A PRIUS ALTERNATIVE
Ford designed the C-Max Hybrid to steal some of the thunder from the Toyota Prius. More specifically, it was supposed to challenge the Prius v wagon. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out the way the guys in Dearborn planned. Ford overestimated the gas mileage of the C-Max, saying that it would average 47-mpg. That number wasn’t accurate, and the resulting bad publicity has put a damper on C-Max sales. This is really a shame because the C-Max shines in many ways, and deserves serious consideration.
The C-Max sports a feisty, yet functional look, with a sharply raked windshield and Ford’s new hexagon-shaped grille. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels add a touch of muscle to the side view. The interior reflects a lot of the Focus/Escape design. The dash is huge, and features a large eight-inch display screen in the center. A backlit speedometer, flanked by digital readouts, provides essential data for the driver. My test car was equipped with sturdy cloth-covered seats that looked like they would hold up well over time.
For a small car, five inches shorter than a Prius v, the C-Max has excellent head- and legroom, front and rear. Passengers have chair-like seating and tall side windows, which afford each a good view of the road. However the storage space at 24.5 cu.-ft. behind the back seat is 10 cubes smaller than that of the Prius v.
Ford propels the C-Max with a hybrid power plant consisting of a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder gas engine paired with an electric motor to generate 188 horsepower. Torque is transferred to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT). This combo can rush the C-Max to 60 in about eight seconds, according to Ford. That’s two seconds faster than the Prius v. But in the fuel economy race, it’s slightly behind the Prius v. The C-Max gets 40-mpg in combined city and highway driving; the Prius delivers 42. However, the C-Max can reach 62-mph in electric mode only, thanks to a lithium-ion battery, developed by Ford. That beats the Prius v by a wide margin.
The C-Max Hybrid comes in two trim levels, SE and SEL. (A plug-in C-Max, called the “Energi” will be reviewed at a later date.) My test car, an SE, came standard with amenities, like automatic air conditioning, a six-speaker sound system and the Sync voice command system. The tester also had an option package that added a power liftgate, rear bumper sensors, satellite radio and the MyTouch Ford interface. This last feature, which controls the infotainment system, takes a little time to master. A navigation system can be added as well.
Moving up to the SEL model will also get you keyless ignition/entry, heated front seats, leather upholstery and a power driver’s seat. Options can be added, such as a rearview camera, automatic parallel parking and an enhanced power liftgate, which enables you to open the hatch by merely sweeping your foot beneath the bumper. I can see this “ gee-whiz” feature becoming very popular.
Some people resist hybrids because they think they are boring to drive. That is not the case with the C-Max. This car has plenty of pep, and accelerates well. It also surprises with its good handling. On a twisty road, you’ll forget that you’re driving a hybrid. The steering is quick, and the suspension fine-tuned so that the C-Max slips around curves with great agility. This car is fun to drive. Furthermore, it’s quiet on the road, and delivers a reasonably compliant ride.
C-Max Hybrid pricing starts at $24,995 for the SE and $27,995 for the SEL. My SE test car with options like a power liftgate, satellite radio, white platinum paint, Sync connectivity, and MyFord Touch had a suggested retail price of $28,880.
Practical and Functional
Excellent Fuel economy
Fun To Drive