In the world of hybrids, the Toyota Prius casts a very long shadow. Despite a myriad of alternatives from other manufacturers, the Prius walks away with the hybrid sales crown month after month. With the expansion of the Prius line to include the Prius c and v, those numbers don’t look to be trailing off much. It’s enough to turn a Blue Oval green with envy. So much so that the boys and girls in Dearborn took a look around Ol’ Henry’s house to see what they had available to throw at this deplorable situation. As it turns out, they had plenty.
Utilizing the European C-MAX 5-door pseudo-minivanlet gave them a roomy platform from which to mount their assault on efficiency and the Prius v. If you’ve had an opportunity to view or drive a Focus, Fiesta or Escape you’ll feel like you’ve met Max before. Like Focus, it has a comfortable ride while handling decently for a front driver without an ST suffix. Braking, too, is Focus-like. In this case, Focus Electric. The regenerative braking can still be grabby at low speeds, but mainly works fine. Once you’ve gained some momentum you’ll hardly notice them. Learning to slow and stop without engaging the hydraulic brakes will reap benefits worlds greater than the effort of the lesson and, paired with less than enthusiastic acceleration, you’ll get to see the efficiency display fill up with so many leaves you’ll think you’re in a rain forest. Don’t take that to mean C-MAX isn’t capable of enthusiastic acceleration. Making the jump from Escape (and Fusion) is the power train: a 2.0-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder, Atkinson cycle makes 141 hp @ 6000 rpm and 129 lb.-ft of torque at 4000. An electric motor is paired up with it generating an additional 47 hp to get to the advertised 188. That number 47 is put to good use on the economy rating, too. In this case its 47 city/ 47 hwy/ 47 average makes it hip to be square. The Prius v numbers stack a bit lower at 134 hp and 44/40/42 with it’s smaller 1.8-liter 98 hp engine and 36 hp motor. The extra fifty-something horsepower routed through its CVT makes the C-MAX an acceptable performer in traffic. You might even have a little fun since the Focus and Fiesta DNA conspire to keep you slightly more than mildly interested in actually exploring its limits.
C-MAX purposely shares the styling of all the small cars it shares its platform with, or maybe somebody ignored the maximum pressure warning and overinflated a Fiesta. Either way, that’s not a bad thing since the styling is pleasant, and it ties the bottom end of Ford’s lineup together nicely. That familiarity extends to the interior, also. Like the Focus Electric, two display screens flank the centered speedometer feeding you “real time” information about fuel efficiency and regenerative braking performance as well as the usual fuel level, temperature, time and mileage. The Sync with MFT screen sits high on the dash, just like Focus and friends, with the same control layout. The seating controls and surface finishes follow the same blueprint as the entry level Fords, too. For the various objects d’ junque that accumulate in the passenger compartment of a family hauler, Ford has included cubbies in the floor under the front seats that can fit items as large as a laptop and charger (with a nearby power source to plug into and enough gap to not pinch the wires), as well as the normal dash, door and console bins and cup holders. The rear seats fold flat to give you from 24.5 to 52.3 cubic feet of space to fill after you wave your foot under the bumper to open the hands free tailgate, which migrates over from Escape. You’ll have to step up from the SE ($25,995) to the SEL ($28,995) to get it but its the one feature, other than the efficiency, that you will probably appreciate the most. That ever present sense of déjà vu also carries through to the ambient interior lighting and other comfort and convenience equipment, so if you jump out of an Escape to drive a C-MAX you won’t need to consult the writ of common knowledge to find your way around the dash.
Whether the C-MAX is a good hybrid will have to wait for a longer term evaluation opportunity. Our introduction to C-max was limited to a lap of the neighborhood surrounding Ford’s NYC location and covered only a few miles, so I can’t speak to the veracity of the mileage claims. The combined power output of the gas and electric drive line will let you cruise in the left lane without embarrassment or fear of reprisal from your less than green road-mates (like me), and the added torque gives the C-Max just enough grunt to back up your right foot, when necessary.
If it turns out that C-MAX is a good hybrid, that’s great. What I think they’ve actually done though, by using a well sorted vehicle as the basis, is build a good car that happens to have a hybrid power train.
Photo Credit: Ford