Ford C-MAX review
The Ford C-MAX is a stylish five-seat MPV offering a great drive, practical interior and decent build quality
Ford has a strong history when it comes to producing MPV's which offer value for money along with a rewarding drive, and the C-Max continues that trend.
It may not be as stylish as the Citroen C4 Picasso or as spacious but it is one of the best MPV's to drive on today's market. That might not be important to some, but being able to transport a family of five and still have some fun behind the wheel is a real bonus.
Elsewhere, the C-MAX is affordable to run and offers enough space inside for any growing family. And if you need something bigger, you can always turn to the Grand C-MAX 7-seater.
The Ford C-MAX has been one of the best all round small MPVs since going on sale in 2003. The second-generation car arrived in 2011, and a mid-life facelift in early 2015 brought updated styling, new tech and revised engines.
Available with five or seven seats, the C-MAX and Grand C-MAX sit above the innovative B-MAX, but below the S-MAX and Galaxy in Ford’s extensive MPV range. There are loads of practical features, and all models feel built to last. There’s a long list of standard equipment, and as with all Fords, safety is number one priority.
Based on the same platform as the popular Ford Focus, it’s no surprise that the C-MAX is good fun to drive. Sharp steering, sporty suspension and punchy engines ensure this is no ordinary MPV. Whether you’re driving alone or with the family, the C-MAX feels solid on the motorway, but involving on a twisting B-road. It shames rivals like the Renault Scenic and Citroen C4 Picasso, as well as trumping the sensible Golf SV, too.
In terms of engines, there's plenty to choose from. Kicking off the range is a 1.6-litre petrol unit with 123bhp. The highlights, though, are Ford’s award-winning 1.0-litre turbocharged EcoBoost engines, available with either 99bhp or 123bhp. There’s also a choice of 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre TDCi diesels, with the lower-powered 118bhp 1.5 expected to be the big seller. Buyers get a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with Ford’s Powershift auto as an option.
Trim levels are easy to choose from, kicking off with the well-equipped C-MAX Zetec. If you want more gadgets then Titanium models offer equipment like the SYNC2 eight-inch touchscreen, while Titanium X models add luxuries like xenon headlamps and part leather seats.
Engines, performance and drive
If you’re looking for a family car that handles as well as most sporty models from other manufacturers, then the Ford C-MAX could be the car for you.
The accurate steering is light enough around town, yet it’s sharp and precise at higher speeds, whether you’re cruising on the motorway or tackling winding country roads. The suspension blends the perfect compromise: it's pliant enough to soften big potholes, but delivers surprisingly engaging handling.
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The grippy front-wheel-drive system and intelligent torque vectoring technology – which sends power to the wheel with most grip – provide tonnes of confidence on the road. The only downside is the firm ride – it’s firmer than a Renault Scenic but it’s not unreasonably harsh over bumps.
The two 1.0 EcoBoost models provide plenty of shove, but if you regularly carry a full set of passengers, then the more powerful diesel might be a better option for you.
Our pick of the range is the entry-level 118bhp 1.5 TDCi diesel, offering a decent amount of power but with the prospect of more than 67mpg. If speed is key, though, the more powerful 2.0-litre version offers a decent slug of torque, and feels much more capable with five people on board. The six-speed manual gearbox is fast and precise, while a twin-clutch Powershift automatic gearbox is also available.
If you're only going to be making shorter journeys the small 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine will be ideal. It packs a decent punch for such a small capacity engine and best of all it will return over 50mpg as long as you don't have a heavy foot.
We'd recommend avoiding the aging 1.6-litre petrol engine. It's slow, noisy and because it isn't turbocharged it has to be worked a lot harder to make any progress. As a result, fuel economy won't be great.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
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If you need a bit more shove, the more powerful 2.0-litre diesel doesn't trail too far behind in terms of efficiency, with Ford claiming 64.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 114g/km meaning £30 a year in road tax.
The tiny 1.0 EcoBoost model returns 55.4mpg and emits 117g/km of CO2, no matter which power output you go for, while the basic 1.6 petrol (only available on the Zetec trim) will do 44mpg and emit 149g/km.
Standard equipment levels are good, so it’s worth steering clear of the options list. It’s long and packed full of desirable kit, but opting for some of it will quickly push the price of your C-MAX sky high. Every C-MAX comes with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty.
The most expensive C-MAX in the range costs from £26,145, which means you do get quite a lot of car for your money. Across the C-MAX lineup, after three years of ownership and 36,000 miles, the car should retain around 40 per cent of its value.
As the units in the C-MAX's engine range have a modest power output, the MPV isn't going to attract high insurance premiums. Insurance groups start from 10 and rise to 22 for the range-topping 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel model.
Interior, design and technology
The C-MAX disguises its MPV proportions well, with a design taking inspiration from the Iosis MAX concept from the 2009 Geneva Motor Show. A 2015 facelift helped smooth lines and bring the people carrier up to date, adding a lightly revised front end and new rear lights.
Following tweaks to the Focus in 2014, the C-MAX has inherited its sibling’s more modern interior, with the same piano-black centre console, smart dials and high-quality materials. Titanium models and above now get the handy SYNC2 touchscreen – though it’s worth noting that sat-nav will cost you extra.
Entry-level Zetec cars come with 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, heated door mirrors, air-con and a DAB radio. Titanium cars get 17-inch alloys, automatic lights and wipers, climate control, a start button and cruise control, while range-topping Titanium X cars add luxuries like xenon headlights, a panoramic sunroof, part-leather seats, heated front seats and a new design of 17-inch alloy wheels.
Options include a Driver Assistance Pack with active city stop, lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition, as well as auto headlights and wipers. There’s also a Convenience Pack with parking aids and powerfold mirrors – but both will set you back more than £500 each.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
A common gripe with a lot of Ford's interiors is the infotainment and navigation system. It looks good enough and displays bright, clear images, but operating it can sometimes be fiddly.
It's a little unresponsive and it's difficult to select the correct menu option while driving as there is a lot of information on a small display. The navigation graphics also look a little bit dated and tuning the radio to the desired station isn't the simple task it should be.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Despite its relatively compact dimensions, the C-MAX is a very practical car. It has 471 litres of boot space – slightly more than the Renault Scenic’s 437 litres, but way down on the Citroen C4 Picasso's 537 litres. With the seats down, load space increases to 1,851 litres.
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The C-MAX can also be ordered with a clever rear bench that splits 40/20/40, which allows you to fold the centre seat and slide the outer seats backwards and inwards to create a more spacious 2+2 layout.
The downsides are that, in three-seat mode, shoulder room is tight in the middle, and although the seats tumble easily, they’re very heavy when you need to remove them. It’s also worth noting that as of 2015, every new C-MAX comes with a space saver spare wheel.
Other notable options are the manufacturer’s Active Park Assist, which automatically parallel parks the car, and a Family Pack, which comes with a powered tailgate and rear sunblinds. The elevated driving position means visibility is excellent, while reach and rake steering makes getting comfy behind the wheel very easy.
At 4,380mm long and 1,828mm wide, the C-MAX is smaller than the Citroen C4 Picasso, which also has a larger boot.
The larger Grand C-MAX measures in at 4,520mm long and 1,828mm wide, around the same size as its main rival, the Renault Grand Scenic (4,573mm long and 1,845mm wide).
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Thanks to the high roofline and generous amounts of knee room, the C-MAX offers comfortable family transport. It can be a bit of a squeeze with three adults in the rear but the two outer rear seats slide backwards independently to create more shoulder room.
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The C-MAX has a decent sized boot at 471 litres. That's about average for the class but if you need even more space, Ford also offers a Grand C-MAX with seven seats and a larger load area when all the seats are folded flat.
Reliability and Safety
When it was tested in 2010, the C-MAX received a full five-star Euro NCAP crash rating. Thanks to safety systems such as traction control, electronic stability protection, brake assist and torque vectoring, the C-MAX scored 71 per cent in the safety assist category. It also scored an impressive 92 per cent in the adult occupant protection category.
Every C-MAX also gets driver, front passenger, side and curtain airbags, as well as Isofix child seat fixings. It ranked at an average 62nd place in this year's Driver Power survey, while Ford came a disappointing 25th out 33 in the manufacturer ratings.
The C-MAX comes with a standard three-year/60,000 mile warranty like the majority of new cars on sale today. However, during the first year mileage is unlimited and only once the second year of ownership commences does the 60,000 mile limit come into effect.
The C-MAX will be no more expensive to service than any of its closest rivals. For peace of mind Ford offers all buyers the option to purchase a three-year servicing plan for the car's first three services for £570.