What's most impressive about the C-MAX is its road manners. The suspension set-up is firm, ensuring it handles well, with minimal body roll, although forgiving damper settings mean that the ride is commendably smooth. It's no match for the excellent Citroen C4Picasso, but it does a fine job of ironing out road imperfections all the same. The Ford also has an excellent engine option, in the form of the 2.0-litre TDCi. While a little harsh on start-up, once on the move, it is hushed and refined, particularly when compared to the VW Group's TDIs. It's torquey and powerful, so performs well at the test track. On the road, it feels equally quick, especially at motorway speeds where it is willing and able. Mind you, the less powerful 1.6-litre TDCi is also good (if more likely to struggle with a fully-laden C-MAX), which means petrol alternatives, while decent, fade into the background a little.
The latest compact MPVs, such as Citroen's dramatic C4 Picasso, prove that people carriers don't have to be dull. That goes some way to explaining Ford's decision to facelift the dull-looking C-MAX in 2007. On sale since 2003, it was certainly due one. The previous 'Focus' part of its name was axed - and with it, the hatchback-inspired shape. The styling was brought in line with the larger S-MAX, a deliberate ploy by Ford to align the two models more closely. There were very few immediate changes at the back; it's up front where the biggest differences appeared. Angular headlights, a large trapezoidal lower grille and a redesigned front bumper with stylish vertical foglights help the model stand out from its predecessor. Ford used to be out on a limb by offering a compact MPV with just five seats, but now rivals such as the Citroen C4Picasso and SEAT Altea have reinvigorated the sector. Besides, Ford argues, if buyers do need seven seats, the S-MAX is available - that's part of the thinking behind the realignment of the C-MAX.
The 2007 C-MAX also had changes to its interior, upping sophistication. New switchgear features contemporary dials instead of buttons (there's also an optional touch-screen centre display), while better quality materials and stylish orange ambient lighting raise the C-MAX's game. The seating position is excellent. It's more cockpit-like than you'd expect from a people carrier, thanks to the high-mounted gearlever and centre console. Visibility is an issue in this driver-orientated car, though. Obstructive A-Pillars make leaving junctions tricky. Rear passenger accommodation is good, though. Although legroom isn't quite class-leading, it's still spacious. The seating layout is versatile, too - the middle chair can be flipped out of the way, so the two outer seats can be moved diagonally backwards and inwards, creating more legroom if you need to accommodate only four. In terms of load carrying capability, it trails its rivals - but, thanks to the removable seats, the Ford's overall capacity is a considerable 1,633 litres. It's a pity storage is limited though, with no door pockets. And the C-MAX comes at a price; it's expensive by class standards, yet even the range-topping Titanium model still has a lengthy options list. We'd expect to see more as standard for this money - particularly given unimpressive retained values of around 35 per cent. The C-MAX doesn't seem as economical as rivals either, though Ford dealers do quote competitive prices for the 12,500-mile services.