Model: Ford C-Max FFV
Engine: 1.8 litre petrol/E85
Performance: 0-62mph in 10.8 seconds, 39.8 mpg
Worth considering: Ford C-Max diesel, Ford Focus FFV, Saab 93 BioPower estate
This week, our readers give their views on Ford's Focus-based people-carrier, the C-Max. Our test car isn't just any C-Max, though; this one is the FFV, or flexible-fuel vehicle, version. The FFV designation indicates that a car can run not only on standard unleaded fuel but bioethanol-based E85 or any mixture of E85 and petrol as well.
Regular readers will know that we've already tested a number of cars capable of running on E85. Saab has made most of the running in the UK in trying to popularise this mostly renewable fuel and its benefits in CO2 terms, but Ford has been selling an FFV version of the Focus hatchback for over a year, and, if anything, was more important than Saab in kick-starting interest in bioethanol in Sweden, which leads Europe in the adoption of E85.
So how does the FFV version of the C-max differ from the standard car? The answer is: "not very much". It costs exactly the same to buy, and according to Ford's own figures, the engine's power and torque are the same as the unleaded-only variant. The same applies to performance data such as top speed and acceleration times. Even the official fuel consumption and CO2 emission figures are the same – but that's because, even for the FFV, these mandatory tests are required to be carried out using unleaded fuel.
And, as our readers discovered when I arranged for them to fill the car up at Morrisons, the only UK chain to stock E85, the process of fuelling an FFV model is the same as for any other car. The only difference, as we've pointed out before, is that E85 has only a small price advantage compared with unleaded but delivers fewer miles per gallon, which means running on E85 will leave you out of pocket.
Setting aside the pros and cons of E85, what about the C-Max itself? It recently underwent a restyling exercise that brought its frontal appearance into line with that of the larger S-Max. There wasn't really the need to change much else; this is a car that crams a lot of space into a small package and has the sort of agility you can take for granted from anything based on a Focus. Value-conscious buyers will probably steer clear of the pricey "titanium"-level trim fitted our test car, though.
Given that the FFV C-Max costs the same as the standard model and is happy to run on unleaded, you might as well opt for it, just in case Alistair Darling decides to continue in the present vein of the UK's long-standing reluctance to promote renewable fuels through taxes and duties.
Andy Webber, 30, Bank employee from Newport
Usual car: Mazda 6
Overall I was impressed by the C-max: the gearbox was smooth, the power steering precise and the ride comfortable. On the motorway I found the 1.8l engine a little sluggish when pulling out to overtake, but it was comfortable cruising at higher speeds. The vehicle tested was top of the range (titanium), and even though it had all the toys it was expensive for what is essentially a larger Ford Focus. The extra space in the boot and rear seats was noticeable, though, and the fold-flat rear seats a useful feature. Filling up with bio-ethanol isn't any different from normal petrol but finding an appropriate petrol station is tricky.
Ian Ross, 37, Police inspector from Bedfordshire
Usual cars: Vauxhall Vectra dual fuel LPG; Jaguar X-Type diesel
Jumping into the vehicle I noticed the usual Ford instrumentation. This being the top spec car I was a little disappointed with the level of equipment. The engine gave a smooth power delivery and the ride was firm yet comfortable around country lanes. A quick stop at the garage allowed us to fill the tank – there was a noticeable improvement in performance running on pure bio. Covering 40,000 miles last year, I have a personal duty to reduce harm to the environment. But would I buy it? No. I can reduce my carbon emissions using my LPG, it's half the price per litre, car tax is cheaper and there's no congestion charge.
Rachel Price, 25, Banker from Hereford
Usual car: Mazda 6
Although this car looks good from the outside, once inside I felt like I could have been driving a standard Focus with a bit more leg room and boot space. The overall drive was comfortable and smooth, but slightly sluggish on the acceleration. Filling up was surprisingly easy, but finding a garage that sells bioethanol is a challenge. While biothanol is better for the environment, there is no monetary incentive to buy it: the car is more expensive, the fuel is no cheaper and you get fewer miles to the gallon. Having said that, this car sets the pace for environmentally friendly cars and as bioethanol becomes more readily available I feel Ford will have the upper hand in the market.
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