Ford C-MAX Hybrid

Jeff Cobb
by Jeff Cobb

In a move to chip away at Toyota’s market dominance of hybrid cars, Ford will roll out two new hybrid models in 2012.

The no-plug C-Max Hybrid and plug-in C-Max Energi are based on the five-passenger C-Max sold in Europe. In an announcement in June to expand production of the two C-Max hybrids, Ford said it had changed its mind about the seven-passenger gasoline-only version of the Grand C-Max in the U.S and the C-Max will be a dedicated hybrid vehicle. The C-Max Hybrid will arrive in the first half of 2012 followed by the C-Max Energi.

“This is our Prius fighter,” said Ford’s head of global marketing, Jim Farley, during a recent press announcement. “We did a lot of research that suggested having a distinctive shape that is easily recognizable not only helps Toyota sell more Prius hybrids but gives an image benefit to the rest of its lineup.”

Of note, the C-Max Hybrid and plug-in C-Max Energi will both be built on the same assembly lines as the 2012 Ford Focus and Focus Electric at a Ford plant in Wayne, Mich. Also, Ford recently announced that the electric drive transaxles would be produced at another Michigan facility instead of using the current supplier in Japan. Additionally, the lithium-ion batteries for both hybrids will be assembled in a third Michigan plant rather than the existing supplier in Mexico.

About The C-Max

The 2012 Ford C-Max is an American version of the European five-passenger C-Max that shares its underlying global C platform and many key components with the 2012 Ford Focus. “C” refers to an international size class, which in the U.S. falls into the compact class. In Europe, the C-Max is called a multipurpose vehicle (MPV), while most Americans will dub it a hatchback.

Like virtually every car in the category, the 2012 C-Max has front-wheel drive. Front-drive positions the weight of the engine and transmission over the wheels that propel the car. That benefits traction on slippery road surfaces and, by placing the powertrain components in the front of the car, provides maximum space for passengers and cargo.

A critical dimension is the wheelbase, which is the distance between the front and rear axles and a key factor in cabin space, particularly rear-seat legroom. At 104.2 inches, the 2012 C-Max’s wheelbase is just one-tenth of an inch less than the 2012 Focus, indicating adult rear-seat passengers will have adequate legroom.

In other dimension comparisons, the C-Max is two inches longer than the Focus hatchback, a fraction wider, and, at 63.7-inches in height, is six inches taller. Space behind the rear seats is 25 cubic feet, and cargo space expands to a generous 60.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

Hopefully, the U.S. C-Max will have the clever rear seat arrangement as its European counterpart. The three individual 40/20/40 seats can slide, fold or be removed completely. An optional Comfort feature allows the two outer seats to slide backwards and towards each other to give huge leg and shoulder room while the narrow center seat is folded out of the way.

Styling of the C-Max was created by Ford’s European design group and follows the company’s new “kinetic” styling themes. Ford calls this edgy look “energy in motion.”

Up front, a large, lower, inverted trapezoid grille and small upper grille are becoming signature design elements of Ford cars. Long flowing headlights establish an athletic look and the sculpted hood kicks up at the rear edges adding a touch of sportiness. The outer corners of the bumper boast eye-catching fog lights that direct the eye to prominent front wheel arches. The business end features an upright tailgate and taillight shapes that mimic the headlights.

The profile of the steeply raked windshield continues with a sweeping, coupe-like roofline that ends with a strong-rising C-pillar, similar to the smaller Fiesta. The shape is not only striking, but plays a major role in the C-Max’s aerodynamic drag coefficient of just .30.

Although not confirmed, a look inside the Euro C-Max is an indicator of what to expect when the U.S. C-Max arrives. Like the Fiesta, the same Ford kinetic design language shapes the distinctive features and surfaces of the dashboard, reflecting the dynamic and modern character of the exterior. Center console controls are inspired by modern mobile phones. It’s clear the design is targeted at a generation that’s grown up with all manner of mobile infotainment devices.

C-Max Hybrid

The less-electrified C-Max Hybrid will be the first Ford model to employ the third-generation version of Ford’s hybrid system. It also marks Ford’s first integration of lithium-ion battery technology in a hybrid. According to Ford, lithium-ion designs are 25 to 30 percent smaller and 50 percent lighter, which makes them easier to package in a vehicle, and can be tuned to either increase power to boost acceleration or to increase energy to extend driving distance.

Ford is light on details, but technically speaking, the C-Max Hybrid is similar to the Fusion Hybrid. Both drivetrains have a high-voltage electric traction motor generator that drives the front wheels and recharges the battery. And both feature an Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine. (C-Max engine size has not been released.) Without delving into details, an Atkinson-cycle engine gives up a little power output in exchange for improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions.

Ford’s hybrid system is a powersplit architecture design. In a powersplit hybrid, the gasoline engine and electric motor can work together in blended mode or individually to maximize efficiency. The engine also can operate independently of vehicle speed, providing power to the wheels or charging the batteries as needed. The motor alone can deliver enough power to the wheels in low-speed, low-load conditions, and can work with the engine at higher speeds. A planetary gear set transmits the blended output to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT) that directs the power to the front wheels.

With updates to the hybrid system, including the new lithium-ion battery pack, Ford says the C-Max Hybrid will deliver better fuel economy than the Fusion Hybrid, which has an EPA-estimated 41 mpg city/36 highway/39 combined. The company is also hinting that the top electric-only speed will be higher than the Fusion’s 47 mph.

C-Max’s direct competitor will be the new 2012 Prius V. While both are four-door, five-passenger hatchbacks, the Prius V has a five-inch longer wheelbase that yields eight additional inches in vehicle length. The results are more interior cabin space than the C-Max.

As for fuel economy, to be competitive, the C-Max will have to at least match the Prius V’s EPA-estimated 44 mpg city/40 highway/42 combined. But don’t be surprised if Ford pulls a little fuel mileage one-upmanship.

Pricing for the C-Max Hybrid has not been announced. But again, to be competitive it needs to be close to the estimated $26,000-$27,000 price of the Prius V.

C-Max Energi

The Ford C-Max Energi applies the technology found in the less-electrified C-Max Hybrid and the Focus Electric and will be the automaker’s first-ever production plug-in hybrid.

Ford says the C-Max Energi’s battery pack will reach a full charge overnight on a 120-volt outlet. The company doesn’t mention the availability of a faster-charging 240-volt system, but it is likely the Energi can use the same charger as the Focus Electric which has a four-hour fill-up time. The charge port is the same as on the Focus Electric, with lights surrounding the charge port that light up in sequence to visually indicate state of charge.

The Energi’s lithium-ion batteries are engineered for recharging and extended discharge during all-electric mode, whereas the C-Max Hybrid batteries are designed for shorter surges of electrons. Another difference between the two vehicles is the hybrid batteries are air-cooled while the plug-in has a temperature-control circuit for its battery pack.

When the Energi is started, it operates as an electric vehicle until the battery reaches a level that requires charging. It then switches to a charge-sustaining mode and operates in regular hybrid mode.

As with the C-Max Hybrid, Ford is sketchy on details about the Energi and has only provided limited information about the electric drive operation. We recently tested the Prius Plug-In and, with a full charge and using a fairly light foot, we consistently traveled close to 15 miles before the gas engine took over. Top electric-only speed was slightly more than 60 mph. Expect the Energi to closely parallel those numbers.

One number that Ford has thrown out is 500, as in 500 miles of overall driving range using the battery and engine. That’s the most range of any current plug-in vehicle, including the Chevrolet Volt.

Not surprising is a MyFord Touch telematics system tailored for electrified vehicles with specific electric and hybrid information. A novel feature is Brake Coach that helps drivers optimize the regenerative brake system. At the end of each trip it will show information including miles gained from regenerative braking, miles driven and total fuel consumption.

MyFord Mobile app can keep owners connected to their Energi. Free for five years, the app can locate charging systems, show the battery pack’s state of charge, preset charging times for off-peak utility hours and a host of other functions. These can all be done via a smart phone or laptop.

Like the C-Max Hybrid, Ford is mum about the Energi’s price. Best guess is $30,000-$33,000.

Ford’s Electrification Future

Against a backdrop of increased fuel economy standards in the U.S. and tougher European emission mandates, hybrid-electric and pure-electric vehicles will play a significant role in complying with these regulations. The Toyota Prius is king-of-the-hill when it comes to hybrids and Nissan is hoping the Leaf will have that position when it comes to EVs. General Motors has made a splash with the Chevy Volt and Ford; while Ford appeared to be asleep, or at least drowsy, behind the wheel—until now.

Ford says it is tripling the production capacity of electrified vehicles through 2013, from a current volume of around 35,000 today. That starts with five advanced battery-powered vehicles planed by 2012: Transit Connect Electric, on sale now; Focus Electric before the end of this year; The C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid and C-MAX Hybrid will be followed by an additional next-generation hybrid in 2012. Our guess for that model is either an all-new Escape Hybrid or the European Kuga small crossover.

Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s director of global product development, says the automaker is predicting that electric propulsion—conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles—will make up anywhere from 10 to 25% of its global fleet by 2025.

Kuzak notes that the electrification technologies have been developed in a manner that will allow them to be adapted for other global platforms. That indicates the likelihood of additional battery-based models from Ford in the not-too-distant future. We vote for a Grand C-Max Hybrid, and perhaps a plug-in version as well. That would keep the C-Max as a dedicated hybrid vehicle.

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Jeff Cobb
Jeff Cobb

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