The Ford C-Max, introduced for the 2013 model year and now in its sixth season, comes in Hybrid and Energi plug-in hybrid forms. There is no regular gas-engine variant.
The tall, compact hatchback gave Ford a contender against the popular, fuel efficient Toyota Prius. It is now a dated product. Except for two new colors, nothing has changed for the 2018 model year. A rearview camera became standard equipment for 2017.
The Hybrid version uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that works with a two-motor hybrid system, to generate 195 combined horsepower. In moderate low-speed driving, the 1.4-kWh lithium-ion battery lets the Hybrid travel about one mile on battery power alone.
The Energi version is a plug-in hybrid with a larger 7.6-kWh battery that provides an EPA-estimated electric-only range of about 20 miles, reaching as high as 62 mph. Several other plug-in hybrid models on the market have longer battery-only ranges.
Both will keep going as long as gasoline is in the tank.
Spacious and comfortable, the C-Max Hybrid lags a bit in fuel-economy estimates when compared to its hybrid-powertrain rivals. Each version has front-wheel drive.
SE and Titanium trim levels are available in both Hybrid and Energi versions.
Bulging a bit here and there, the hatchback body sits atop a foundation adapted from the Ford Focus hatchback. C-Max is considerably taller than Focus, on the order of a small minivan. Small tall cars have been popular in Europe, where the C-Max originated, but it never caught on in the U.S.
Crash-test ratings have been just passable. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2018 C-Max four stars (out of five) overall, with four stars for the frontal crash and for roof strength, but five stars for side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2017 C-Max its top rating: Good in all tests except the difficult small-offset frontal crash, which yielded a second-best Acceptable score for the driver (no rating for the passenger).
Blind-spot monitoring is standard, but Ford offers no advanced safety features for the C-Max.
Ford C-Max Hybrid SE ($24,120) comes with keyless entry, Sync, cloth seating, a power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, six-speaker audio, rearview camera, lighted glovebox, and back-seat heater vents. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $875 destination charge.) Titanium ($27,175) includes machined aluminum 17-inch wheels, Sync 3, pushbutton start, rain-sensing wipers, ambient lighting, leather-trimmed power-adjustable front seats with lumbar support, nine-speaker Sony audio, foglamps, and a reverse-sensing proximity-warning system.
C-Max Energi SE ($27,120) is equipped similar to Hybrid SE, but with plug-in hybrid powertrain and is available in Titanium ($30,129) trim.
Options include a foot-operated hands-free power tailgate, heated mirrors with turn indicators, Sync 3, navigation, and a Parking Technology package that can steer the C-Max into a parking space.
A thick and bulgy basic shape gives the tall-bodied C-Max an ungainly demeanor. Detail work amplifies the chunky, bottom-heavy effect, which leads some critics to brand the C-Max as dumpy.
Up front in the stubby nose, a traditional trapezoidal-shaped grille reinforces brand identity and kinship to other Ford vehicles. Relatively small wheels fit within big wheel arches, accented by creases. If anything, those wheels make the bodyside angles and accents, as well as the windows, look even more curious. At the rear is a comparatively vertical tailgate.
Spacious and flexible, the C-Max cabin seats four adults in comfort and feels like near-premium quality.
For a compact car, the tall body surrounds impressive cabin space. As measured by the federal government, interior volume falls just short of midsize classification. Not only is the cabin appealing, it’s quiet when rolling down the road. Plentiful sound insulation and active noise cancellation quash engine and road noises.
Luggage space at the rear is substantially less expansive, largely due to the position of the hybrid powertrain’s battery. Space is even more minimal in the Energi edition. Cargo volume of the C-Max Hybrid is 25 cubic feet with the rear seatback upright, or 52 cubic feet with the seat folded. In the Energi plug-in, volumes total 19.2 and 42.8 cubic feet, respectively. The rear seat folds and lowers by moving one lever.
In both versions, the cargo floor is notably higher than the tailgate opening. With the back seat folded, using the multi-level floor can be a challenge.
Elevated C-Max height makes it easy to enter and exit. Soft-touch materials complement appealing seat fabrics, conveying a traditional, high-quality effect. Moderate brightwork sets off the stylish dashboard.
Front seats are comfortable and suitably-bolstered. Leg space is abundant in both front and rear, but back seat bottoms are low. Standard upholstery is recycled synthetic cloth, but leather is available for upper-trim models.
Instruments and controls enhance the impression of premium quality. User-configurable screens can display preferred information. Sync 3 voice-control and infotainment with an 8.0-inch touchscreen is standard in Titanium trim, optional for SE.
Smooth and quiet on the road, the C-Max drives easily, delivering a well-composed and refined ride. Still, C-Max lacks the supple, tight feeling of the Focus hatchback that serves as its foundation.
Passengers will feel the suspension firmness on some flawed pavement surfaces. Precise steering provides good feel, making it easier to position the C-Max in its lane.
Although the C-Max is pleasant to drive, it’s relatively heavy, which translates to rather slow acceleration. Swift enough when starting off, acceleration weakens at higher speeds. Many hybrid rivals, even with less-powerful engines, deliver stronger performance.
Unlike some hybrids, the C-Max does an admirable job of blending regenerative and friction braking. An â€œLâ€ mode raises the level of regenerative braking.
Fuel economy trails that of some hybrid competitors. The 2018 C-Max is EPA-rated at 42/38 mpg City/Highway, or 40 mpg Combined. That’s far below estimates for the current Prius. The C-Max Energi is EPA-rated at 39 mpg Combined. Eco displays can help drivers maximize fuel economy.
C-Max models are well-equipped, promising good value, especially when discounts are available to boost sales. Though beaten by various rivals, C-Max remains among the most fuel-efficient cars offered by Ford. It’s a dated product, however.
Driving impressions by the Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.