Car Test   R0344
 
July 2003
First Drive Ford Focus C-Max
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In a motoring environment where increasing numbers of families are drawn to multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs), this major contender has been a long time coming. Rumour has it that Fordís development team had one ready four years ago, but the Zafira, with its clever seven-seat configuration, sent them back to the drawing board.
  
   This new design is, in fact, using a chassis platform that will also be the basis of the next Focus (as well as equivalent-sized hatchbacks bearing Mazda and Volvo badges). But for now, itís the C-Max that reveals a new engine line-up, as well as Fordís attempt to combine versatility with an engaging driving experience.
  
   The truth is that, until now, none of the MPVs in this segment could steer, and generally deport itself as well as the best hatchbacks in class Ė like the Focus. Itís understandable, really Ė you raise the carís centre of gravity and it puts on weight in the pursuit of the loftier driving position and extra interior space. The result: less wieldiness at the helm, more perceived roll and inferior performance and economy.
  
   Ford has made real progress with the C-Max in these areas, despite a weight penalty of over 100kg. It feels spry through the bends, with seating up front that conspires with well restrained roll, to keep things neat and tidy. Yet it also rides well over the bumps and holds its line through the bends, in a fashion that, arguably, sets a new standard for this market segment. Maybe not quite as polished as the Focus hatch or estate car, but not far short.
  
   Of course, none of this matters if the power units arenít up to scratch. The plan is to carry over the existing 1.6/100bhp petrol engine, together with a modified 1.8 producing 120bhp. Thereís also a direct-injection version due later which will meet the stricter 2005 pollution rules but more interesting are two new diesels, courtesy of Peugeot-Citroen.
  
   Thereís a lightweight 1.6/109bhp all-alloy version (which we didnít drive) and the top-powered 136bhp engine, complete with six-speed gearbox. Both have 16 valves, with common-rail fuelling.
  
   This six-speeder makes the C-Max a really impressive long-distance performer, with generous low-speed pullaway thatís totally free of the vibrations that affects too many current four-pot diesels Ė including Peugeotís and Fordís. The sixth slot is a true overdrive, floating along at the 70 limit with just 2000rpm on the tachometer. Again, this unit sets new class-standards for mechanical refinement.
  
   After all this praise, whatís wrong with C-Max? Not much up front, with good, lofty seating (though not too lofty for shorter people) and sensible driving seat/wheel adjustments. Itís a wide car, but this stance offers a commanding all-round view, except for the driverís front quarter vision, which is obliterated by the thick pillar.
  
   With the C-Max as a five-seater, rear accommodation is reasonable for legroom, with a truly generous Zafira-sized load deck behind. However, this volume is achieved by resorting to a pronounced rear load sill, and if you want to rearrange the back seats to cope with just a couple of passengers (the outer pair of seats slide diagonally rearwards) the centre portion must be removed or it impinges still further into the load space. And, of course, there are no extra seats in the back Ė itís strictly a five-seater and if you want to do some serious cargo carrying, all three have to be left at home.
  
AT A GLANCE
  considering size, price and rivals
Controls/displays
Handling/steering
Comfort
Space/practicality
LIKES ...
  • rear head restraints recess into backrests
  • dual-zone (optional) air conditioning works well
  • ABS standard on all versions
and GRIPES
  • door sills and bumpers just painted - no protectors
  • ample storage compartments of oddments - but unlined
  • odometer graphics very indistinct
  • front passenger seatback doesn't fold (Fusion's does)
VERDICT
The best aspect of this mid-sized Multi-Activity Vehicle (as Ford prefers to call it) isnít its MPV possibilities, but its road manners. The top-of-the-range diesel drives in a straight line, around corners and over the bumpy bits, better than anything else worthy of the MPV/MAC epithet. Moreís the pity, therefore, that the C-Max interior lacks the adaptability, convenience and sheer tidiness of some rivals (where do you stow unwanted chairs?). Still, as a five-seater, with plenty of load space behind, it fulfils its role without hassle Ė apart from that load sill.


THE C-MAX RANGE
body lower-medium 5-seat MPV (prices to be announced)   trim levels CL, Zetec, LX, Ghia
engines petrol: 4 cylinder/1.6 litre/100bhp, 4/1.8/120, direct-injection engine later
diesel: 4/1.6/109, 4/2.0/136
  drive front-wheel drive; 5-speed or 6-speed manual
notable features available on upper-range versions electric parking brake, Sony radio/CD, DVD-based back seat entertainment, dual-zone climate control


SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
  in centimetres (5-door MPV - LH Drive)
  outside
  length 434
  width - mirrors folded 191
  height 160
  load sill height (inside/outside) 13/60
  steering
  turns lock-to-lock 2.9*
  turning circle (metres) 10.7*
   
  easy to park/garage?
  inside
  front - legroom 84-107
    - headroom 95-103ß
  rear - typical legroom 99#
    - typical kneeroom 72#
    - headroom 94ß
    - hiproom 62
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
500/17.7
  load length 79#-124+
  load length to facia No
  load width 104
  load height (to shelf/to top of aperture) 61/93
ß no sunroof  * maker's figure  # rear seat forwards  + rear seat folded
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