By Jonathan Crouch
Ford's second generation C-MAX MPV injected a welcome dose of driving enjoyment into the segment for five-seat compact People Carrying models. In this revised post-2015 form, it also brought a range of useful fresh technologies to this segment and benefitted from smarter looks and a revised range of more efficient engines. As with the original version of this second generation model, you also get clever seat-folding mechanisms and plenty of space as part of an accomplished range of virtues. The result could well be a more versatile alternative to that familiar family hatch you might have been considering.
Compromise doesn't have to be a dirty word. In fact, intelligent compromise is exactly what underpins the design of Ford's C-MAX mid-sized MPV, here reviewed in updated post-2015-era guise, its revised second generation form.
The compact mid-sized 5-seat MPV genre marks out a class of car that needs to be large enough to fit all your kids and luggage - but not so big that it's hard to park or pilot around town. It requires an engine with the torque for willing acceleration when the vehicle's fully loaded but not so much pulling power that running costs will stretch the family purse strings to breaking point. It would need all the modern safety and convenience features that buyers demand, but at the same time, must feature pricing that isn't out of reach of wage packets that already have school uniforms to buy and hungry mouths to feed. As we said, it's all about intelligent compromise.
That's always been the appeal of a family 5-seat MPV of this kind, a class of car that, for not a lot more money than you'd pay for a Focus or Astra-sized family hatchback, offers a little more space and a lot more versatility. The only downside with most small People Carriers of this kind tends to come in terms of driving dynamics that inevitably seem to get watered down with the extra weight and height you get from models in this segment. Or some of them anyway. Right from its original introduction back in 2003, Ford's C-MAX proved it didn't have to be like that. You really could have a compact but spacious MPV that was just as good to drive as an ordinary family hatch. Even by 2015 when the revised version of this MK2 model was launched, most other brands hadn't grasped that concept.
The launch of the second generation C-MAX range in 2010 saw this unique selling point carried over intact, the line-up by then offering both five and seven-seat derivatives. These quickly gained Ford a useful 12% market share in this sector, as total European sales across this model line exceeded the 1.2 million mark. By 2015 though, the market was expecting more of models in this segment, with buyers seeking greater efficiency, cutting-edge technology and more performance. This revised C-MAX range sold until late 2019 and then wasn't replaced as buying preferences turned towards SUVs.
What You Get
Unofficially known within Ford as 'Compact', this five-seater C-MAX looks a little better proportioned than its seven-seater Grand C-MAX stablemate - as you'd expect, given that its well proportioned if slightly unadventurous shape doesn't have to incorporate the larger model's twin sliding side doors. The looks have aged well, requiring just a little freshening up with the 2015 year facelift to keep this model looking current. This updated version's restyling package was supposed to reflect the brand's so-called 'One Ford' global design language. Hence the addition of the distinctive trapezoidal front grille familiar from most of the company's other models, which joined the sleeker, 'chiselled' front headlamps.
The cabin updates for this facelifted MK2 model included classer black satin trim and chrome detailing that contributed to a modern look. Some of the functions were simpler to use - the air conditioning controls for example, which gained buttons that were easier to recognise and distinguish. Others were relocated to the SYNC2 infotainment screen that on most models was added to dominate the centre of the dash.
In the rear seat, you get three entirely separate rear chairs. On the downside, you can't slide them backwards and forward in the way you can in a Grand C-MAX. And, because the cabin's quite narrow, the middle seat is too, so there's no chance of fitting three child seats side by side. On the plus side, the set-up does benefit from an optional 'Comfort' feature which most original buyers specified and which allows the centre seat to be folded away while the outer ones slide diagonally backwards to create a more luxurious two-seater rear passenger layout. And luggage room? Even with a full complement of passengers on board, owners will be enjoying anything between 432 and 627-litres of space, depending on whether they load up to parcel shelf level or fully onwards to the roof. If you need more space, then pushing the seats forward reveals up to 1,684-litres of fresh air.
What to Look For
We found lots of satisfied C-MAX customers but inevitably, our survey revealed quite a few issues too. We had various reports of electrical glitches and rattly interiors are quite common, so check on your test drive and re-negotiate if necessary. Another typical faulty is a DAB tuner that doesn't work. Often iPod/phone connectivity ports/systems stop working too, so connect up and try these. One owner complained of an engine misfire which needed a software update. Another found the horn stopped working. Another complained of noisy brakes. Some owners with auto gearboxes weren't happy, reckoning that problems started occurring after around 5,000 miles of use. As for the manuals, well these seem generally fine but one owner found that there was a 'clunk' every time the clutch engaged; another said the gear gaitor kept popping out of its fitting every time he selected reverse.
More seriously, in one case, the anti-freeze holder on one C-MAX drained into the oil sump, leading to a breakdown. Otherwise, you'll just need to look for the usual scratched alloys and evidence of child damage in the back. The cabin plastics mark easily, so check them carefully; this could be grounds for a small price reduction. As usual, check that the service book is fully stamped up to date. Some ex-fleet models may have missed out on garage visits.
(approx based on a 2017 C-MAX 1.0 EcoBoost 100PS - Ex Vat) An air filter costs around £7-£20 and an oil filter costs around £6-£8. A fuel filter is about £10. Brake pads sit in the £20 to £38 bracket for a front set; or £18-£40 for a rear set. From brake discs can be as affordable as around £55 but pricier brands can cost up to just over £200. A set of rear discs can be as cheap as around £63 but for pricier brands, you'll be paying up to around £80. Wiper blades cost in the £1-£17 bracket. A headlamp costs in the £145-£173 bracket, while a water pump costs in the £43-£53 bracket.
On the Road
On the move, this C-MAX model remains a class leader when it comes to handling dynamics. A standard torque vectoring system helps you get the power down through corners in which you'll really be able to place the car precisely thanks to re-tuned electric power steering that offers impressive levels of feel. Ford further improved the whole experience in this revised model, fitting stiffer suspension brushes and re-tuned dampers that reduce body roll without creating too much of an over-firm ride.
Under the bonnet, most C-MAX buyers in search of petrol power will be looking at the two 1.0-litre EcoBoost engines and the choice Ford gives of either 100 or 125PS power outputs. Otherwise, potential buyers will be wanting to look at a diesel, probably the 120PS 1.5-litre unit. Here, 62mph is 11.3s away from rest and there's 270Nm of torque that gives you decent pulling power. Yet this variant will also return up to 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and put out no more than 105g/km of CO2 (both NEDC figures). If you do need a bit more performance, then Ford also offers a 150PS 2.0-litre TDCi diesel.
In truth, back in 2015, Ford didn't need to do a whole lot to this second generation C-MAX model to keep it right near the head of the pack in the segment for family hatch-based five-seater compact MPVs. The updates to the styling, the improvements to the interior and the big efficiency gains leveraged by the two much improved Euro6 diesel engines were welcome but the overall look, feel and appeal of this Ford wasn't markedly altered.
In many ways, that was no bad thing. Combining entertainment for drivers with comfort and convenience for passengers is a nut that has proven too difficult for many rivals to crack but this C-MAX manages while barely breaking sweat in the process. Arguably even more appealing is the way that here, Ford brought us a People Carrier with hardly a trace of people carrying stigma. Which means that, assuming you haven't already qualified for your own private parking bay at the maternity ward, it'll remain an engagingly clever used MPV option in this segment for smaller but very active families.