New & Used Ford C-Max: In Depth
The Ford C-Max is a hybrid model that joined the Ford family in the 2013 model year. It is offered as both a plug-in and a standard gas-electric. Both share the same tall, compact hatchback body and are intended to rival versions of the Toyota Prius. To some degree, the plug-in C-Max also competes with the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car.
This generation of the C-Max is an all-new vehicle for Ford in the U.S., though the conventional versions of the model have been sold elsewhere and it shares much of its structure with the high-volume and better-known Ford Focus compact sedan and hatchback models. The American, hybridized C-Maxes are even built in the same Michigan assembly plant as those vehicles.
The C-Max models share a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine tuned specifically to work with Ford's hybrid system, which contains a pair of electric motor-generators that power the vehicle and recharge the battery in constantly changing ratios. Total power output between the engine and drive motor is 188 horsepower, or 54 hp more than the Prius's powertrain. In practice, that means that the C-Max engine doesn't struggle quite as much and sounds less desperate under the heaviest loads, like short uphill freeway on-ramps.
The hybrid C-Max sells in greater volumes, but the plug-in hybrid Energi model receives better fuel-economy ratings. It is rated at 19 miles of electric range (down from 21 mpg) and 38 mpg combined (down from 43 mpg). In practical terms, this means most drivers can get 15 or more miles of electric-only travel before the C-Max Energi exhausts its battery pack and reverts to being a regular hybrid (with slightly lower gas mileage due to its higher weight and lower gearing). The plug-in Prius, on the other hand, is rated at just 6 continuous electric miles under the EPA test cycle, for a total of 11 electric miles altogether.
Both C-Max models sit high and share common Ford design touches, including a large front grille opening meant to tie the C-Max to the appearance of the Ford Focus Electric, the company's only all-electric vehicle. For a tall hatchback, the stylists have done their best to give it flowing lines, including highlighted wheel arches and a slight haunch over each rear wheel. The effect is nowhere near as racy as the Focus five-door hatchback, but this car serves a different audience: buyers who want the highest gas mileage and a car that says it's a hybrid.
Inside, the C-Max shares styling cues with the Focus hatchback and sedan. The modern styling, soft-touch surfaces, and chrome accents give it a more upscale look than the Space Age hard-plastic interior of the Prius. And the full-color gauge and information display behind the steering wheel can be configured to show the car's operating data in a variety of ways, depending on what the driver would like to see.
The C-Max receives decent ratings from both the NHTSA and the IIHS, with the former giving both models four stars overall. The IIHS has only tested the C-Max Hybrid, and gives it top marks in all categories except the new small frontal overlap test, where it scores an 'Acceptable' rating. The models include front and side airbags for both front-seat occupants, side-curtain airbags for the first and second rows, and a driver's knee airbag. They have the usual array of electronic safety systems, including stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes.
Sales of the C-Max seem to have been affected by complaints from early owners and journalists who were unable to achieve the lofty EPA fuel-economy numbers Ford originally claimed. As a result, the C-Max has had its ratings reduced two times, the first in August of 2013 and then again in June 2014. Similar adjustments were made to other Ford and Lincoln hybrid claims.
While the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid was originally rated at 47 mpg combined (47 mpg city, 47 mpg highway), Ford lowered that rating to 43 mpg combined in 2013, following a pledge from the EPA that it would investigate the situation. Ford agreed to pay the buyers of 2013 C-Max models a set amount for the extra gasoline they presumably had to purchase.
Then in June 2014, Ford lowered the C-Max ratings a second time, to 40 mpg combined (42 mpg city, 37 mpg highway) after discovering errors in lab-test measurements and calculations for aerodynamic drag. Ford reached an agreement with the EPA to lower the ratings and send a further check for the increased gasoline costs to all owners of 2013 and 2014 C-Max Hybrids. Altogether, six separate Ford and Lincoln hybrid models had their efficiency ratings reduced at the same time.
The new ratings are much closer to the real-world mileage of 36 to 39 mpg achieved by both reviewers and owners. That remains a creditable number for a heavy and well-equipped five-door compact car, but the purpose-built Toyota Prius range still trounces it, delivering real-world gas mileage closer to its EPA rating of 50 mpg combined (excluding the Prius V wagon, which is rated at 42 mpg).
The 2016 C-Max is expected to get a refresh, previewed recently by the updated 2015 European model. The most noticeable change will be a new front end wearing a tighter single-grille design that's like the found on the recently refreshed Fusion, replacing the split-grille look of the current C-Max models. No significant changes to the powertrain are expected at that time.