Ford Focus C-MAX

Sold as the people carrier for people who don't want one, is the Ford Focus C-MAX a tempting used buy?

Whichever way you look at it, Ford was late to the compact MPV scene. And even when it arrived, the new Focus C-MAX didn't offer seven seats in a class that demanded genuine versatility.

Marketing men worked around this, selling the car as the people carrier for those who didn't want a people carrier. Styling was sporty, the cabin stylish and the drive as good as anything offered by the competition. The C-MAX also had a modern engine range, with 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesels among the best in class.

Most used examples are found in Ford's dealer network, and many are ex-rental or end-of-contract fleet models. This keeps prices high, with a only a handful of cars costing less than £10k.

Best-value trims are LX or Zetec - only the latter gets the clever sliding three-seat rear bench, which can be arranged to sacrifice the centre chair to give limo legroom for two. Avoid base Studio models, as equipment is miserly.

Checklist

  • Handbrake: models with electronic parking brakes have suffered problems with a false dash message saying it has failed. The brake can sometimes stick on, too.
  • Lights: bad headlamp alignment is a common fault on top-spec cars with xenons. It's caused by internal problems with the light unit. Post-warranty repairs are costly.
  • Engine: some early 2.0-litre TDCis have ECU problems, causing poor running. Try the car across its entire rev range and be wary of hesitancy, jerks or exhaust smoke.
  • Electrics: Ford dealers have 'technical service bulletins' to cure wandering radio clock times, fuel gauge faults and a flat spot at 1,700rpm with TDCi diesels. Mention this to your garage and it will sort it.
  • Trim: some cabin rattles are down to loose covers in rear. Early cars' dash vibrations should be cured. Ensure manual box has tight gear linkage, particularly six-speeders.

Driving impressions

The C-MAX is one of the most driver-focused compact MPVs. Steering is accurate, body roll minimal and the ride composed. It's refined, too; even the diesel models cruise quietly. The Ford exudes a well engineered feel, and is anything but bus-like. What's more, all drivers will find it light and easy, and the dash-mounted gearshift is a slick delight. In short, it's a class act.

Glass's view

The C-MAX got off to a good start at launch. However, recent offers on new models have put used values under pressure. This is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK, so there are expected to be large numbers of second-hand compact MPVs looking for homes in 2005. It's a good time to haggle. Ghia models are generally preferred by retail buyers for their better specification. And although the 1.6 TDCi version is well respected, buyers tend to favour the 2.0 TDCi.Jeff Paterson, senior editor, Glass's Guide

Life with a C-MAX

I bought a C-MAX to replace my Focus, and it's just as good to drive. There's plenty of space inside and the seats are comfortable, but I'd prefer a bigger boot.Alasdair Bowden, Glasgow

I wouldn't buy another C-MAX. It has been reliable and is perfectly good at what it does, but I can't see any benefit it has over a Focus estate - so that's what I'm going to replace it with.James Bennett, Harlow, Essex

Verdict

Ford has finally got it right! The firm's entry into this market might have been a long time coming, but the Focus C-MAX has been worth the wait - it's one of the best-driving mini-MPVs around. Under the bulky body lies the platform of the Volvo S40 and new Focus, so it makes its Renault Scenic and Citroen Picasso rivals feel clumsy. It may seat only five, unlike the VW Touran and Vauxhall Zafira, but if you don't need room for seven the Ford is perfectly adequate.

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