Look out Prius, there's a new kid on the block. The Ford C-MAX, a five-door hatchback originally built for the European market, has come to the U.S. But instead of the traditional gas-powered engines found on C-MAX models overseas, the American C-MAX sticks solely to hybrid and plug-in hybrid offerings.
Built on the same platform as the Ford Focus, the C-MAX hybrid and plug-in, the latter dubbed the C-MAX Energi, are powered by a 2.0-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder engine paired with a 118-hp, 88kW electric motor. The Ford C-MAX Hybrid uses a 1.4 Lithium-ion battery, while the Ford C-MAX Energi packs a hefty 7.6-kWh Lithium-ion pack. Gears are selected by an electronic continuously variable transmission (eCVT).
Notably, the Ford C-MAX hybrid is EPA-rated at 47/47 mpg City/Highway driving, city mileage the same as highway mileage. In general, hybrids are most efficient in the city, since stop-and-go driving uses the regenerative braking system more frequently to help charge the battery. As power management technology continues to improve, we expect to see more hybrids achieving better fuel economy numbers on the highway.
The Ford C-MAX Energi offers better fuel economy equivalents and a longer range than the hybrid, although in this variant, city driving still gives the best bang for the buck. It's rated at 108 mpg equivalent (MPGe) in the city, 92 MPGe on the highway and 100 MPGe combined, with a top speed of 85 mph. It can drive up to 21 miles in electric-only mode, and can go up to 620 miles with a fully charged battery and a full tank of gas. This beats the Toyota Prius plug-in, which has a six-mile all-electric range and 540-mile total range.
Like something out of a sci-fi movie, the C-MAX can learn frequently driven routes and will automatically adjust its settings to maximize efficiency. Ford engineers developed this feature, called EV+, which uses the car's built-in GPS and proprietary software to adjust how battery power is used. For example, if the vehicle is nearing a frequent destination, it will remain in electric-only mode to save fuel.
Charging times for the C-MAX Energi are about seven hours with a traditional 120-volt household outlet, and about 4.5 hours with a 220-volt Leviton fast charger. The latter must be purchased separately and is available at Best Buy stores.
Its layout and design makes the C-MAX versatile enough for commuting or weekend road trips. There's a 60/40-split rear seat that folds completely flat, creating more room for cargo. However, because of its battery, the C-MAX lacks the trunk space of most gas-powered compact sedans. The hybrid offers a fair 24.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats, yet, the Energi offers a mere 19.2 cubes. Optional is a handsfree liftgate, first found on the Ford Escape, that allows anyone with the key fob to open the hatch by simply waving a foot underneath the back of the vehicle.
Versions of the C-MAX equipped with navigation use the latest version of MyFordTouch, which has improved since the last generation but can still be irksome to use. Still, there are some handy features, like charging station location information on the C-MAX Energi. But, unfortunately, it's not possible to tell in advance if those stations are already occupied. Once the C-MAX Energi is plugged in, however, Ford's software can alert drivers via text message if the charge is interrupted, foiling any potential plug stealers.
Competitors to the C-MAX are few and far between. Alternatives to the hybrid include the Honda Insight, the traditional Toyota Prius, and the Prius v wagon. Plug-ins that rival the C-MAX Energi are currently limited to the Chevrolet Volt and the Toyota Prius plug-in. Because the federal tax credit for hybrid and electric vehicles is currently calculated according to battery size, the C-MAX Energi earns a higher credit than the Prius plug-in, making its adjusted base price $29,995.
The 2013 Ford C-MAX sedan is available with two powertrains: Hybrid and Energi plug-in. The hybrid is available in two trim levels, and the Energi is offered in a single trim.
The C-MAX Hybrid SE ($25,200) comes standard with cloth seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, manual adjustable driver and passenger seats, a leather-wrapped, tilt/telescoping steering wheel with menu and audio controls, leather shift knob, power windows, trip computer, cruise control, remote keyless entry, Ford Sync voice-activated system, 6-speaker audio system with CD player, auxiliary jack and USB port, a 60/40 split folding rear seat and 17-inch aluminum wheels.
The C-MAX Hybrid SEL ($28,200) adds leather-trimmed and heated seats, a power adjustable driver seat, pushbutton start, universal garage door opener, satellite radio capability with a 6-month included subscription, the MyFord Touch interface with touchscreen, fog lamps, power heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, rain sensing wipers and a reverse sensing system. Most of these additional features can be added as options on the Hybrid SE. Options on the Hybrid SEL include a package that bundles an upgraded Sony audio system, navigation, HD radio ($1,195); another that adds a power liftgate, rearview camera and hands-free liftgate ($1,695), and a third that combines both at a slight discount ($2,495). Many of the features found in the packages can be added a la carte.
The C-MAX Energi SEL plug-in ($32,950) comes standard with everything found on the Hybrid SEL, and offers similar packages and options.
Safety features on all models include dual-stage front airbags, side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver's knee airbag, ABS, emergency brake assist, traction control, stability control, an anti-theft system and a post-crash alert system. Rearview camera is optional.