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From Auto Express

Brushed Alcantara and leather bucket seats might look great in the showroom, but it's a well known fact that luxury trim and hide are no match for a young family. It's something that hasn't been lost on Ford, which has just unveiled a budget 1.6-litre edition of the Focus C-MAX.

Based on the maker's latest model and priced from £13,190 for an entry-level Studio, the line-up puts functionality and practicality ahead of soft fur-nishings. Our car was a C-MAX LX, starting from £13,690, and offered us the first opportunity to try out this cost-conscious addition to the range.

The 1.6-litre car maintains the compact MPV's purposeful looks, but does away with expensive luxuries such as an electronic handbrake and tinted windows. Inside, there's a utility feel that's enhanced by the hard plastic trim that covers the dashboard and doors. The ambience might not be the most appealing, but there can be no doubting its wipe-clean practicality.

The 1.6-litre 100bhp 16-valve engine is refined and surprisingly eager. It combines with a five-speed manual gearbox to offer sprightly acceleration and an impressive 49mpg. The free-revving unit is at its best on a fast cruise, but is quite happy to be worked hard as you pull from a junction into swift-moving traffic. Our only real complaint focuses on the gearchange. Although the high-mounted lever is placed neatly in the reach of the driver, the shift itself feels notchy and imprecise. The sharp, slick change of the current Focus 1.6 hatchback is apparently long gone.

True to form, though, the steering is accurate and well weighted, and while the black plastic wheel on our car was a little basic, it does have a solid feel. Meanwhile, the supple suspension provides a comfortable ride, allowing the body to roll gently through corners without sacrificing all body control.

The anti-lock brakes offer plenty of stopping power, but we would like more progression and feel from the all-disc set-up to make driving in stop-start town traffic a little more comfortable.

However, it's not only the C-MAX's suspension and engine combination that impresses. The versatile interior, tumble-forward rear seats and spacious boot also add to the appeal.

While this particular edition of the C-MAX may not be the most luxurious on offer, it is every inch as practical as more expensive 2.0-litre engined cars. It's also equally driveable, and is powered by an efficient engine that's more than up to the job of propelling the car assuredly along Britain's motorways.

Dan Strong
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