To the Max!

FORGET the glossy brochures or the top speed and economy figures, there’s nothing like a traffic jam to bring a car down to earth.

Survive a never ending line of stopped traffic with your humour intact and it’s going to be a car you could live with.

Now, make that two traffic jams – one in Paris and one on the M25 at Dartford – on the same day and it must be a darned fine car to deliver you home, hours late but still smiling.

Say hello to the new happy motor from Ford, in the not terribly sexy shape of the Grand C-Max, a seven seater that sometimes thinks it was once a sportier beast.

After 2,000 miles that took us (navigator-in-chief and myself) into deepest France and, briefly, into Switzerland with a duo of friends along for part of the ride, the bigger C-Max proved itself an easy going companion.

I’d asked for the most economical diesel engine available when I booked the car from Ford for its little Euro adventure and the 1.6 litre unit it came with managed a more than respectable 45mpg overall. It’s so good to see the dash reading 600 miles to empty after an expensive fill to the brim...

The Grand C-Max is a surprisingly large car, 130mm longer than its plain five-seat C-Max sibling and plenty long enough to make the optional reversing camera a boon in tight places (try the underground car park at the Mercure hotel in the centre of Rouen, for starters).

That extra length adds £1,250 to the price and makes room for a pair of adolescent-sized seats that fold into the boot floor when not needed. Access is aided by sliding doors (the smaller C-Max has conventional hinged affairs) that also make life easier for row two passengers in a tightly packed car park.

With four adults and a boot piled with luggage, the 1.6 engine did its best to keep up pace on those long, long uphill stretches of motorway that reduce lorries to a crawl. It might sometimes need a change down, or two, but the Grand C-Max was never less than up to the game.

Modestly sized wheels (bigger ones are available at extra cost) meant our car looked more matronly than Monaco but the upside was a ride that smothered most road surfaces and had a passenger comparing a 375 mile jaunt through central France to a pleasant journey by high speed train.

Lose the passengers, leave the luggage behind and even with those smaller wheels and modestly-sized engine, a keen driver will detect that here is yet another Ford engineered to be good to drive. Not quite in the Focus class (it’s simply to tall) but a fine achievement all the same.

The test car came with a Zetec family pack (£425) which adds a surprisingly useful powered tailgate and rear sunblinds. The £750 Sony navigation system with rear view camera is well priced against what some other makers charge but was fooled in France more than once, and bettered by the ageing TomTom system we packed as back up.

Still, stuck on the Paris ring road in the morning and stationary some miles south of the Dartford crossing in the afternoon, no sat nav on earth was going to be much use.