Ford is strictly limiting the C-MAX to hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants in the U.S. Why? Maybe because research says early hybrids based on existing gasoline models didn't sell. Marketers soon figured out that people wanted a unique-looking car that people could recognize right away as being a hybrid. And although Ford is now offering an electric version of the Focus and a both hybrid and plug-in versions of the Fusion sedan, the C-MAX will satisfy those who still insist that alternative fuel cars should look different.
Despite its distinctive shape, the Ford family resemblance is apparent. C-MAX has the same wheelbase and footprint as the Ford Focus, but, in addition to its wagon silhouette, it's also taller and has a more upright, utilitarian look. The front end features a thin, narrow upper grille with the oval Ford logo, and a wide-mouthed, geometric lower grille with strong horizontal lines. Headlamps are long and angular, and blend up into the hood line.
From the side, the C-MAX has a high roofline and strong wheel arches. A high, straight character line runs across the door handles to the wraparound tail lamps. Standard 17-inch wheels make the car look substantial, in contrast with some of the dinkier wheels and tires found on early hybrid models from other brands.
In back, angular tail lamps and deep body creases keep it interesting without being obnoxious. A prominent rear bumper is both distinctive and useful for resting groceries or packages. Optional on the C-MAX is Ford's handsfree liftgate technology, which allows anyone with the key fob to open the liftgate by simply waving a foot underneath the back of the vehicle.
The similarities to the Ford Focus continue with the interior design of the C-MAX. The instrument panel, climate controls and center stack feature the same angles, vents and knobs. It looks busy compared to the Prius's clean, almost too-austere controls.
The C-MAX instrument cluster uses a central speedometer with Ford's pleasing soft blue lighting. On either side, 4.2-inch LCD displays keep drivers informed about energy use, phone functions, audio settings and other vehicle details. Dubbed SmartGauge, these dual screens include a Brake Coach feature that helps train drivers how to get the most out of the regenerative braking system.
The steering wheel on the C-MAX is covered with soft-touch material and is comfortable to hold and use. However, as with other Ford steering wheels, the myriad controls look confusing and cluttered. The audio and handsfree phone controls, which are placed low on the wheel, are especially awkward to use.
Overall, materials are attractive and appear durable. The gear shift seems unnecessarily large and bulky, and sticks out at an angle from the center console in sharp contrast to the Prius's nubby little shifter. Door inserts have a softer plastic above the arm rest, and hard plastic below, with deep, wide pickets for cans, water bottles and various accessories.
Models equipped with navigation and MyFord Touch use an 8-inch touch screen that displays live traffic and weather in addition to audio and navigation controls. On the C-MAX Energi, charging station locations are embedded into the navigation maps, although technology doesn't yet exist to know whether those stations are occupied. Drivers can pair their Android or Apple smartphones to use streaming audio via Bluetooth and other features. While the MyFord Touch system is good in theory, certain aspects are annoying, including not-so-accurate voice recognition and menu options that aren't immediately intuitive.
Front seats sit very high and upright. Even shorter people feel tall in the car, especially in the passenger seat, which doesn't have a height adjustment feature. This is almost disconcerting for those used to driving or riding in a low, cockpit-style cabin. Front leg room is 40.4 inches, a couple of inches less than the Chevrolet Volt, and about an inch less than the Prius v.
However, the high roofline on the C-MAX makes for plenty of headroom, even in the back seat. Rear headroom is 39.4 inches, almost an inch more than the Prius v and nearly three-and-a-half inches more than the Volt. The Ford C-MAX bests the competitors when it comes to rear legroom, too with a spacious 36.5 inches, a tad more than the Prius v and a whopping five-and-half inches more than the Volt.
In back, the C-MAX has 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 traditional gas-powered compact hatchbacks. The hybrid offers a fair 24.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats, far less than 34.3 cubes found in the Prius v, but a tad more than the original Prius hybrid. Because of its larger battery, the Energi offers only 19.2 cubic feet of cargo space, about a cube less than the Prius Plug-In. Still, that's substantially more than the Chevrolet Volt's 10.6 cubic feet.