From £23,7008
EcoBoost engine makes the tidiest-handling MPV all the more pleasing to drive – but it could be more frugal

What is it?

Among all the quirky alternatives and added-value sensible options, the apparently ordinary Ford C-Max — which faces an ongoing struggle to stand out as a compact MPV.

It succeeds by being widely renowned as the ‘have-cake-and-eat-it’ choice: the practical high-rise family hatchback that handles damn near as tidily as any ‘normal’ five-door.

And now that Ford’s three-cylinder turbo Ecoboost petrol engine has been added to the C-Max range, there’s another reason for this well-judged car to appeal to interested drivers.

Just as it has across the Focus, Fiesta and B-Max ranges, this characterful little three-pot evens up the odds in the petrol-vs-diesel debate. It makes for a C-Max petrol that’s a lot more flexible and bit more refined than the equivalent diesel, as well as cheaper to buy, cheaper to insure and cheaper on company car tax. 

It's even one that’s more enjoyable to drive than your run-of-the-mill oil-burner, too.

What's it like?

Despite the relatively scant difference in claimed economy figures, Ford’s EcoBoost engine isn’t a match for a good diesel on fuel economy out in the real world.

That’s not to say it’s thirsty in the C-Max. Our test car returned just under 40mpg over several days of mixed use. A small-capacity diesel, we suspect, could beat that by 25 per cent: more for those who spend plenty of hours on the motorway. Diesel’s still about eight per cent more expensive at the pump, so some of that’s offset – but not all of it.

Still, if you’ve got the kind of low-mileage service in mind that would render that economy gap inconsequential – and as second cars, many C-Maxes will perform exactly so – there’s an outstanding case here.

The engine’s smooth and quiet at low revs, but its chief virtue is range: it’ll pull stoutly from well under 1500rpm right the way through to 5500- with incredible linearity and almost entirely without high-frequency vibration. A peak 98bhp clearly isn’t going to make the car fast, but it is responsive and easy to drive. It seems unrealistic to expect more than that of a car like this.

The C-Max’s taut, fleet-footed handling remains an equally outstanding reason to buy, provided you’re inclined to value it. Without compromising ride comfort, the chassis tune makes for impressive body control. There are strong grip levels too, the steering’s direct and meaty, and all three things – in tandem with the willing engine – make this car a pleasing, spry sort of steer.

On practicality, while it might seem that an MPV without seven seats is like a sink without a tap, the car delivers a surprising amount. Compared with what you get in a regular five-door, the higher seating position, greater headroom, larger doors and bigger boot would all come in very handy during day-to-day family use.

With the second row in place, the boot offers more space than either a five-seat Toyota Verso or a Renault Scenic; it’s particularly deep and will swallow a pushchair with room to spare.

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Should I buy one?

Probably. The Ford C-Max remains Autocar’s favourite compact MPV for all the reasons above, and because it’s competitively priced. It’s not an eccentric – just a good car. It's smooth, flexible, practical, cheap to run and it doesn't drive like an MPV.

With the addition of the downsized EcoBoost petrol powerplant, it's an even more appealing overall package - albeit one that's not quite as frugal as the diesel equivalent. 

One thing that's worth looking out for, however, is the diagonally sliding rear seats. They're a £200 option on a mid-spec car, and mean you can’t have a spacesaver spare wheel – but they’re a clever feature and worth having.

Ford C-Max 1.0T EcoBoost Titanium

Price: £19,845; 0-62mph 12.6sec; Top speed 108mph: Economy 55.4mpg; CO2 117g/km; Kerb weight 1391kg; Engine 3 cyls, 999cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 98bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 125lb ft at 1500-4500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

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HotPotato 10 June 2013

Hopefully you get the Hybrid version soon.

Here in the US, we get the Hybrid version instead. Apparently, soon Europe will too. (And it has the Aston nose -- nicer looking.) 2-liter gas engine, whopping big electric motor. 0-60 in a hair over 7 seconds and claimed 47 MPG economy (more like 39 in the real world). Fantastic car. I don't mind a good TDI (I drove a VW TDI MPV while in Europe) but the C-Max hybrid's silent, vibration-free, pollution-free operation under light load, and the faint spaceship whine of the electric motor accelerating, are addictive. I do wish they'd let us have the Grand C-Max though -- we only get the stubby one.

A34 6 June 2013

Choices choices

... Looks like Ford are offering the 1.0 in both 100 and 120 bhp levels. Given the weight and role of the CMax one wonders if they couldn't have just focused on one torque-optimised state of tune. And Ford's accountants must be muttering whether they really need 4 petrol engine choices when the Koreans get away with just one? 

Aussierob 6 June 2013

1000 quid cheaper

The point of a 1,0 litre Ford is that it's £1000 cheaper than the diesel equivalent for the same performance. It's also 1000 times nicer to drive, has fewer parts to service and go wrong, and petrol is cheaper and easier to find then diesel. Why would anyone buy diesel? Because they hate their fellow man and want to poison him with diesel particulates?

Flatus senex 6 June 2013

. It all comes from the same barrel of crude oil.

Aussierob wrote:

The point of a 1,0 litre Ford is that it's £1000 cheaper than the diesel equivalent for the same performance. It's also 1000 times nicer to drive, has fewer parts to service and go wrong, and petrol is cheaper and easier to find then diesel. Why would anyone buy diesel? Because they hate their fellow man and want to poison him with diesel particulates?

Sorry I have news for you. It all comes from the same barrel of crude oil. Gas oil (diesel fuel) is a portion of crude oil as are the lighter fractions (gasoline etc.). Some gas oil I believe gets converted by catalytic cracking into gasoline (petrol). What proportion of each fuel gets sold is up to the oil companies and how they have set up their refineries. Crude oil from different sources  varies in composition as well of course.

Its suits car manufacturers to produce cheap, rule cheating, petrol engines which don't actually deliver the promised economiies. They then pray to the reactionaries for support. There are plenty of those around.

As for petrol being nicer to drive I have to disagree. This was once true but a good modern diesel (they vary dramatically between makers) is a far better proposition than its petrol equivalent. Turning over at about two-thirds the rpm of a petrol equivalent there are obvious benefits to refinement. My own diesel car was once described to me by a passenger as the quietest smoothest vehicle she travelled in.

I have read the silliest things about dual mass flywheels. One person complained bitterly that his broke because, when driving at well over the speed limit, he spotted a speed camera and jammed the vehicle into a low gear in an attempt to bring speed down in a hurry! Any machinery is liable to break if subjected to such gross abuse.