- Like the Prius, but a little sportier
- Stylish, premium-look inside
- Quiet cabin
- A little too van-like?
- Some controls almost out of view
- Load floor not in line with tailgate opening
With their stylish interiors and perky driving feel, the 2015 Ford C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi are somewhat sportier alternatives to the Toyota Prius lineup.
The 2015 Ford C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi, like the Toyota Prius and Prius V, aren't sold (in the U.S. at least) without a hybrid powertrain. That's a distinction that will clearly call out C-Max drivers as eco friendly.
The C-Max is built on Ford Focus underpinnings, and from most angles it gives that away freely, appearing like a tall-wagon version of the Ford compact hatch. There's 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. It's a little too bulbous to love from some angles on the outside, yet inside, there's a lot of sporty charm, and the rich, stylish dash and soft-touch materials will grow on you in ways that the Prius' sea-of-plastic dash simply won't
That bulging roofline and a few awkward angles definitely pay off, big time, inside. 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.
In general, it's really tough to find fault in anything about how the Ford C-Max drives--especially if you use the Toyota Prius as a benchmark. The only disappointment with the C-Max on the road was that it simply didn't have the tight, lithe feel of the Focus hatchback. It's 650 pounds heavier than a Focus five-door, and you can feel it on the road, where a relatively firm ride and suitably 'stout' suspension tuning means that road surface imperfections sometimes come directly through to passengers.
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 -- even if you opt for the Energi plug-in. The key to the C-Max Energi'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.
The C-Max has been given a Top Safety Pick award by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). 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.
At the base SE level, the 2015 Ford C-Max models include 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.
We haven't mentioned fuel economy yet, and that's the odd footnote for 2015. EPA ratings are expected to stay at the lower numbers of 42 mpg city, 37 highway for the C-Max Hybrid and a Combined 38 mpg for the Energi (with a lowered 19-mile all-electric range) that were recently announced, retroactively for 2013 and 2014 models (with an owner rebate applying on those models) -- a blunder for Ford in the way it calculates fuel economy, but much closer to what we've seen in real-world driving with these models.