2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEPosted on October 3rd, 2014
Five-passenger hybrid focuses on versatility and value
By Nina Russin
There was a time when the premium cost of hybrid cars outweighed any cost benefits owners might get at the fuel pump. Then Ford introduced the C-Max and everything changed. Priced from $24,170, the C-Max offers buyers more space than the competing Prius liftback, with some compelling features for buyers with active lifestyles.
Because the lithium-ion battery is packaged under the floor, second-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor. A hands-free liftgate makes it much easier to load up large cargo such as bicycles and kayaks. The door opens when the driver makes a gentle kicking motion under the back bumper with the key fob in his pocket.
A 110-volt outlet comes in handy for weekends off the grid, to plug in a computer or exterior lighting. Ground clearance is about 5-1/2 inches: not enough for serious off-road trails but adequate for the occasional graded dirt road.
Fuel economy lags behind the smaller Prius at 43 mpg, but it’s still a very good number: enough to produce a 550-mile driving range between fill-ups.
But the best reason to take a look at the C-Max is its performance. On that one, Ford hit the ball out of the park.
Test drive in Arizona
This week I had the chance to drive the mid-grade C-Max SE around Phoenix, Chandler and Scottsdale, Arizona as well as a section of rural road through the Gila River Indian reservation to the south. Weather during the week ranged from monsoonal rain to end-of-summer Arizona heat and humidity. The C-Max handled all of the above with aplomb. It is a car that can live in the real world.
Power comes from a four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine rated at 141 horsepower and an electric motor, yielding 188 net horsepower and a continuously variable automatic transmission. The C-Max can run in pure electric mode at speeds up to 85 miles-per-hour. Drivers who have long highway commutes will find this useful, since the electric mode extends fuel economy when the car is cruising at higher speeds.
Since electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds, low-end acceleration is much better than its horsepower rating would indicate. I had not problems moving to the front of the pack on highway entrance ramps or accelerating off the line.
The electric power steering system is very well tuned. On-center response is considerably better than for either the Toyota Prius liftback or Prius v. Standard torque vectoring automatically applies the brakes when the driver takes a corner too fast to prevent understeer.
Engineers also gave buyers a four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts in front and a multilink setup in back. Competitors have a torsion beam rear end that can feel clunky due to the weight of the battery pack.
Regenerative braking can feel odd to drivers not familiar with hybrids but in the case of the C-Max it is pretty much invisible. The pedal feels firm and linear. I was also impressed with the lack of noise from the low rolling-resistance tires, thanks to some good insulation in the floor.
Visibility to the front and sides of the car is quite good, thanks to a large windshield and generous greenhouse. Blind spot mirrors on both sides make a big difference on the highway, enabling the driver to monitor several lanes of traffic.
I was disappointed to discover that a rearview camera is not standard as on the Prius, but it shouldn’t dissuade potential buyers from considering the car. Urbanites who often park on the street can opt to add active park assist that automatically guides the car into a parallel parking spot.
The C-Max offers a surprisingly spacious interior for a car with a 104.3-inch wheelbase, with plenty of room for five adult passengers and their gear. I found HVAC and infotainment controls easy to access and intuitive to operate.
An eco-coach display helps drivers to be more efficient. The more efficient the driver, the more leaves appear on the display. Not being especially good at driving efficiency, I never did fill up the leaf display and my average fuel economy for the 100-mile test drive was 42.2 mpg: short of the EPA estimate.
Manual seat adjustments are intuitive to operate, but the seats themselves are a bit of a disappointment. There is very little in the way of lower lumbar support. It’s not a problem for short trips around town, but it could be an issue for longer road trips.
The Ford C-Max comes with seven standard airbags, antilock braking, stability control and SOS post-crash alert. Ford Sync 911 assist enables the driver to use the car’s hands-free phone capabilities to call 911 after a collision. The newest version of MyKey enables parents to set speed limits when their kids get behind the wheel and block explicit satellite radio programming.
The Ford C-Max received a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety administration. Ford builds the C-Max at its Wayne, Michigan assembly plant.
Like: An affordable gasoline/electric hybrid with excellent performance that is versatile enough for buyers with active lifestyles.
Dislike: Uncomfortable seats.
Model: C-Max SE
Base price: $25,170
As tested: $27,990
Horsepower: 188 Hp
Torque: 129 lb.-ft. (gasoline engine only)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 45/40 mpg city/highway
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