The second-generation Ford C-Max replaced a model which caused controversy when it first launched. It was only offered as a five-seater, while rivals could sell you a seven-seat MPV for the same money.
Ford has redressed that in part with the second-generation C-Max. This model, simply called C-Max, is still strictly a five-seat MPV; if you need two extra seats or considerably more load space, then you’ll find that in the seven-seat Grand C-Max – essentially the same car but stretched a little for a roomier cabin.
This new five-seater C-Max keeps the previous version's clever seating system which allows the centre rear seat to fold under the left-hand seat, and the pair to move diagonally inwards and back, to give four-seat luxury.
In 2015, the C-Max got a mild facelift giving it a sleeker looking exterior, a new dashboard, more multimedia entertainment capability and a range of new engines.
Trim level and engine options are kept relatively simple. The C-Max is available in either Zetec, Titanium or Titanium X trim, and with a choice of six engines. There’s a 1.6-litre petrol available with either 123bhp and a five-speed manual 'box, while the rest of the petrol range is made up of either 99bhp or 123bhp versions of Ford's 1.0-litre, three-cylinder Ecoboost engine. As for diesel engines there are three choices either a 1.5-litre TDCi producing 103bhp or 117bhp and a 2.0-litre diesel which produces 148bhp. Gearboxes are five-speed manual with the non-turbo 1.6-litre petrols, or six-speed with the rest. The 2.0-litre TDCI also gets the option of Fords’s excellent Powershift auto ’box
The 1.6-litre TDCi is the eco champ of the range with claimed combined economy of 61.4mpg and CO2 emissions of just 119g/km, but it’s not the most satisfying to use. It isn’t an intuitive engine to get the best from and needs thought and care when timing rapid getaways from junctions. The 2.0-litre diesel, however, is impressively smooth and refined, with typical torque from low down. It works brilliantly with the Powershift gearbox, too.
Don't discount the entry-level 1.6-litre petrol unit though. It's surprisingly sweet for around town; only on the motorway does it get buzzy. Which is where the 1.0-litre Ecoboost engines come in with its incredible flexibility and refinement that belies its small capcity.
The C-Max rides on a chassis Ford uses to underpin cars of this size on across the globe, although some of the suspension components themselves are from the second-generation Focus models. However, every facet has been re-thought and new technology, such as dampers with better valving and a bigger diameter, is included. Suspension parts have been judiciously lightened, suspension mounts have been stiffened and the car has a wider track at both ends. There's a new electric power steering system, now that Ford is happy EPAS can deliver decent feel, and the steering rack has been quickened.
Focus and C-Max drivers will find the cars familiar, but they will note improvements. Most of the 1.6-litre models have a new, sweeter-shifting six-speed manual, which is also 30 per cent lighter than its predecessor. The cars are quieter in powertrain, wind and road noise than their predecessors.
They ride more smoothly and the excellent steering is sensitive and conveniently high-geared. There's a sense that these Ford products are the first to be tested in every major world market, and its engineering teams have spared no effort to make them ready.
There are three trim levels to choose from - Zetec, Titanium and Titanium X. The entry-level models get sport-style front seats, Ford's Quickclear heated windscreen, air conditioning, DAB radio, hill start assist and heated door mirrors. Upgrade to Titanium and you get Ford's 8.0in Sync 3 touchscreen infotainment system, auto lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, and keyless entry and start, while those wanting the range-topping Titantium X models get luxuries such as a part leather interior, bi-xenon headlights, a panoramic sunroof and heated front seats.
This C-Max is almost certainly the class leader in terms of driver involvement, but that isn’t the car's only talent. If you don't need the extra seats and interior space offered by the Grand but you want more space than you’ll find in a Focus or Golf hatchback, then it's hard not to recommend this excellent five-seat version.
But there's plenty of competition at this price, so think carefully about whether a high-rise hatch is for you when there are full-size estates available for similar money. That said, if the C-Max’s brand of domestic transport suits your lifestyle then it won't disappoint.