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Ford C-MAX 1.6-litre Titanium

We pit the new C-MAX against two of the most capable small people carriers on the market in the shape of the Vauxhall Meriva and Renault's Scenic - how does it compare?

There’s a lot riding on the C-MAX. Not only does it face some very stiff competition in the compact MPV sector, it also gives us an indication of how the new Focus will shape up. It shares its platform with Ford’s hotly anticipated family car, so a strong performance here bodes well for the future.

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First impressions are mixed, as the C-MAX is smart rather than stylish – a criticism you can also level at both rivals. The most ungainly thing about the Ford is its high roofline. Climb aboard, and the cabin provides plenty of space. Titanium trim brings lots of kit, with climate control and Bluetooth standard. Both are optional extras on the top-spec Meriva SE, while the Scenic Dynamique TomTom has Bluetooth, sat-nav and rear sun blinds as standard.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Ford C-MAX

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The C-MAX trails the Renault for ultimate versatility. For example, its rear seats don’t slide back and forth to boost luggage space and the front passenger seat won’t fold flat as in the Scenic, so the French car makes more sense if you want to carry long loads. There’s little outright difference on space, though, as the Ford’s 432-litre boot is only five litres behind in terms of capacity.

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In contrast, the Meriva offers a luggage area of 400 litres – although it’s the only car with a flat load area when the back seats are folded, and also has a false boot floor. The Ford and Renault feature traditional MPV seats, which fold in half and tumble forwards to liberate extra room. They can even be removed to give maximum cargo space.

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Rear passengers will be happiest in the Scenic as it has marginally more leg and shoulder space than the C-MAX. It’s also the only car here with three equally sized independent seats across the back. The Ford offers just as many storage cubbies, with big door pockets and underfloor stowage areas in the rear – although the latter feature long lids, which extend beneath the front seats, and that makes accessing them awkward in a hurry.

Overall, the C-MAX’s interior has a high-quality feel that’s on a par with the smaller Vauxhall. The Renault trails in this respect. Its fussy stereo controls and cheap, centrally mounted digital instruments are frustrating.

The Scenic has the last laugh under the bonnet. Why? Although it costs a few pounds less to buy than the normally aspirated 123bhp 1.6-litre Ford, at £18,720, it comes with a 130bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre engine. The C-MAX also trails both its rivals in this test on torque, generating 159Nm to the Vauxhall’s 175Nm and Renault’s 190Nm. As a result, the new Ford feels much slower on the road. 

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This impression was confirmed at the test track, where it took 12.1 seconds to complete the sprint from 0-60mph – nearly two seconds longer than the Scenic. Load it full of people, and this gap will feel even greater. All is not lost for the Ford because its smooth petrol engine is a joy to use. While the unit doesn’t have the same urgency as its turbocharged competitors, it’s willing and refined.

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It’s well isolated from the cabin, too, so it never feels strained or noisy – even at high cruising speeds, where it needs more revs than the other cars in this test. High-speed refinement is very good – and this was proven by our noise meter readings. 

What the Ford lacks in performance it aims to make up for in dynamic excellence. And it largely succeeds, as it delivers the most polished handling on test, with well weighted and accurate steering, keen responses and lots of grip. The Renault is no slouch, though. It’s livelier, and feels every bit as agile and fun, only without the Ford’s precisely tuned steering and sharp body control. 

The Meriva is unexciting, but its safe and predictable handling won’t upset anyone. The C-MAX pays the price for its more enjoyable driving experience with a firmer ride. While this is fine at cruising pace, at low speeds it strays too far towards the sporty end of the spectrum for our liking. 

On the whole the new Ford is a very capable car, but we think buyers of petrol models will be better aiming for the 148bhp EcoBoost turbocharged engine.

Details

Chart position: 2
WHY: Five-seater C-MAX picks up where previous car left off, with smart looks and sharp dynamics.

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