The C-Max is aimed at young families looking for a versatile and feature-rich vehicle but who don't want to spend a king's ransom buying one. Presently, aside from the Mazda5, their choices are limited to compact crossovers and de-contented base-model minivans. Ford thinks family car buyers especially will continue to trend toward downsizing but at the same time up-contenting -- witness the average transaction price on a Fiesta. A well-equipped Grand C-Max will run less than $25,000, we're told, though exact pricing is a long way from being decided.

We got the chance to hustle both versions in the south of France around the Provencal countryside shortly after the 2010 Paris auto show, and they proved to be surprisingly fun vehicles.

First, the Grand C-Max. The version we drove was powered by a 161-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder mated to Ford's PowerShift dual-clutch transmission. We're getting neither part of that powertrain (more on that later), which is unfortunate since it's a great combination for this sort of vehicle. The torquey diesel has more than enough grunt to move the MPV briskly and the PowerShift gearbox is a thing of smooth, quick-shifting beauty.

On the road, the Grand C-Max felt quite comfortable, though part of this was surely due to the smooth French roads over which we were driving it. Its brakes felt good, but without loading one up to the brim, it's hard to tell how they would respond with extra weight. Ford designed some fun-to-drive characteristics into the chassis, so the suspension is stiffer than one might expect from such a vehicle, but it's not too sporty. Additionally, the bigger C-Max feels somewhat top-heavy, so dads wishing to put their wee ones on the car guy/girl path early will want to make sure the kids aren't prone to motion sickness first.