- A worthy rival to the Prius
- Stylish and high-quality interior
- Quiet, refined interior
- Perky driving feel
- Useful plug-in Energi model
- A design that's too vanlike for some
- Some controls almost out of view
- Load floor higher than tailgate opening
- No all-wheel-drive option
Compared to the Toyota Prius, the 2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi provide more driving enjoyment as well as a more comfortable, stylish interior -- even if they don't quite measure up in real-world fuel efficiency.
The 2014 Ford C-Max lineup consists of a pair of hybrid hatchbacks that offer the American automaker its first real challenge to the Toyota Prius. With lower gas mileage but significantly better handling and styling than the Prius, the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid and the C-Max Hybrid are mostly carried over for the 2014 model year, with a major restatement on the fuel-economy front.In size and shape, the Ford C-Max pretty much splits the difference between the Prius Liftback and the more family-oriented Prius V wagon. At the same time, it's built on Ford Focus underpinnings, so it's essentially a tall-wagon version of that Ford subcompact. From the front, the C-Max gets a version of the large trapezoidal grille that's now used throughout much of the Ford lineup; alongside, accent lines and window angles add up to what is really a small minivan, or perhaps a tall and upright five-door hatchback. Inside, however, the C-Max builds on the interior of the Focus, with a rich and stylish dashboard and a number of high-end options; in all, it's a 'premium' look.
With a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor system, the C-Max powertrain delivers 195 combined horsepower--54 hp more than that of the Toyota Prius powertrain. While the C-Max is several hundred pounds heavier, it does in practice still translate to a driving feel that's much perkier and less stressed than the Toyota.
Ford had to revise its gas-mileage figures for the 2014 C-Max Hybrid down from 47 to 43 mpg early in the model year, after complaints from buyers that real-world fuel economy didn't come anywhere near the EPA rating. The Hybrid was then reduced a second time, in June 2014, and the C-Max Energi model had its efficiency ratings lowered as well. Current readings for the 2014 C-Max Hybrid are 40 mpg combined (42 mpg city, 37 mpg highway), which puts it lower than both the Prius Liftback and Prius V wagon models.
The C-Max Energi was originally rated at 43 mpg combined (100 MPGe efficiency, 21 miles electric range), in June 2014 Ford lowered the ratings to 38 mpg combined (88 MPGe efficiency, 19 miles electric range) after discovering errors in lab-test measurements. That is still a longer electric range than plug-in hybrids from Toyota and Honda, although roughly half the range of the Chevy Volt range-extended electric car.
In general, it's really tough to find fault in anything about how the 2014 Ford C-Max drives--especially if you use the Toyota Prius as a benchmark. Steering is very precise and well-weighted—nearly as good as what you'll find in the Ford Focus. With a curb weight of nearly 3,700 in base form and around 3,900 pounds in plug-in Energi form, it's not quite as agile and lithe as the Focus, but not ponderous either.
That C-Max Energi, the first-ever plug-in hybrid Ford has offered, offers a much more compelling alternative to the Prius Plug-In Hybrid. With a longer all-electric range of 19 miles (easy to do in real-world driving), it allows even medium-distance commuter the chance to go completely electric if they charge at home and at work. The key to the C-Max's very useful all-electric driving range is its far larger 7.6-kWh battery—versus 1.4-kWh in the standard C-Max hybrid. But that battery pack takes up some valuable cargo space, turning what would be a flat cargo floor into a compromised, multi-level affair that seems critically flawed when you flip forward the rear seatbacks.
Otherwise, the C-Max Energi is pretty impressive for hauling four adults around. The back seats are a bit on the low side, leaving anyone adult-sized in a knees-up position; but there's plenty of legroom and headroom. Ride quality is firm but just agreeable enough, active noise cancellation and lots of sound-insulation measures help keep on-the-road refinement at its best.
The C-Max still hasn't been rated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but the federal government has given it a four-star overall rating (with four stars for frontal and five for side impact).A driver's knee bag is included in the usual range of safety equipment.
All C-Max Hybrids come with standard 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with USB and auxiliary input jacks, an illuminated glove box, keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear-seat heater vents, the Sync voice-controls system, and the SmartGauge digital display system with InfoGuide screens that let the driver configure information on the car's operation and energy consumption. Lots of option packages and a la carte options include items such as heated side mirrors, a power liftgate, MyFord Touch, and a Parking Technology package that will let the driver direct the C-Max to steer itself into a parking space.
One final note: These impressions are based on time in 2013 models, and while the C-Max is mostly carry-over this year, Ford says that these models have new transmission gearing, essentially subbing in some taller ratios that might improve fuel efficiency. We'll update you on how this affects performance, if at all, as soon as we can get seat time in one of these 2014 models, which arrive later in the year.