Ford's C-MAX Hybrid provides two qualities that have become increasingly important to buyers in recent years - impressive fuel economy and a commanding, SUV-like view of the road - in a single, well-appointed package. Though this tall wagon doesn't offer quite as much cargo space as some rivals, its European-flavored handling dynamics, contemporary cabin and 47-mpg combined EPA rating make it a strong choice for a family-friendly hybrid.
The C-MAX is the first model from Ford to be offered solely as a hybrid in the U.S., positioning it as a direct competitor to Toyota's Prius V wagon. While it doesn't yet possess the name recognition of the Prius, that may well change due to an impressively thrifty powertrain. Composed of a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that runs on the efficient Atkinson cycle and teams with an electric motor, the setup is good for 47 mpg in both the EPA's city and highway cycles - that's significantly better than the Toyota.
With 188 horsepower flowing to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the C-MAX is quicker than the average hybrid as well, dispatching the zero-to-60 mph benchmark in roughly 8.5 seconds.
Thanks to its air-cooled 1.4-kWh lithium-ion pack located beneath the cargo-area floor, the C-MAX can drive in electric-only mode at up to 62 mph (provided the driver isn't looking to get anywhere in a hurry). Buyers interested in traveling extended distances using only electricity should also check out the more expensive C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid, which packs a larger battery pack that cuts down on cargo space but provides a 21-mile electric-only range.
Underpinned by the same platform used by the nimble Focus compact, the C-MAX doesn't drive like a typical hybrid - the steering is well-weighted, the body motions well-controlled. On the downside, it isn't quite as big inside as its crossover-like look would suggest - while the Prius V has 34.3 cubic feet behind its 60/40 split folding rear seats, the Ford manages only 24.5 cubic feet. With these seats folded down, the Toyota still has an advantage, with 67.3 cubic feet versus 54.3. The C-MAX does offer Ford's trick automatic tailgate, however, which operates by a sweep of the foot beneath the rear bumper.
Design-wise, the Energi is much like its Focus platform mate inside, with high-quality materials and a modern-looking dashboard. The instrument panel contains screens on either side of the speedometer that display efficiency-related information. On the left, "SmartGauge with EcoGuide" includes a brake coach function that helps drivers capture the maximum energy possible through regenerative braking, while on the right there's an "Efficiency Leaves"¬Ě graphic that rewards efficient driving with leaves and vines that accumulate over the course of a drive to create an animated forest.
The C-MAX comes standard with SYNC, Ford's Bluetooth-based connectivity system that allows smartphone uses to place calls and stream music by using voice commands or steering wheel-mounted buttons. It can also read incoming texts aloud to help the driver keep his or her eyes on the road, and allows the use of Ford-approved apps like The Wall Street Journal news and Pandora radio.
It can also be spec'd with MyFord Touch, an infotainment system that builds on SYNC by letting users control everything from navigation to climate control to the sound system with voice commands. MyFord Touch also replaces conventional sound system knobs and buttons with a center-mounted 6.5-inch touchscreen and touch-sensitive controls in the center stack. Many consumers report that the system is a "love it or hate it" item, so those interested in the C-MAX are advised to try before they buy.
Trim Level Breakdown
The C-MAX is offered in SE and SEL trim levels.
The SE is fitted as standard with dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with AUX and USB inputs, SYNC, Bluetooth connectivity, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, cruise control, full power accessories and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The SEL adds leather upholstery, a power-adjustable driver's seat, Ford's MyTouch infotainment system, ambient interior lighting, a proximity key with push-button start and a reverse-sensing system.
Highlights from the options list include a Sony-branded premium audio system, a navigation system, a power liftgate, a rearview camera and a panoramic sunroof.
All C-MAX models come standard with dual front, side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to a driver's knee airbag, traction and stability control systems and emergency brake assist.
The C-MAX has only one direct competitor - the Toyota Prius V. The Prius is bigger inside but slower and less fuel-efficient, at least on paper (as always, your mileage may vary).