Updated: March 27, 2015
It's time to continue our Eurotrip thingie. The last time, we did a solid 2,000-km trip in eight days round Croatia in Opel Insignia estate. Now, we will pick up the baton with Ford C-Max, a compact five-door, five-seat family MPV, powered by a 1.6-liter Duratorq TDCi engine. Location? South of Italy, from Rome to Salerno and back, in six days, with a total of 1,164 km of roads covered. Oh naturally, we drove down the famous Amalfi coast road.
So let's take a look at what Italy has to offer, with its average-speed camera-clocked three-lane highways, narrow-shoulder 80 km/h motorways and B roads, ultra-tight and curvy coastline tarmac looking down at some rather scenic little towns where no parlo Inglese, and finally, some proper and totally insane town driving. As bas as rumored? We will see.
The journey begins
With an Alitalia flight to Rome. Looking at the furnished passenger seats inside the plane cabin, promising. Looking at the derelict toilet bowls inside the plane's toilet cubbies, not so promising. Yes, your initial reaction is one of mild WTFWOW, but then you realize the brown stains are just peeled paint and neglected maintenance rather than human hospitality.
But you kind of forget about the air transport niggles when you grab the keys to the test car and approach its heightened, bulky Focus Stretchus Verticalus shape. Ford C-Max has a very strange design. It's based on the Focus chassis, but it looks more like Fiesta with a bad aspect ratio. It feels smaller than it is. On the inside, it's quite spacious and comfy, though. Only you can't shake the double negative of conflicting appearance and physics.
The test vehicle had a 1.6-liter turbodiesel, rated at a humble 117 HP with 285 Nm of torque starting at 1,500 rpm. I'd show you what happens under the bonnet, but it's so ugly, it's depressing. Most cars have a decent enough expose of their engine, with a plastic cover that makes the metal and rubber guts and arteries look handsome. But in the Ford, it looks like, ugh.
There's no real keyless entry, but you don't need the key to start the engine. You get a little button, and it's fun. Then, the classic rattle of a diesel kicks in, not as refined as you'd hope for. You master the unit with a slick six-speed gear lever.
Equipment wise, the car had its share of pleasures for the occupants. Cruise control, steering column controls for the media unit and the somewhat rudimentary road computer, dual-zone climate control, all-electric windows fore and aft, and a bunch of airbags. But you don't get any self-dimming lights, rain sensors, parking sensors, or Start/Stop like in Insignia. Sure, not the same class, but still. The wipers come out scissors like, and they are quite good, even at high speed.
Sure, the big question is, why the hell would anyone drive Ford in Italy? What happened to Alfa Romeo? Well, that's what we have, and we're gonna make the best of it. In technical parlance, this means an acceleration from 0-100 km/h in over 9,000 seconds, because seriously, what can you expect from a modestly powered and torqued diesel fitted into a high MPV, and a top speed that is of no interest to families riding in it.
The Devil Wears Autostrada
We hit the three-lane carriageways. Not bad. Traffic signs are okay to read, as long as you can spell Napoli and know what it means. Ford C-Max handles the challenge well, and this has always been, according to rumors, Ford's strong side. Making their small family cars ride with grace and elegance and fun. This MPV is no exception. The steering wheel is well weighted and precise. The gear changes are smooth, the lever handy. You sit high, legs down, there's enough support for your kidneys, and overall, you don't get tired too much, although the left leg can get bored resting, so you wiggle it about a little. But it's always flat, and your tendons and muscles don't end up strained too much.
Middle-range acceleration is quite decent, but the car clearly lacks the oomph for high-speed chases. It's a family car, with a small engine. And therein lies the rub. You'd expect this turbodiesel to be as frugal as it gets, but my experience shows a pretty high average consumption figure. The reason is, compared to bigger 2.0-liter engines, it has to sweat more, and this means more thirst. While you can breeze through gears easily in a car with a more powerful unit, with C-Max 1.6 TDCi you are forced to downshift, to fifth and quite often to fourth, and that means wasted carbohydrates.
Despite all that, you still get a feeling the engine suffers near the top of its rev range, and it will complain quite noisily about the fact. End result, a consumption of about 7-8 liters at speeds of about 130-140 km/h, with a gentle use of aircon and a moderate level of aggressiveness. This is not a spectacular result for a diesel.
The fuel tank is also relatively small, 50 liters. When you combine the average economy with the capacity, you can expect a visit to a fuel station sooner than you'd like, and that's not a fun thing, especially since Italians don't feel like charging your credit card and prefer cash.
Still, not all is bad. C-Max does ride like a smaller hatch, most of the time. It corners well, but it gets a bit wobbly near the 150 km/h mark, not that I would know that, because I was trying to keep within the average speed limit permitted by the Tutor system, and not tail full-trailers near the camera check posts like some of the local do.
Overall, the highway behavior is good, only it radiates a certain duality of character, much like the bi-polar ambivalence of its looks, between being small and punchy versus big and fat. On one hand, you get the sweet characteristics of smaller cars, and you're well connected to the road through the small and humble light-alloy sixteen inchers. On the other hand, this is a tall family car, with a tricky center of gravity, and it's more comfortable in the low hundreds than high ones. The steering is probably its strongest side.