If it, and the copycats that followed, were dull to drive, then so be it. Their role beyond that of a comfortable car for the user-chooser was to carry a family and its assorted trappings at the weekends.
It wasn't really until Ford joined the party last year with the Focus C-MAX that driving enjoyment became a major consideration.
After toying with the idea of building a seven-seat rival for the Vauxhall Zafira, it produced a compact MPV worthy of carrying the name of the car that has set a benchmark for driving enjoyment in its class.
Driving enjoyment is easier when you have a beefy 2.0-litre common-rail turbo-diesel, or even a frisky 1.8-litre petrol engine. But the results for the entry point in the diesel range, the Focus C-MAX 1.6 TDCi, seemed to be emissions of 129g/km and 57.6mpg on the combined cycle.
How could this MPV, with a leaning towards frugality and strong environmental credentials, have the same appeal as one with a gutsier engine?
To start with, the 1.6 TDCi in question is the latest four-cylinder engine in the PSA/ Ford diesel partnership. It is also currently in service in the Mazda3, the Citroen Xsara Picasso (as the high-performance diesel variant), the Peugeot 206 (where it wears a GTi badge) and the enormous Peugeot 407.
It is expected to be used in the next Ford Focus and Citroen C4 and will also be found in the Volvo S40.
In the C-MAX, it produces 108bhp and 177lb-ft of torque, and will sprint from 0-62mph in a shade over 11 seconds.
It never feels slow, either, putting in a spirited performance when changing down to overtake, helped by a slick, short-throw gearchange.
The electro-hydraulic steering set-up feels more reactive than the electro-mechanical steering found in cars such as the Volkswagen Touran and Renault Scenic, making you feel as if you are an integral part of the car rather than someone just driving it.
The ride in the C-MAX is comfortable and smooth. It is taller than a regular hatchback, and the laws of physics take effect when pushing it hard on twisty roads, but body roll is well contained on the whole and the car has plenty of grip.
The 1.6-litre engine seems a little noisy when you hold on to the gears past about 3,000rpm. Noise levels probably aren't that much higher than in the 2.0 TDCi version, but the diesel 'clatter' in the 1.6 does gain in prominence, if not in volume, above certain engine speeds.
Our Zetec test car was well equipped, with standard air conditioning, electric windows, a CD player and the like, and Ford seems to have jumped ahead of the rest of the compact MPV pack when it comes to the fit and finish of the interior.
There is a roomy boot and the rear seats can be reduced from a bench to two individual seats with limousine-like legroom. They can also be removed completely though that process isn't as simple as in rivals.
We never got anywhere near the claimed 57.6mpg – even with 300 miles of unstressed motorway, we missed the 50mpg mark. I can only assume that off the motorway I might have been enjoying my driving a bit too much.
Ford Focus C-MAX 1.6 TDCi
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £16,287
CO2 emissions (g/km): 131
BIK % of P11D in 2004: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £115
Insurance group: 7
Combined mpg: 57.6
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,625/35%
Depreciation (16.68 pence per mile x 60,000): £10,008
Maintenance (2.12 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,272
Fuel (6.72 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,032
Wholelife cost (25.52 pence per mile x 60,000): £15,312
Typical contract hire rate: £312 per month
Three rivals to consider
ABOUT £16,000 on-the-road will buy an entry-level diesel mainstream compact MPV a step above the lowest trim level.
The Renault Scenic, with its 100bhp engine and Dynamique trim, is just about on the money, while the C-MAX with 108bhp is a little more.
The exceptions are the Xsara Picasso, which undercuts the C-MAX by nearly £800, and the Touran, which is about £650 more. However, residual values predictions are likely to come into play later.
JUST £48 separates the Ford from the Citroen and the Renault, with the C-MAX expected to cost £1,272 to maintain over three years/ 60,000 miles, compared with £1,224 for the two French cars.
The Volkswagen is a little higher at 2.25 pence per mile, working out at £1,350 – not really a big enough gap to decide an outright winner at this stage, and unlikely to play a big part in the overall running costs of each vehicle.
TWO of the cars here claim a combined fuel consumption figure of 57.6mpg and both share the same engine. The C-MAX and Picasso both benefit from the diesel engine partnership between PSA and Ford, and more than 57mpg on the combined cycle seems too good to be true.
The Renault's smaller engine can't match the Ford/PSA unit, expected to cost a total of £4,194 over 60,000 miles, against £4,032, while the big 1.9-litre VW is in a different league at £4,932.
EVEN with its higher P11D price, the Volkswagen Touran beats the C-MAX and the Scenic on depreciation. Its CAP residual value is almost Golf-like and it is expected to lose £78 less than the Scenic, making a total of £9,450, despite having a list price nearly £900 higher than the Renault.
The C-MAX is a creditable but distant third on £10,008 lost, while the Citroen is expected to lose £10,362, cancelling out its P11D price advantage over the others.
THE Renault Scenic just beats the Ford Focus C-MAX, costing just under £15,000 to run for three years/60,000 miles, with the Ford on £15,312. The Citroen is a further £306 behind, proving its attractive list price does not offset its poor residual value, influenced by discounts and familiarity.
The Volkswagen really loses out through its fuel consumption – although it has a similar power output to the others, its larger-capacity engine costs it a good score.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
THE Volkswagen is the only car here compliant with Euro IV emissions and doesn't have the 3% diesel supplement on BIK tax. However, its emissions are higher than the others, which are more efficient but only comply with Euro III emissions.
It means all cars here are taxed at 18%, with the Touran rising to 19% next year while the others remain steady. The monthly bill for the C-MAX on test is about £54.
THE C-MAX is pipped by the Scenic in the running costs battle and the Scenic is such a competent and classy compact MPV it would be difficult not to recommend it over the C-MAX.
However, be warned that if a company car driver actually enjoys driving but needs the versatility of extra storage compartments and removable seats, the C-MAX would be first choice.