The Ford C-MAX compact MPV has been treated to a wash and brush up. Cleaner styling and engines are a big draw, with the introduction of a Focus-style dashboard and a 1.5-litre diesel powerplant that'll be the big seller here in the UK. Refinement has been improved and there are a stack of high-tech options to consider.
The C-MAX was always an easy pick for anyone who enjoyed driving. It was by far the best car in its class when showed a B-road. Now that the Golf SV is around, that superiority is no longer quite so cut and dried, but it's still a class act. Particular attention this time round has been paid to improving refinement. Noise, vibration and harshness have been improved through the use of thicker side glass and more absorbent seals around the tailgate and rear-view mirror.
The engine bay heat shield has been filled with acoustic damping material to reduce powertrain noise and diesel variants are equipped with extra acoustic seals to further reduce noise intrusion. A re-tuned dual mass flywheel helps to reduce shaking forces when the engine is under load, while revised engine mounts offer improved refinement during Auto-Start-Stop operation.
The star of the engine line-up is the 120PS 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engine, seen for the first time in the C-MAX, replacing the old 1.6-litre unit. Power goes up by five per cent while emissions drop by six points. There are also the multi-award winning 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engines, offered once again in 100 and 125PS outputs. The big capacity diesel in the range is a revised 150PS 2.0-litre unit.
The design of this C-MAX is evolutionary, with many of the details being brought up to date to reflect contemporary Ford thinking. The dynamic styling delivers a stronger, sleeker front end, featuring Ford's distinctive inverted trapezoidal grille. The washer jets have been hidden underneath the windscreen to give a cleaner look while the tailgate has been given a smoother and more sophisticated one-piece appearance.
Inside, you'll find a dash that's a lot less fussy than the previous model, reflecting the customer-led design refinements that have already been executed on the Focus. There are fewer controls and switches, while the new black satin trim and chrome detailing contributes to a cleaner look. Functions are simpler to use, such as the air-conditioning controls that now feature buttons that are easier to recognise and distinguish from each other. Practicality improves too, with a redesigned centre storage console. The seats still tumble down individually in one motion to create a flat floor, with over 470-litres of space with all five seats in place.
In truth, Ford didn't need to do a whole lot to the C-MAX to keep it right at the head of the pack. The improvements to the interior and the big efficiency gains leveraged by the 2.0-litre diesel, as well as the introduction of the 1.5-litre diesel, are all worthy updates but the overall look, feel and appeal of the C-MAX hasn't been markedly altered.
Still, the arrival of new entrants into this market, most notably the Volkswagen Golf SV, means that if Ford had been content to rest on its laurels it could well have seen the C-MAX rapidly slip from grace. As it stands, this much improved second-generation car looks to have what it takes to keep its rivals on its toes for some time yet. The more some things change, the more they stay the same.Click here to find out more about our Ford C-MAX range
Citroen C4 Space Tourer
The Citroen C4 is one of those family hatches that works smarter rather than harder, with a spacious cabin, affordable pricing, some super-economical engines and plenty of equipment for your cash. If you're not afraid of thinking outside the box a little, this is a car that could be worth a look.
This Citroen offers some innovative three-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engines that wear a PureTech badge. The fastest of these offers 130PS, skittling the C4 to 62mph from rest in just 10.8 seconds, which is quicker than the 1.6-litre BlueHDi 100 diesel alternative. The PureTech 130 unit will keep at it until it runs out of answers at 124mph, so despite buying a small engine, you're certainly not choosing a weak one.
The peak torque figure attests to this, with 230Nm available from just 1,750rpm. Compared to Ford's much-vaunted Ecoboost 1.0-litre in 125PS guise, the Citroen is half a second quicker to 62mph and has another 30Nm of torque in reserve. It's a lightweight motor too, which has all manner of benefits when it comes to corner turn-in and body control. That 130PS engine is joined by a more affordable 110PS version, also fitted with a manual gearbox.
There are also a couple of diesels that are well worth considering. The BlueHDi 100 and 120 engines with a capacity of 1.6-litres deliver maximum power of, respectively, 99PS at 3,750rpm and 120PS at 3,500rpm. The torque at 1,750rpm is 254Nm for the BlueHDi 100 manual unit and 300Nm for the BlueHDi 120 S&S with a 6-speed manual 'box.
As for the driving experience, well, it's a shame that with this generation C4, Citroen did away with the fixed steering wheel boss that was such a talking point in the previous generation version, but apparently a more conventional wheel saves 3.5kg. Despite many of the previous C4's more extrovert features being consigned to history there are one or two quirks remaining, such as the fact that you can tailor the sound of individual warning chimes or the indicators as well as the colour of the instrument lighting. If you're urban-bound, you'll want to know that the pokiest petrol and diesel units can optionally be ordered with Citroen EAT6 auto gearbox.
Visual changes made to this car at its most recent 2015 model year update include headlight units that comprise two 3D chrome-finish modules on a gloss black background, with LEDs adding a distinct light signature. The car also features chrome chevrons connecting the headlights and the ribbed bonnet curving into the sides is a neat touch. Moving aft, there are 3D-effect rear light clusters, while a few splashes of chrome and some revised alloy wheels give the C4 quite a sharp look.
Drop inside and you'll notice the 7-inch touch screen straight away, plus perhaps the quality upholstery finishes. The dashboard and fascia are quite conventional, but all of the controls are easy to figure out without recourse to the manual. It's as if Citroen has gone back to concentrating on getting the basics right and you'd have to say on that basis the C4's design is a winner.
For example, instead of pouring design resource into a gadget you might use once a year, they've instead designed a seat that's supremely comfortable. Space inside is about par for the class, with rear legroom an issue if you try to seat tall passengers. Headroom is better than average as is access, the C4 only being offered in practical five-door form. There's a large 408-litre boot.
The Citroen C4 is one of those cars that often gets overlooked despite racking up all kinds of best-in-classes. Here's just one more example. You don't like packing light? Well, you could always do the logical thing and choose the car with the biggest boot in its class at 408-litres. No prizes for guessing what this is. Now that the PureTech petrol and BlueHDi diesel engines are right on the money as far as economy and emissions are concerned, the in-car electronics are right up there with the best and the C4's reliability stats bear any kind of scrutiny you fancy, it's hard not to give this car the thumbs up.
Broaden your mind beyond the usual motoring magazine Golf or Focus recommendations and there are some genuinely talented contenders out there. The C4 just joined that list. It deserves more recognition, so perhaps we can start here.Click here to find out more about our Citroen C4 Space Tourer range
Volkswagen Golf SV
Sometimes more is just better and if you've ever got out of a Volkswagen Golf feeling you could do with a bit more space, the answer is right here in the chiselled form of the Golf SV. It's not the most committed of five-seat SUVs but there is more space in the back. Plus, there's more technology on offer in this improved model.
The talents of the Golf Mk 7 chassis need no reiterating and the lengthening process hasn't done too much to dull the driving experience. You still get the same polished feel to the suspension and that crisp, no-nonsense steering. Model for model there's around a 120kg weight penalty over the hatch, so the SV is never quite as brisk off the line but there's not a whole lot in it. Think a Golf minus 1 or 2 per cent at the limit and you're still a long way better than most of its rivals.
Engine-wise, if you want petrol power, you'll get a choice of a pair of turbocharged TSI units, a 1.0-litre powerplant with 115PS or a 1.5-litre unit with 150PS. Go diesel instead and there's a 115PS 1.6TDI or a 150PS 2.0-litre TDI flagship variant. Across the range, there's the option of DSG twin-clutch sequential transmission. The 2.0-litre diesel will punt the big-boned Golf SV to 62mph in 9.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 110mph, making it a more than adequate long-distance cruiser.
Where the old Golf Plus was a bit of a half-hearted effort, the SV is a bit more of an attempt at incorporating MPV design functionality. The longer wheelbase is key. Volkswagen grafted another 54mm into the wheelbase to create the SV from the ordinary Golf hatch, which might not sound much, but makes a real difference to what you can do with the rear seats. The total length has increased by 83mm, adding extra luggage capacity at the back. The styling is crisp and handsome, even more so in this facelifted model, which gets redesigned bumpers, smarter halogen headlights with LED daytime running lights, the option of full-LED headlights and standard LED tail lights on all versions.
Drop inside and it's largely familiar stuff from the front seats. The classy dash, peerless ergonomics and huge range of seat and wheel adjustability draw no complaints, but the SV gets a custom dash moulding. Facelift model cabin changes include new decorative trim, smarter fabrics and the option of classier leather for the seats. As for practicalities, well there's adequate storage up front with under-seat drawers and fairly sizeable door bins, but other MPVs ultimately offer more and better. The back seats miss a trick too, neither tumbling or being removable.
The three-seat bench splits 60/40 and can fold and recline but the middle seat is hard and narrow. By contrast, you can fold the middle seat down in a Ford C-MAX or tumble the seats forward. Headroom and legroom are both excellent, and when the rear seat is slid forward to its furthest extent, boot space increases from a generous 500 litres to a cavernous 590 litres. Fold the rear seats down and you'll get up to 1,520-litres in there.
Here's a slightly different way to go if you're in the market for this kind of car. A proper Golf that is also the kind of proper People Carrier its Golf Plus predecessor never was. True, other five-seater MPVs can offer you slightly more space and seat-fumbling flexibility but the incremental benefits they deliver aren't really very significant. Mind you, the small price premium you have to pay for Golf SV ownership may be.
But then, you'd expect that from a better-quality product. Overall, this is a car that adds a dash of desirability to the business of owning what is, at the end of the day, nothing more than a practical family tool. It's about time that Volkswagen showed us what it's really capable of in this segment. The result is a car you could be proud of.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Golf SV range