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2018 ford C-MAX Hybrid

Part wagon and part van, Ford's C-Max provides a well-appointed interior, useful technology features and an engaging, European-flavored driving experience that stands out from the hybrid norm. Downsides include controversial infotainment controls, a relatively small cargo area and fuel economy that can fall short of the official ratings in real-world driving.

  Overview

The C-Max is the first model from Ford to be offered solely as a hybrid in the U.S. It's based on a model that was originally designed for the European market, where buyers demand serious sophistication from their small cars, and as such is surprisingly refined in several key areas.

For example, the C-Max doesn't drive like a typical hybrid - the steering is precise, the body motions well-controlled, and, while acceleration isn't overwhelming, it has more than enough power for most driving situations.

Furthermore, its cabin is a pleasant place to spend extended periods of time, with high-quality materials, a modern-looking dashboard and nifty displays. 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" graphic that rewards efficient driving with leaves and vines that accumulate over the course of a drive to create an animated forest.

There's plenty of technology inside, as all C-Max models come standard with SYNC, Ford's Bluetooth-based connectivity system that allows smartphone users to place calls and stream music by using voice commands or steering wheel-mounted buttons. SYNC 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.

The C-Max can 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 eight-inch touchscreen, dual 4.2-inch displays in the instrument cluster 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.

Unfortunately, the battery pack eats up space and the C-Max it isn't quite as big inside as its crossover-like look would suggest. It offers 24.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats or 54.3 cubes with the rear seats folded flat. The C-Max does offer Ford's trick automatic tailgate, however, which operates by a sweep of the foot beneath the rear bumper.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that runs on the efficient Atkinson cycle and teams with an electric motor. The setup is good for an estimated 42 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

With 188 horsepower flowing to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the C-Max is quicker than the average hybrid, 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). 

Standard and optional features

The C-MAX is offered in two trim levels called SE and Titanium.

The list of standard features includes 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.

Highlights from the options list include a Sony-branded premium audio system, a navigation system, a power liftgate, a panoramic sunroof. There are also a handful of option packages to choose from. Some add comfort-oriented features like leather upholstery while others pile on more tech.

Occupant safety

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.

Key competitors

The C-Max's main competitor was the Toyota Prius V. It's no longer in production, which places Ford's dedicated hybrid in a segment of one. Buyers can look at plug-in crossovers like the Kia Niro, or see if the electric Chevrolet Bolt fits into their lives.