You can get the 2014 Ford C-Max with a charging plug or without one; but whichever way you get it, it's a full-fledged hybrid beneath it all, capable of going thousands of miles on a long-distance road trip or creeping along in slow-moving traffic in its quiet electric-only mode.
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 translates to a driving feel that's much perkier and less stressed than the Toyota. Just as in the Prius, it operates only with the electric motor system when you drive gently, at low speed, then starts the gasoline engine seamlessly and mixes the two power sources in most conditions—then recovering much of the energy from coasting and braking.
In standard C-Max versions, tne electric motor can power the car alone, at speeds up to 62 mph (under certain light-load circumstances), or add torque to the engine output, and the other recharges the battery through regenerative braking and on engine overrun. The 1.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is positioned under the load floor just behind the rear seat.
Ford put a lot of effort into reducing engine noise and harshness, and the extra power here means that the C-Max doesn't struggle as much as a Prius under heavy loads. The engine note sounds less desperate and shrill under full acceleration, giving drivers more confidence in tight or steep situations. For more power, the driver can shift into "L" as well, and the C-Max also incorporates Hill Descent Control to help stay safe down slippery driveways.
Where the standard C-Max and the plug-in C-Max Energi differ is that the Energi (Ford's first-ever plug-in hybrid) offers a realistic all-electric driving range of 21 miles—nearly double the Prius Plug-In's official range of 11 miles, and far more useful for an electric commute, with the benefits of a gasoline vehicle for weekend trips.
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 (it sacrifices some valuable cargo space, however).
In general—and this is true for either of these models—it's really tough to find fault in anything about how the 2014 Ford C-Max drives--especially if you use the Prius as a benchmark. Steering is very precise and well-weighted—nearly as good as what you'll find in the Ford Focus. A hefty curb weight of nearly 3,700 in base form and around 3,900 pounds in plug-in Energi form means that it's not quite as agile and lithe as the Focus, but it's not ponderous.
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.
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 a 2014 model.