Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Test Drive - Ford Focus CMax 2011 1.6TDCi 115 Review

Seems like I'm having a hand full with test's to the MiniVan world.
This time it's the 2011 C-Max from ford. I really loved this test as I had a pretty good opinion about the Picasso and this would be the only one on the market targeted precisely against the C4 Picasso Aquiles Heel.

Since the MK4 fiesta that each and every Ford has a brilliant chassis as it's base. Hell the Focus C-Max Mk1 chassis is so good that it became the basis for the MK2 Volvo S40, the Mazda3 and the Mk2 Focus. So this test, to me is like a probation to the Picasso. You see the Picasso is brilliant at being what it should be - a school bus that mum and dad like to drive, and it has little defects in conception that are directly related to the comfort it has. This, being a Ford, will probably be much more interesting and involving to drive...but can it perform in the areas the Picasso excels?!

The Looks

It looks life a big Fiesta, and that means that comparing it to it's competitors, it wins clearly. The car is beautiful and apart from one or to angles that don't look good when stretched from the Fiesta, the overall is pleasant enough to wear these bright yellow and pale green colours without making me sick.

Interior design is also very good. It's solid and well built, and the materials feel a little cheaper than the Picasso's, but well within the respectable line.

Unlike the Picasso, this has a console design that involves both driver ans passenger from all sides. You feel part of the car, and the driver is in control of driving, while climate and radio is accessible to both the typical cockpit style layout. The Picasso has a different approach, everything is centred and away from both passenger and driver, enough for on to be able to switch from passenger side to driver side without getting out of the car. I call this the living room style, opposed to the cockpit style.
As a side effect (benefit to some like me that prefer the cockpit design) this one has NO fridge...guess you'll be drinking cold beer where you should be drinking in the first place...home or pub ;)

The rear seats are good. They clearly have no chance against the Picasso's. They don't adjust the back's angle, nor they independently move front and backwards independently, however they are independent and this one pulls a different trick: you can remove the central seat and diagonally slide the side ones back and centre, improving leg room in a good 15cm and making the ride more comfortable for the rear passengers in terms of sitting position. However this will make the relative position toward the front-seat back-mounted folding tables awkward.
Talking about folding tables, the ones in the Picasso fold down and give you individual reading lights. The C-Max ones fold up without locking mechanism (meaning that a heavy book or laptop will automatically close-it). It also lacks individual lights, meaning that you can only use the standard illuminations ones in the roof.
Air-Condition is also "standard" central console extension diffuser like any normal car. The Picasso also excels here giving you B-Pillar mounted individual A.C. control.
The seat fabric is less spartan that the Picasso, and the seat density is also "cheap" compared to the Picasso "living room stile sofa"; however the ones in the C-Max are decent and will get the job done...just not in the same style.

So till here, no news. The Picasso is the clear winner in comfort terms, this however is not bad at all. Far better than the Nissan Qashqai, and in direct level of comfort with the Peugeot 3008...On to the long waited DRIVE.

The drive of this one is different from any other in the mini-van, suv or cross-over class. Different as in it will out-maneuver most sedans out there. It's so good that it competes out of it's league and wins most of times.
Weird as it might seem, this big thing handles much like the normal focus sedan or station-wagon...brilliant.
It's not a direct car to take to the limits, however it's very honest and has plenty feedback. In a hard bend, the C-Max feels like it's going to start to roll (you can feel it's massive weight) but than it feels like it's starting to lower and lower and lower like it's transforming into a normal car...but it doesn't and you can still seat high, however instead of feeling you shoulders tilt, you feel it in your bottom. It's weird cause your brain tells you that all the steel around you should rotate higher than it actually is, but fact is that it does pull this out beautifully and you keep on pushing. You can't even get close to this with a Picasso. So here the Ford does much beyond a pure excel... the ford eclipses everything else out there and some from the sedan league.
What does this do to the ride comfort... not that much. Sure it's not as soft as the Picasso, but it's far better than the Nissan Qashqai and the 3008. You see, if you accelerate and then lift off, you feel the suspension extend and duck, so it's not been stiffened beyond reasonable  (for the school bus evidently). I would bet into some net design for the Stabilizer bars and mounts, and a damn big thickness on those too.
The steering is a bit light for my taste, but it get's heavier with speed and it's at the same level of the Volvo S40 mk2 electric power steering. You have plenty feed back and very reduced bump-steer (something hard to do with this type of steering assistance).

The pedals are soft...a bad thing but since these cars are made to be driven by mums that after letting the kids off at school, also go to work on high-heels; I'm betting into a By-design more than anything else.

The gear-box is just a joy. Precise and with a soft but robust feel, with the perfect weight. Slotting in gears is easy and with a very connected but not metallic feel...very very pleasant. One of those that make you say I'll never go automatic...EVER.

There is something that I absolutely hated about this car, just as much as I hated in the 207 or the Picasso...The A-Pilar's position relative to the driver's position creates huge blind spots. It's a design problem! See today cars are a lot EGG shaped. That means that the roof line curves through the mid section all the way into the A-pilars, and these then extend all the way to the front of the car. This places the windshield close to the engine and it's A-pilar go with it. It makes sense as much as impact collision protection is improved with the car looks; but it will create a big blind-spot right were you need to be looking through at an intersection, or approaching a cross-walk.
On this matter I just love an Idea form Volvo (it had to be) when they presented the C30 prototype. It's A-Pilars were a triangulated structure filled with transparent plastic resin... it's more and more important to have it if cars keep being shaped like this.

The Let-go and sliding of this car is also very composed, however you feel it's not to be abused. The Stability control allows some tail slide before cutting in, and this is good cause you don't want all that steel to grip, grip ,grip than let go into a madness of rubber scream. I was expecting that all that grip would make a violent let go, but it doesn't. It's composed and progressive, however it doesn't bend the laws of physics and it is and feels heavy. I've found my self correcting if latter than I should and getting a tap of the stability control system (I clearly am too used to sport cars). Don't get me wrong, It handles beautifully, but the feel it feeds back to the driver will "look like" it's a car, but the displacement mass is a lot heavier than a car.
Have you ever tried to slide a station-wagon into a roundabout doing a Scandinavian flick? Imagine you do that once with the boot empty, and then a second time with the boot filled with lead! The car feels like a car but the second inertial slide will be more difficult to counter-steer and you'll have to do-it earlier that the previous time...That's how this feels on the limit - like a great car with a boot filled with leader.

Now if you read the Picasso Article, you could argue that I tested a 2.0Hdi automatic and this is a 1.6Hdi manual... Well The 2.0 option in the picasso is robotized 6speed manual ONLY and if you read the article...it's BAD.
The 2.0 picasso will pull to 200km/h with struggle... this little 1.6 is less powerful and you feel like you need to push it harder if you want a fast start, but it will pull all the way to 195km/h and it will struggle just the same as the Picasso to get there. The thing is that the picasso will be floating around lanes at speeds over 150-160km/h, while this baby will feel much like a car and handle highway bends at that speed without a fuss.

The consumption of this PSA HDi sourced 1.6TDCi Duratorq Diesel unit, remapped to 115bhp and 240Nm is quite good. In town it will average to 6.9 to 7 liters/100km, but take it to the road and see this lower to 6,2...and if you don't reset the computer, a 300km city drive together with a 1000km 50% mountain road - 50% highway, you'll end up with 6.7 combined. That's a 1.6 pulling all that steel and it still manages sub 7 combined. Very good.

The Body options.

Since You have the Picasso and the Grand Picasso, here you can also have the C-Max and the Grand C-Max.

Differences? None. Both are marginally bigger outside in the Grand version, both will have 7 seats in the Grand version, both will have no boot in the Grand version with the 2 boot seats up...and finally, both will be a BAD BAD choice in the Grand version as the 2 rear passengers will be sitting with their head against the glass and making their spine the car's crumple zone.
It's simple: need 7 seats? buy an S-Max or a C8.

The features
This car came with Driver packII and parking sensors. Meaning?
Well instead of 4 rear parking sensors every car has today, or 4 rear + 4 front some cars have today, this has 10! 4 rear, 4 frontal and 2 front side sensors. Now this could mean it's very large and it could be difficult to park in small places. And it would be quite an assumption...it's as large as a Volvo XC90.
But it's purpose is beyond that. You see this car is capable of assisting you in parallel parking.
Once you find a zone you want to park to, you press the "park assist" button and the car will instruct you to drive forward "slowly" with your park signal on. The car will be sensing the front side sensor of the side you selected to park with your turning light until it finds a space that will fit. Then it will command you to stop, let-go off the steering wheel and reverse slowly...and it will steer the car into the slot. If it's very tight, then it will ask you to stop, slot in first gear and slowly move forward while it steers again. Nice feature if you can't parallel park, but you can't rush it or it will miss calculate things.

Another thing is the integrated car stereo, air con and Bluetooth system. You see on the right side of your steering wheel, there is a voice activated button you press to command the system. Speaking in your home language through the integrated hands-free phone microphone, you can tune radio, skip cd tracks, choose the air con temperature and ask the Bluetooth module to connect to up to 6 of your phones, and call someone on the list.

A serious competitor to the Picasso. The sales around these 2 will come down to the driver.
The sports car driver that see's it self forced to buy a family car will go for the C-Max, while the older guy with lots of back-pain and constantly under painkillers will opt for the Picasso.
Me? I'd have none, but in need for the seats and space, the C-Max would be the choice.