually yet to feature a unified design language). The B-Max, C-Max, S-Max and Galaxy all feature elements that are similar in design: the headlight and taillight shapes as well as the large radiator grille. If you look closely you’ll easily spot the differences between them and the Focus or Mondeo for example, but together they’re unmistakably part of the current Ford design philosophy.
And for the C-Max that includes a large grille, with swept-back headlights and taillights that eschew the usual vertical treatment of today’s crop of SUVs/ crossovers and even MPVs in favor of a more traditional design. The lines are simple and elegant, making do without unnecessary additions that have come to clutter some modern designs just for the sake of standing out from the crowd. I saw many of the latter actually standing out from the crowd in a bad way and the C-Max is actually pretty easy to spot exactly because it doesn’t employ a forced design. We do have a regular MPV profile, which could be boring to some, but then again a family car has never – or at least should never try – to morph into something it’s not. So, the styling is pretty elegant, having been enhanced following the facelift, which adds pretty subtle but effective changes – to the front bumper, fog lights, and especially front grille treatment. On the side and in the back the changes are ever so subtle, with minor details changed to harmonize the assembly better.
Moving inside the cabin, we can easily see the advances – as Ford has been widely criticized for the line of interiors it had adopted back when the decade started. We’re finally free of the cluttered center stack even though the whole dashboard design has been kept pretty much the same. We’re not yet entirely free of the goofy-looking Wall-E-styled instrument dial covers, but that hasn’t happened either in the Focus compact, so I guess we’ll just have to wait for the next generation. We have here the current layout of the Ford vehicles equipped with the Sync 2 (powered by Microsoft, the new Sync 3 has made the switch to Blackberry’s QNX) infotainment system – a large touchscreen display making do with a lot fewer buttons than before, as all actions can be performed on the touch display and the buttons are for easy (and redundant) access. Actually they come pretty much handy since the C-Max display is buried into the center stack and it’s not easily reachable sometimes.
We’re also treated to better materials, though the classic German style is always present – grey and black is the norm throughout the cabin, with some silver accents for the sake of elegancy. Nothing to comment here, as the cabin has jumped a class compared to the C-Max before the facelift, not only in terms of materials, but also finishes and especially interior noise. One thing I noticed about MPVs is they’re never quite quiet – but the C-Max has been very well isolated from the outside noises. There’s another interesting bit – I generally dislike MPVs because they have an awkward driving position – though the C-Max made a surprise here with a position very close to what can be found in the Focus. The front seats are also comfy and offer more lateral support then I would need in a regular MPV, which is a nice addition.
The back seat will easily house three adults or kids with their own special seats (I have two of the latter, so this has become an issue with al test drive cars), and since we’re talking here about a compact van there’s nothing to comment about knee, elbow and head space. I do have a negative comment about the bench – which is actually made of three separate seats, because they are not as modular as one would expect in the class – no forward slide or tilt operations. Meanwhile, there’s a spacious trunk that will take whatever you throw at it, thanks to the 471 / 1723 liters available.
Also of note are the compact overall dimensions of the C-Max, which is courtesy of it being available in two sizes – just like the Renault Scenic – with the larger brother being the seven-seat Grand C-Max. In terms of main competitors, the French automaker’s offering will also be the main danger, even though Ford is clearly targeting its German foe, the Volkswagen Touran. But since so many automakers have decided to rely on fewer MPV models, most of them have migrated to the top of the class to easily make the switch from five to seven seats. As such, the C-Max has remained under 4,4 meters long alongside the Renault Scenic while the Touran is at 4,52; the Citroen C4 Picasso at 4,42 and the Toyota Verso at 4,46 meters (I decided to exclude models such as the Zafira Tourer which is significantly bigger – at 4,65 meters).
Engine, Transmission and Handling
The tested C-Max used the flagship powertrain available throughout Europe – a two-liter diesel churning out 150 horsepower and 370 Nm, on par with the aforementioned main foe, the VW Touran 2.0 TDI sporting 150 HP and 340 Nm. Here it bests the regular Scenic, which comes with a maximum of 130 horsepower and automatic transmission availability with this engine is market dependant. We all know the US automaker has a great relationship when it comes to diesel powertrains with PSA Peugeot Citroen, which is why there’s no surprise the engine is exactly the same with the one used by the C4 Picasso or the Peugeot 3008. And this is a great thing, since the French are experts in diesel engines (for years their market was very prone to the technology and encouraged their continue development) and what we have here is a great offering.
Since Ford did such a great job isolating the interior from outside noise they did an equal job isolating it from vibrations – actually the only times I was aware that under the hood sat a diesel was under heavy acceleration loads, when it hummed like a powerhouse thanks to the mighty torque available between 2000 and 2500 rpm. Mated to the six-speed automatic – actually a six speed double-clutch sequential (yet another nod to the Touran and VW’s DSG), the C-Max proved an excellent all-rounder. You can use the car in crowded cities, where you’ll be thankful for the automatic’s convenience and you can also embark on longer journeys. That’s because the Powershift is a true six-speeder and not a gearbox that has six points just for marketing – meaning at highway speeds you won’t be looking worried at the rpm indicator.
That’s great news both for that interior silence and also for the fuel consumption – which is of 4,8 liters on average. You’re not going to reach this kind of fuel economy easily but real life driving puts it pretty close thanks to the long sixth-gear ratio (making longer journeys economical) and start/stop system that pars the engine’s thirst while in the city. Related to the gearbox I do have a complaint – the awkwardly positioned +/- manual selection (two buttons on the lever itself), which I never used anyways – thankfully when you’re feeling dynamical (that’s when daddy has to do the shopping alone) you can just use the “Sport” setup of the transmission.
Ride and handling is pretty much on par with what Ford has achieved lately – if you’re asking fans of the first generation Focus it has been constantly toned down in terms of sportiness. But in the light of modern driving, the Fords are actually delivering the best compromise possible. I have driven all Focus generations and indeed the handling department lacks the keen input we used to see in the Focus MkI – but comfort has gone up two levels. The C-Max, just like its Focus brethren, is today and excellent all-rounder – though being an MPV and having a higher center of gravity will penalize a bit more the dynamics than with the hatch. As such, the C-Max is a safe and comfortable family-oriented model, which is ready to reward mommy and the kids with a smooth and quiet ride regardless of city or highway travel. On the other hand, if daddy or mommy feel sporty and are able to remember that such vehicles are not for race track use, it can abide and provide a suitable sporty experience – as the safety assistance systems are there to provide backup. Speaking of the latter, the Ford uses one of the most advanced/intruding lane keeping assist systems – it will warn and even steer the car back into its own lane. It’s not a driverless feature, tough, as the system prompts you to always keep your hands on the steering and will disable if you don’t.
Performance wise, the C-Max will reach 100 km/h (62 mph) in 10,3 seconds and top out at 202 km/h – which is just average if you compare it to the Touran – which sports a 9.3 seconds time and 206 km/h top speed. The Scenic and Toyota Verso for example are naturally behind, since they are also underpowered (130 hp and 115 hp, respectively), while the C4 Picasso and Peugeot 3008 are also feistier than the relaxed C-Max.
Pro: simple and clear design, lots of interior space for its dimensions and better materials. The powertrain is a top choice, bringing relaxed long journeys and less stressful town travels. Gearbox is smooth and quick enough, with top level for interior noise and vibration cancelation across the powertrain.
Against: the rear bench individual seats could have been more modular, the Sync 2 system still needs the driver to get used to its workings, the gearbox has an awkward manual setup.
Starting price – Ford C-Max 1.0 EcoBoost 100 M6 Trend – 18,250 EUR
Tested Version – Ford C-Max 2.0 TDCi 150 DPF Powershift Titanium – 24,250 EUR
Engine: 2.0L four cylinder, diesel, direct injection, variable geometry turbo, intercooler, start/stop (1997 cc)
Power: 150 HP (110 kW) at 3500 rpm
Torque: 370 Nm at 2,000 – 2,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed dual clutch automatic
Dimensions: length – 4,379 mm, width – 1,828mm, height – 1,610 mm, wheelbase – 2,648 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 53xL
Trunk Capacity: 471/ 1723 liters
Weight: 1519 kg
0 – 100 km/h: 10,3 s
Top Speed: 202 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 5,5L/100 km, highway – 4,4L/100 km, average – 4,8L/100 km
Rating: 4.3 / 5