Model/Engine size: C-Max MPV 1.8 FFV Titanium 5dr
Fuel: Petrol or bioethanol
Fuel economy combined: 39.8 mpg
So you want a family car, but you also want something that has an interesting environmental edge. The Ford Focus C-MAX Flexi-Fuel could be your answer.
The C-MAX Flexi-Fuel, or FFV, is a normal, proven family car – but with the potential to run on petrol made from plants rather than crude oil. Yes, it can run on bioethanol (E85 – ie. 85% bioethanol, 15% petrol), which can be made from cereal crops. That means the crops absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, then emit CO2 as the fuel is burnt. So in theory, running this car on bioethanol means that the CO2 emissions associated with petrol made from crude oil are neutralised, or at least reduced substantially.
So this car runs on renewable energy. That sounds great, and Ford, one of the automotive leaders in this area, should be applauded for giving us biofuel family cars. The problem is, a few other elements in the equation are not quite there yet.
Firstly, there are still very few places where you can fill up with bioethanol; 22 garages in the entire UK at the time of writing, 21 of them being at Morrison’s supermarkets. If you can’t get bioethanol, don’t worry; as it’s a Flexi-Fuel car, it will also run on petrol – but that defeats the object somewhat.
The second issue surrounds the sustainability of biofuels. There has been a huge amount of debate about this issue in the media recently. In theory, biofuels answer all of our problems. We just grow plants to make petrol, the CO2 is neutral, and we don’t need fossil fuel crude oil. However there are currently many different views about exactly how much CO2 is saved when the entire production process from ‘well-to-wheel’ is taken into account. Most estimates come to the conclusion that a car such as this C-MAX FFV would save around 50-70% of CO2 compared to a petrol version. Some other opinions in the press recently claim that biofuels can be worse for CO2 emissions.
Linked with this is the accusation that is levelled at biofuels concerning their sustainability. There have been instances of rain forests in South America and Asia being cut down to grow crops to grow biofuels. However we now have bioethanol being produced in the UK; this avoids the rainforest problem, but still leaves us with the crops for food versus fuel argument.
And then there is the issue that despite the potential of this car and bioethanol to reduce CO2 emissions, there is little financial incentive to reward this – there are no huge subsidies for the fuel, road tax, purchase tax etc.
So where does that leave us? If you live somewhere where the fuel is available, then buying a Flexi-Fuel car should help to reduce the use of fossil fuel-derived petrol, reduce CO2 emissions, and it will help to grow the market for biofuel cars.
So if you are still keen to run a bioethanol car, should you buy this one? Well, the C-MAX is the more family-friendly version of the standard Focus. Yes, that’s the Focus that consistently wins great praise for its handling and overall driving experience. The C-MAX is slightly more bloated, but still retains these virtues. It has responsive steering and there is little body roll.
For a family car, it also looks great, helped by the recently refreshed styling, and the 17 inch wheels on this test car. In fact it looks, and feels, like a thoroughly modern car. When ‘people carriers’ first appeared, it was definitely uncool to admit to owning one. Not any more. The C-MAX has made the transporting of kids as painless as possible from a car ownership point of view.
Be aware however that this is a five, not a seven seater. Ford does offer a seven seater in the form of the S-MAX, which also looks cool, and is class-leading in terms of economy. But the C-Max still offers plenty of space for the standard sized family. Despite the increased bulk over the standard Focus, adding more weight and wind resistance, the economy figures are not much different. Of course there’s always the diesel if you want more miles from your gallon. In fact overall there’s a huge choice of different engines and specs to choose from.
Driving and using the biofuel powered C-MAX is virtually no different from the petrol powered variant. The 1.8 engine is not as torquey as the diesel, and the engine is not the strongest for this size of car, however it’s certainly adequate. The manual gearbox could be smoother, and it could really benefit from sixth gear; the engine certainly gets a little revvy and noisy at motorway speeds. The gear lever is mounted relatively high which means it is easy to use, but may not be to everyone’s tastes.
Overall the C-MAX feels refined and the interior is an enjoyable, quality place to be. It’s generally quiet enough, with just a touch of wind noise and susceptibility to cross-winds at motorway speeds. The stereo sounds great, and this highest spec (Titanium) car had satnav – although the graphics on the satnav system leave something to be desired.
Standard features on this car include rain sensing wipers, auto lighting headlights, auto-dimming rear view mirror, 17″ multi-spoke alloy wheels, Sony audio system with single slot CD player, electric rear windows, quickclear heated windscreen and trip computer. The on-the-road price for the standard vehicle is £16,495.
However this test vehicle featured a whole number of options at extra cost, including DVD navigation, Xenon headlights with headlamp levelling and washer jets, Park Assist – front and rear, KeyFree System and Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) – this car therefore totalled a substantial £21,045.
So, is this a good green car? Well, it’s certainly a good car. Is it green? That really depends on who you believe in the great biofuel debate. If produced sustainably, biofuels should offer reduced CO2 emissions over fossil fuel petrol. We’re still near the beginning of the biofuel era; biofuels will become more sustainable as we progress to second and third generation fuels which will be made from non-food crops. When that happens, cars like this C-MAX FFV will make great sense; in the meantime, people need to buy cars like this to help create the demand to get to the next generation of biofuel production.
Fuel economy extra urban: 50.4 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 29.4 mpg
CO2 emissions: 169 g/km
Green rating: E
Company car tax liability (2007): 20%
Insurance group: 8
Safety: NCAP 4 Star
Max speed: 121 mph
0-60mph: 10.8 seconds