If Renault can lay claim to inventing the people carrier with its Espace, Ford was the first to make them fun to drive.
Families fell for the much increased leg and headroom, improved stowage space and flexible layout. The payoff was a vehicle that drove more like a van than a car.
Ford proved that needn’t be the case with its S-Max, C-Max and B-Max series of people carriers, or MPVs as they’re now known. For the first time, drivers could take a bend at speed without feeling like they were going to topple over.
I’ve just spent a week with the C-Max’s big brother, the Grand C-Max.
Slightly longer and wider, it adds sliding rear doors and a pair of rear seats that are fine for putting children in.
Both standard and Grand C-Max have been facelifted recently, receiving Ford’s Aston Martin-inspired front grille, revised diesel engines and a few other tweaks.
Prices start at a little over the £19,500 mark and I drove the 1.5 diesel in Titanium spec, which came in at £24,795.
First up is its design. There’s no escaping the tall profile of a car designed primarily for practicality, but the swooping shape does flatter it and there are some nice detail touches.
The ride quality has been softened compared to previous generations of the C-Max and Ford says this is to give better comfort to passengers in the rearmost seats.
It’s certainly cosseting. I drove from Dundee to Dalgety Bay in my test car and on both motorway and Fife’s country lanes it acquitted itself well.
Refinement at 70mph on a dead straight motorway is excellent, while undulating bumps on A and B roads are absorbed well.
But does the softer ride impact handling? Just barely. Steering is sharp and the Grand C-Max feels pretty agile in corners. It’s no Lotus but for this type of car Ford have done a remarkable job.
With 120hp, the 1.5 litre diesel isn’t hugely powerful but it’s frugal, smooth and does its job without any fuss. There’s a 2.0 diesel if you need more oomph.
The interior has been tarted up, with Ford removing many of the buttons that cluttered up the dashboard on previous generations of this car.
There’s plenty of room in the front and middle row of seats, while the rearmost pair are fine for children.
The middle seat in the second row can fold beneath one of the others creating a six seat layout with ‘walk through’ space in the middle. It’s a very clever system and allows you to take the whole family and sets of skis up to Glenshee if it ever decides to snow this winter.
With seven seats in play boot space falls to just 92 litres but fold them all flat and there’s a full 1,742 litres.
The entry-level Zetec models come with 16in alloys, Ford’s Quickclear front windscreen, sports-style seats, air conditioning and DAB radio. Upgrade to the mid-range Titanium spec and expect to find 17in alloys, automatic headlights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, and keyless start and entry, as well as Ford’s infotainment system with an 8.0in touchscreen.
The range-topping Titanium X get larger alloys, a panoramic sunroof, bi-xenon headlights, a part leather interior and heated front seats all as standard.
Those who need huge space should look to the bigger S-Max but the Grand C-Max packs a lot of interior room into a modest footprint.
Some rivals are slightly roomier but they don’t offer the great driving dynamics that comes with the Ford.
Running costs are also low, seats are easy to fold and those sliding rear doors make it easy to get little nippers in and out.