If the new Mercedes B-Class
wants to take the compact MPV crown, it has to beat the Ford C-MAX
. This five-seat people carrier is a firm Auto Express favourite, thanks to its blend of value, space and entertaining driving dynamics.
Although the C-Max isn’t as eye-catching as the handsome B-Class, it’s more distinctive than the bland Golf. Range-topping Titanium trim adds 17-inch alloys, while our test car was given a further visual boost by the Mars Red metallic paint finish (£525). But the designers have clearly worked hardest on the cabin.
The bold dashboard is fussy compared to the slick Mercedes and sensible VW designs, but it’s well laid-out and solidly built. What’s more, there’s plenty of standard kit to play with, including a Sony DAB radio, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control and ambient lighting that gives the cabin a classy red glow at night. The driving position is excellent and the seats are comfortable on long journeys.
Yet it’s the spaciousness and flexibility of the C-MAX’s interior that stand out. Even taller passengers get plenty of room to stretch out in, while the boot has a low loading lip and a roomy 471-litre capacity. Although the rear bench doesn’t slide, the three seats fold separately, or can be removed altogether to leave a vast 1,723 litres of luggage space.
There are many more clever touches, such as the aircraft-style fold-out tables on the front seatbacks and the extra rear-view mirror that allows you to keep an eye on kids in the back. There’s also loads of storage, including large door bins that are rubber-lined to prevent items from rattling around inside them.
You won’t hear much commotion from under the bonnet, either, as the C-MAX’s 138bhp 2.0-litre TDCi diesel is the most refined here. Sadly, it’s also the slowest: the Ford was outgunned in all our performance tests, needing 9.7 seconds to cover 0-60mph, which is three-tenths longer than the VW.
Our test car was fitted with the slick PowerShift twin-clutch gearbox. It’s smooth and effortless, but increases the C-MAX’s CO2 emissions to 149g/km. The six-speed manual version will be a better choice for most, as it’s £1,250 cheaper and emits 10g/km less CO2.
Whichever you choose, you get the same brilliant balance between ride and handling. Direct, well weighted steering, excellent body control and strong grip mean the Ford is fun on a twisty back road, while the supple, quiet and effective suspension soaks up bumps. Add great refinement, and the C-MAX is the most comfortable long-distance cruiser here.
Even with its optional PowerShift gearbox, the Ford is also the cheapest of our trio. This version will appeal less to company buyers – they’ll pay £210 more a year in tax, at £1,985, than those who choose the B-Class. A manual car would be more cost-effective, but either way, the C-MAX looks hard to beat overall.
Chart position: 1WHY: C-MAX looks classy and has sharp handling and a practical cabin. Plus, even our dual-clutch PowerShift car is keenly priced.