Forty-seven miles-per gallon, 188-hp, 99.7 cubic feet of passenger room and $25,995. In almost every measurable way the Ford C-MAX is better than the Toyota Prius v. Even if the C-MAX is missing name recognition, Ford is going straight for the Toyota hybrid and isn’t ashamed to say it.
|1. A new 2.0L four-cylinder engine joins forces with an electric motor for total output of 188-hp.
2. EPA Rated at 47/47/47 mpg city/highway/combined with a total range of 570 miles, 150 more than the Prius v.
3. Base C-MAX SE is $25,200, $1,300 cheaper than Base Prius v, while the SEL model comes in at 28,200, adds more features and tech.
4. A plug-in C-MAX Energi model will arrive later this year with a 95 MPGe rating and as much as 20 miles of pure electric range.
The Ford C-MAX is Ford’s only hybrid powered vehicle – until the new Fusion hybrid arrives. The full hybrid we’re testing today will be accompanied by a plug-in hybrid which features the same powertrain, but with a beefier battery pack for longer electric-only drives. The C-MAX is going for the family friendly market, saturated with wagons, hatchbacks and small minivans. While a seven-passenger gas-only model was originally planned to come to North America, the third row was axed in order to put the battery-pack in a location that maximized space for the remaining five passengers.
That little design change shows how focused Ford is at ensuring the C-MAX is fuel friendly, but the American automaker didn’t forget the other things that make their other vehicles so popular as well.
All sorts of high-tech features are available on the C-MAX. The infamous MyFord Touch is present, along with a park-assist, hand and keyless power-liftgate and rear-view camera. On the outside, the C-MAX follows the same ‘Kinetic’ design language as the Focus and Escape, but over does it a bit with the three grilles at the front.
The C-MAX is built on the same platform as the Focus, and features a chassis that is surprisingly dialed in for a bigger car. To get the full test-in on the C-MAX we took it from West Hollywood to Malibu, all while staying off the highway, and sticking to the pleasant roads on the way.
Right off the bat, there’s an issue though. Los Angeles is going through a substantial heat-wave, meaning that with temperatures in the high-80s or above, all our testing and photography will be done with the air-conditioning set to its maximum setting. Usually, over the course of a long day, this has a pretty significant impact on fuel-economy.
MYFORD TOUCH WITH BUTTONS
Luckily, the C-MAX SE we’re testing doesn’t have skin-scorching leather upholstery, so we’re comfortable, even in the heat. In fact, the car surprises in terms of comfort for the driver and passenger. There’s tons of head-room, and interior materials are slightly above average for a car of this price range.
As mentioned earlier, Ford’s paid a lot of attention to its tech offerings. MyFord Touch has seen a slight improvement thanks to the addition of knobs for climate control, and actual tactile buttons, for fan speed and AC settings. These replace the touch-sensitive buttons that previous Ford models used, that required constant jabbing in order to change settings drastically. It shows that Ford is listening to the masses, and now people can even adjust the climate settings with gloves on – something we’re really not concerned with in this heat.
However, MyFord Touch is still finicky. Even with the latest version of the software, pairing a phone took far too long. While screen touches were pretty responsive, often it took too long to bring up the map in the navigation screen.
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One of the highlights here is the information cluster in front of the driver. The speedometer is sandwiched between two gorgeous and bright LCD displays that are completely customizable. Drivers can access almost all the functions of MyFord Touch through the information display on the right. However, a new screen option is present for the C-MAX, called efficiency leaves. This screen shows, visually through foliage how ‘green’ you’re driving. It’s a feature that’s becoming common on eco-friendly vehicles, and the C-MAX won’t be caught without it.
However, MyFord Touch is a fairly deep system. The main infotainment display has additional settings buried deep in its software that require several touches to access. The information cluster is accessed via two directional pads which clutter up the space on the steering wheel. These issues, while very personal, complicate MyFord Touch, and can make it unfriendly to a new owner.
The Prius v has many similar features and the Toyota system is both faster and simpler to use, though not as easy on the eyes.
The C-MAX follows a theme of fuel efficiency. Even the car’s seats are filled with soy foam, designed to reduce the car’s carbon footprint.
In terms of the car’s powertrain, Ford’s 2.0L gas-electric engine combo makes a total of 188 hp. That’s 54-hp more than the Prius v, and it really feels that way on the road. Unlike other hybrids out there, the C-MAX is hearty, and has quite a bit of get-up-and-go in comparison to the Prius v.
Like the Prius, the C-MAX uses an e-CVT. While CVTs can be a low-point in most cars, they tend to be quite useful in hybrids. The C-MAX is no exception to this rule, and feels quite smooth in traffic and highway cruising. The only time it can be an issue is when trying to accelerate uphill where the car becomes uncharacteristically loud and rather un-hybrid like.
In general, the powertrain works well and makes the switch from electric power to gas propulsion smoothly. The only nagging symptom of hybrid-itis comes in the brakes. The regenerative brakes bite hard making for a rocky driving experience in the city. Another issues is that the C-MAX has no button to engage an electric-only mode. While the car can use its electric motor to go up to 62 mph, there is no way to enforce that propulsion system, like in the Prius.
Ford also reprogrammed the C-MAX’s cruise control system so that it provides the best fuel economy possible. We tested this feature out for a while, and found no significant change in driving dynamics, but still solid fuel economy.
With the AC blasting the whole day (even during photo shoots) we didn’t come close to the EPA’s rating of 47 mpg city/highway and combined, achieving 39 mpg during our day. While Ford’s average fuel economy numbers are 5 mpg above the Prius v, our test of that car returned 38 mpg, making for a negligible 1 mpg difference.
Finally, in comparison to the Prius v and other small people movers the C-MAX holds up pretty well, though cargo space is not its strong point. Rated at 24.5 cu-ft behind the second row and 52.6 cu-ft with the seats folded flat, it’s a good chunk smaller than the Prius v at 34.3 cu-ft and 67.3 cu-ft respectively.
Plus, when loading the trunk, there is a small concern. The trunk floor is slightly raised from the trunk opening. Not only is it an eyesore, it’s a bit inconvenient to lift your cargo an extra few inches to stow it. The raised floor in the trunk is due to the C-MAX’s lithium-ion battery pack residing over the rear-wheels, likely a contributing factor to the car’s surprising handling.
Short in some areas it is more stylish, has plenty of tech and is priced $1,300 lower than the Toyota. With impressive fuel economy, there’s less sacrifice to be made in the driving enjoyment department with a solid, dialed-in chassis and peppier drive. It might not have the Prius name recognition but the C-MAX is certainly a serious rival to the Toyota family hybrid.