OVER the Christmas and New Year period I try and test a car that is particularly suited to the family situation and the demands that are going to be made.
This year my son was coming over from San Diego where he is studying, my other son was expected to travel from Leeds, and another relation was likely to come from Scotland -- so I needed extra capacity.
However, I didn't want to be loaded with a massive people carrier for the majority of the time when I didn't need it. The new Ford Grand C-Max seemed ideal. It has two seats that can be pulled up in the rear to expand its capacity to seven, but is normally a pretty comfortable four- or five-seater courtesy of three second-row seats, one of which folds away to give a walk-through area and is narrower than the other seats.
The C-Max range has recently being relaunched and, while it still hasn't the style or the great driving characteristics of the bigger S-Max, it is a great improvement on the previous model which was rather clunky and unappealing.
The Grand C-Max actually looks bigger than it is and left a lot of room in the garage for unloading the rear hatch. The sliding rear doors are also a great boon for getting the whole crew out in tight spaces like multi-storey car parks.
The overall C-Max range starts at €23,995, but the longer and taller Grand C-Max with the high-spec titanium trim, which I was driving, came in at €31,195. I was particularly grateful for the very good park-assist system and the blind spot warning in the side mirrors.
The "Panther Black" colour of the car did help disguise its boxiness, but it will never be a really attractive car; family workhorses rarely are.
The well-tried and trusted two-litre diesel delivers good economy and enough power, although fully loaded the car felt a bit wheezy. But then I might be a bit anthropomorphic as the festive season always seems to strain me too!
Like all Fords the car does drive well, although that didn't stop it getting stuck in the Phoenix Park snow one day and only a few handfuls of cat litter and some willing helpers got us going again. Once the snow had cleared it was exceptionally easy to steer, even in the tightest corners. This belied its carrying capacity.
Inside there is a redesigned dash which has been getting a lot of praise. However, I found it a bit cluttered. I think the car will age quickly inside and look quite dirty, so go for brighter, happier colours than the rather drab ones with which I was presented.
Both the C-Max and Grand C-Max have picked up the maximum five stars for safety under the Euro NCAP system.
The Grand also features the rear seat belt reminder system, which alerts the driver if any passenger in the second or third row doesn't have their seat belt on or releases during the journey. This is particularly helpful when travelling with young children.
All in all, the Grand C-Max is a real alternative for the larger family -- and not just for Christmas. The car did the job for me over the festive period on the basis of its pure functionality. I had to slip over to Britain for a couple of days on an emergency, and my hired Fiesta had all the driving zip and fun that this car lacks. But that's not its role.
The Grand C-Max won't win that many prizes for style, but for practicality it deserves a lot of kudos.