Plucky engines and great handling make the C-Max enjoyable to drive
Comfortable driving position but visibility isn't perfect, front or rear
Good results in Euro NCAP crash tests
Rated 'average' in the 2012 JD Power customer satisfaction survey
Space for five, but only at a push. Boot is good size, though
Even lower-spec cars have everything you'd want
The Ford C-Max feels just like the smaller Ford Focus from behind the wheel - it has the same precise steering, good body control that stops the car leaning too much when it turns corners, and feels generally very smooth; it's a little bit jiggly on bumpy surfaces but it's never uncomfortable. Overall, this means the C-Max is really enjoyable to drive. The choice of engines now includes a 99bhp turbocharged 1.0-litre unit. Bar the 1.6 petrol that it will eventually replace, the 1.0 is the cheapest way into a C-Max and is perfectly up to the job, especially for city drivers. It also promises 55.4mpg, though it's worth bearing in mind that the higher-powered 125bhp 1.0 engine doesn't deliver its claimed economy in real-life, everyday driving, and it'll struggle even harder to meet this figure if you regularly travel with a full complement of passengers. If you do a fair bit of motorway driving, it may be worth spending more on the 114bhp 1.6-litre diesel. It has all the strength you're likely to need, and as well as claiming a higher mpg figure than the 1.0-litre engine, it's more likely to achieve it in real life. The C-Max isn't the quietest car on the road (you can hear the wind whistling around the door mirrors at motorway speeds and the diesel engines are a bit rough when you rev them) but you won't have to shout to get the kids' attention.
There are plenty of soft-touch materials in the cabin but overall the C-Max's interior doesn't feel as classy as many rivals'. The rotary heater controls are simple to use, but some of the other buttons on the dashboard are rather fiddly. The driving position is slightly higher than in a regular hatchback, and there's loads of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel so it's easy to get comfortable. However, thick windscreen pillars block your view around corners and the rear screen is also quite small. There's masses of space for four occupants but the person on the middle rear seat gets a raw deal, as this is both narrow and hard. The large boot is big enough for everyone's luggage, however, and you can fold the rear seat backs down to expand your load space if necessary - this is a bit fiddly to do, though, and leaves a large step in the load bay. You can remove the rear seats altogether but this requires considerable strength as they're pretty heavy. There's plenty of stowage for clutter, though, including small cubbies under the rear footwells. We managed to get a Group 0+ baby seat, Group 1 toddler seat and a Group 2/3 high-backed booster to fit together across the rear seats (the outer two of which have Isofix points), but bear in mind that certain types or models of child seat may not fit correctly or safely alongside each other, and you'll need to be sure you can reach the seatbelt buckles easily in an emergency. Even the lowest trim-level, Zetec, comes with alloy wheels, air-conditioning, Bluetooth, a heated windscreen and a digital radio, so it's good value. Upgrading to Titanium trim adds a premium Sony stereo, automatic headlights and wipers, cruise control, climate control and keyless start; Titanium X adds a glass roof, electrical adjustment for the driver's seat and part-leather upholstery, but it's expensive.
The C-Max came ninth out of 38 manufacturers in What Car?'s latest satisfaction survey, with owners rating the C-Max as above average. Every model comes with stability control plus front, side and curtain airbags - the latter also covering the rear windows. The C-Max has been tested under the most recent Euro NCAP crash-testing programme, and received 92% for adult safety and 83% for child safety - that's a higher score than a Citroen C4 Picasso, but not quite as good as a Vauxhall Zafira Tourer. Bear in mind, however, that the switch to manually deactivate the front passenger airbag, should you want to fit a rear-facing child seat here, is an optional extra for which your Ford dealer may charge up to £300.
The Ford C-Max is well worth considering if you enjoy driving and need more space for four than conventional small family cars can offer. It's not especially cheap but some versions are fairly reasonable to run. Rival MPVs are more versatile, however, and some similarly-priced alternatives, such as the Citroen C4 Picasso, have three full-size rear seats, allowing all five occupants to sit comfortably.