2017 Ford C-Max Energi vs. 2017 Chevrolet Volt: Compare Cars

November 22, 2016

The Chevrolet Volt and the Ford C-Max Energi are both compact plug-in hybrid hatchbacks. Each is powered by a combination of electricity from the grid, used to charge an on-board battery pack, and a 4-cylinder engine.

But the two are very different vehicles in shape, accommodations, and driving behavior—though each one will likely have its fans, we've given our nod to one of them by a fairly wide margin.

MORE: Read our reviews of the 2017 Chevrolet Volt and 2017 Ford C-Max

Under our new scoring system, the 2017 Volt earned a score of 7.5. The C-Max lineup that includes the Energi plug-in hybrid model, on the other hand, is rated at 5.3—meaning that the Volt wins this one pretty decisively. If you want a car that combines useful electric range with a gasoline engine for long trips, the Volt is simply a better choice. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Chevy Volt is an all-new second generation of the range-extended electric car. It's better looking, provides more electric range, accelerates faster, and is quieter and more refined inside. It won all sorts of awards for 2016, including the Green Car Reports 2016 Best Car To Buy title. The current Ford C-Max Energi remains all but identical to the version launched in 2013 alongside the conventional hybrid version of the C-Max, despite an incremental front-end styling update this year.

2017 Chevrolet Volt

2017 Chevrolet Volt

Enlarge Photo
2017 Chevrolet Volt

2017 Chevrolet Volt

Enlarge Photo
2017 Chevrolet Volt

2017 Chevrolet Volt

Enlarge Photo
2017 Chevrolet Volt

2017 Chevrolet Volt

Enlarge Photo

The Volt is a low, sleek hatchback that's racier and less slab-sided than its predecessor. We see elements of the last Honda Civic in parts of its design, and more than a little similarity to the latest Cruze compact sedan. The C-Max, on the other hand, is an upright five-door vehicle that's either a tall hatchback or a small minivan—you be the judge. Against the latest Volt, its lines are chunkier, but they conceal more interior room.

Inside, the Volt will hold four adults in form-fitting bucket seats separated by a wide tunnel that holds the battery pack. There's a fifth "seating position," basically a padded space between the two outboard seats. While it may work for a lithe teenage athlete, larger or older adults won't be comfortable–and it's only really for emergencies. The C-Max, on the other hand, holds four comfortably and five acceptably. Its battery pack is sited under the load-bay floor, which is higher than you'd expect in a vehicle this size—and offers correspondingly less cargo room.

Bodies aside, it's electric range that most differentiates these two plug-in hybrids. The Volt now has 53 miles of EPA-rated range, up from last year's 38 miles, while the C-Max Energi is rated at just 19 miles of range. Both use transverse 4-cylinder engines with two-motor hybrid systems powering the front wheels. Sophisticated software controls the engine and electric power, battery charging, and regenerative braking, with the goal of minimizing combined energy use. Once the battery is depleted, the Volt is rated at 42 miles per gallon combined, the C-Max Energi at 38 mpg combined.

2016 Ford C-Max Energi

2016 Ford C-Max Energi

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2016 Ford C-Max Hybrid

2016 Ford C-Max Hybrid

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2016 Ford C-Max Energi

2016 Ford C-Max Energi

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But a key difference is that the Volt always runs purely on electricity until its battery is depleted. Unless the weather is below freezing, its engine never turns on if there's charge in the battery. Chevy's data shows that nine out of every 10 trips in the new Volt won't involve the engine at all. The C-Max Energi is a more traditional plug-in hybrid: When the driver floors the pedal, the engine has to switch on. Unlike the Volt, the battery and electric motors alone can't power the C-Max under all conditions.

The Volt's engine is a 101-horsepower 1.5-liter inline-4 that runs on regular (87-octane) gasoline. Total output to the wheels from the Volt's two motors is 111 kilowatts (149 hp) and a remarkable 294 lb-ft of torque. The C-Max Energi uses a larger 2.0-liter inline-4; between the engine and the hybrid system's two electric motors, total output is 195 combined horsepower. The Volt's battery has an energy capacity of 18.4 kilowatt-hours, while the C-Max Energi has a 7.6-kwh battery.

Each vehicle is smooth under electric power and has its engine noise relatively well isolated. Though you'll be aware of the engine when it switches on, neither car gives anything like the desperate, anguished engine howl that characterized the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid (now temporarily out of production). 

Federal testers haven't yet rated the Volt, but the IIHS gave it a Top Safety Pick+ award—its highest honor. All Volts come with 10 airbags and a rearview camera as standard, along with a wide range of optional safety features. Those include blind-spot monitors, lane-keeping assist with lane-departure warning, forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert, and advanced parking assist. The IIHS has named the C-Max Energi a Top Safety Pick, though it lacks the advanced electronic safety systems that would take it to the highest "TSP+" level. It gets a four-star overall rating from the NHTSA, and comes standard with seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag, and a backup camera.

The Volt carries a base price just below $34,000, with the C-Max Energi starting at about $2,000 less. Adding optional equipment to the higher trim levels of each car can take the total to $40,000 or higher. The Volt qualifies for a federal income-tax credit of $7,500, while the C-Max Energi's credit is just over $4,000.

In the end, the Volt beats the C-Max Energi on the basis of much longer electric range, its quiet and sophisticated all-electric running under all circumstances while there's charge left in the battery, and its advanced safety features. But the C-Max Energi offers more interior space, so if you value capacity over electric range, it's the plug-in hybrid for you. We think most people will find the Volt's 53 miles considerably more appealing than the 19 miles from the C-Max, and will revel in the Chevy's all-electric running.

Summary

7.7
Expert Rating
The 2017 Chevy Volt offers excellent fuel efficiency, and refined driving, improving on its predecessor in every way that counts.
5.3
Expert Rating
The 2017 Ford C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi are still pleasant all-rounders among hybrids, but they face much tougher competition this year from the Prius lineup.

Styling

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Chevy Volt is crisp and rakish on the outside, with a refined and intuitive interior.
Read More
4.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Ford C-Max is an upright hatchback with frumpy exterior lines, though its interior still feels stylish and a cut above its Prius competitors.
Read More

Performance

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Chevy Volt is smooth, quiet, and fun to drive, with high range and a surge of electric power when you need it.
Read More
4.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Ford C-Max is now no more than average in hybrid driving quality; against conventional cars, it's heavy and somewhat slow.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Chevy Volt is smooth, quiet, and pleasant to drive, but only really holds four people, snugly.
Read More
5.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Ford C-Max has a quiet and comfortable interior, and its tall shape lets occupants sit upright, though cargo space in the Energi plug-in model is badly compromised.
Read More

Safety

9.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Chevy Volt aces every safety test. Why no perfect score? Advanced features are bundled into pricey trims.
Read More
4.0
Expert Rating
Safety ratings aren't bad for the 2017 Ford C-Max, now in its fifth model year, but the hybrid lacks advanced electronic safety systems—though a rear-view camera is standard at last.
Read More

Features

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Chevy Volt's EV power is its most notable feature; additional features including adaptive cruise control keep it competitive this year.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Ford C-Max is far from an old-style "economy car," with standard features and options that belie its frugal character, plus a new high-end trim level this year.
Read More

Fuel Economy

10
Expert Rating
The 2017 Chevy Volt is rated at 53 miles of electric range and 42 mpg combined, putting it among the most efficient of all cars sold.
Read More
9.0
Expert Rating
With a pair of downward adjustments in the past, the 2017 Ford C-Max delivers real-world gas mileage around 38 or 40 mpg, and up to 20 miles of plug-in electric range.
Read More

MSRP

from $33,220
from N/A

Invoice

from $31,891
from N/A

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

42

Engine

Gas/Electric I4, 1.5L

Drivetrain

Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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