Ford's C-Max variety show

Continuously variable transmission and turbodiesel common-rail injection. CVT and TDCi. A match made in automotive heaven, or alphabet soup gone wrong?

In theory, a CVT should be the perfect accompaniment to Ford and PSA’s new jointly developed 1.6-litre diesel. We already know this is a refined oil-burner with a solid slug of mid-range torque – and the belt-drive auto should mean it sits in the twist zone for more of the time.

So it happens in practice. A prod of the throttle is enough to send the engine spinning to 3200rpm, where the engine is still near the top of its torque band, and in true CVT fashion it stays there until your overtaking manoeuvre is complete.

This is borne out in Ford’s performance figures, too. From 31-62mph through the gears takes a scant 7.9sec – making the 1.6 TDCi CVT the quickest C-Max in real-world acceleration. The equivalent manual version takes a more leisurely 12.1sec.

As with all CVTs, the constant engine note and revs as you accelerate can be disconcerting at first if you’re used to torque-convertor automatics, but you readily adapt to the jerk-free system.

It’s good on the road, but the CVT ’box is less persuasive when you sit down and crunch the numbers. For a start, you pay a £1100 premium and it adds 32kg to the kerbweight. Economy suffers, dropping 8mpg over the manual version, although it’s still a respectable 49.6mpg on the combined cycle. CO2 emissions are higher, too, jumping from 129g/km to 151g/km.

Do the sums and it’s not hard to see that, while the CVT model remains a cheap-to-run midi-MPV in outright terms, it cannot compete with its manually geared sibling – especially if you pay company car tax and your own fuel bills.The rest of the C-Max package is still one of the best medium-sized people carriers around. Ours was a poverty-spec LX model with an abundance of black plastic and not much kit, but it failed to disguise a well thought-out car.

It rides, steers and handles as well as many hatchbacks and has a roomy cabin and enormous boot. Just do the sums before you pick the CVT box.

Tim Pollard

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