2015 Ford C-Max Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
July 7, 2015

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.

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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. 

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2015 Ford C-Max

Styling

The 2015 Ford C-Max doesn't quite stand out in the same way as the Prius, but it looks sportier -- especially inside.

Hatchback, tall wagon, or minivan with hinged doors? No matter which way you first see the 2015 Ford C-Max, it's likely to live up to your expectations in functionality and design. As for styling, the C-Max is utilitarian, and it pretty much splits the difference between the Prius Liftback and the more family-oriented Prius V wagon by shape and size -- although it's arguably sportier than either of those models, going by styling cues and interior design. 

The sportier look definitely holds up once you see the C-Max for what it is: a somewhat taller vehicle built on sporty Ford Focus underpinnings. Yes, it's nowhere near as racy on the outside as the Focus five-door, although it serves family needs in a different way -- with high mileage and a unique exterior that calls it out as a hybrid from a distance.

In the transformation to a more practical, spacious shape, some of the Focus' sporty details do emerge in the C-Max -- for instance, the serious-looking front end and the pert tail styling. In front, the C-Max gets a version of the large trapezoidal grille that's now used throughout much of the Ford lineup.

What we can't get nearly as enthused about is what's in between -- an arched roofline, a high beltline, and proportions that seem too bulbous from some angles. Admittedly, the stylists have done their best to give it flowing lines, including highlighted wheel arches and a slight haunch over the rear wheel.

With modern styling for the dash, soft-touch surfaces, and just modest touches of brightwork, the C-Max interior is arguably far more upscale in look and feel than the hard-plastic 'flying buttress' interior of the current Toyota Prius. With a rich and stylish dashboard that builds on the look of the Focus (and looks like it has some commonality with what's used in the Escape (including colorful, configurable displays), it's definitely more of a premium look. 

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2015 Ford C-Max

Performance

Compared to most other hybrid models, the C-Max models are surprisingly perky and fun-to-drive.

Whether you get the 2015 Ford C-Max with a charging plug (as the C-Max Energi) or opt for the Hybrid, what you get is a relatively responsive full hybrid that allows you to creep along at lower speeds in electric-only mode, or otherwise earn many more miles per gallon than most non-hybrid models its size. 

The powertrain in the 2015 C-Max altogether delivers 195 horsepower -- which is a significant 54 hp more than that of the Toyota Prius. With its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor system, the C-Max feels noticeably perkier and less stressed than than that of the Prius, even though the C-Max is several hundred pounds heavier. The C-Max will quite easily move along gently at lower speeds in electric-only mode, then start the gasoline engine and blend it seamlessly as you gather speed or increase acceleration. The drivetrain uses a planetary-gear power distribution, like the Prius, and smartly recovers as much energy as it smoothly can when braking or coasting.

In standard C-Max versions, the 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 an official driving range of 19 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. We've found the Energi to deliver remarkably close to this in real-world driving, so it's perfect for even medium-distance commuters to drive to work, charge there, and then drive back, all on electricity. 

A much larger 7.6-kWh battery (versus 1.4-kWh in the standard C-Max hybrid) is the key to the Energi's plug-in performance; although you should note that you'll be sacrificing some cargo space for it. 

Especially if you use the Toyota Prius as a benchmark, it's hard to find any significant fault with how the C-Max models drive. We've found steering to be precise and well-weighted; it's not quite good as what you'll find in the Ford Focus, but it's better than what you'll find in other small crossovers. The hefty curb weight of nearly 3,700 in base form and around 3,900 pounds in plug-in Energi form adds up to handling that isn't as light and lean as you might suspect -- although again it's more nimble next to nearly any other vehicle you'd consider a rival. 

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2015 Ford C-Max

Comfort & Quality

The 2015 Ford C-Max is just a compact car in footprint, yet smart interior design allows enough space for four adults and their cargo.

For a vehicle that's so compact on the outside, the 2015 Ford C-Max is shockingly spacious and useful -- and actually a very good vehicle for shuttling around the driver and three other adults. Add in decent cargo space and an impressive level of reconfigurability, and the C-Max is a great family pick for those who decide they don't need big utility vehicles, massive minivans, or three rows of seating. 

Front seats in the 2015 C-Max are very comfortable, and there's plenty of space front and rear even for adults over six feet tall. The base SE model seats are covered in a pale synthetic (recycled) upholstery, though you get plush leather seating surfaces on the SEL.

The rear seat in the C-Max is surprisingly comfortable—more so than equivalent accommodations in compact crossovers—and it folds and lowers with a pull on a single lever. Entry and exit are quite easy, too. It's a bit on the low side, leaving anyone adult-sized in a knees-up position; but there's plenty of legroom and headroom. But on-the-road refinement is generally at its best for this type of vehicle, with firm but agreeable ride quality, plus active noise cancellation and lots of sound-insulation to keep road and engine noise down.

With the seats down, the C-Max Hybrid offers 52 cubic feet of load space (out of total interior volume of 99.7 cubic feet, just barely below the cutoff between compacts and mid-size cars). With the rear seat up, cargo volume is 25 cubic feet. Those numbers are higher than those of the Prius Liftback (which has only 21 cubic feet with the rear seat up) but lower than the Prius V wagon, which has 34 to 40 cubic feet with the sliding rear seat up, and 67 cubic feet when it's down.

The load bay has a full complement of family-friendly grocery-bag hooks, a storage net, and a 110-Volt outlet in the rear compartment. There are even small storage bins under the rear passengers' feet. But the floor of the load bay is actually a couple of inches higher than the bottom of the tailgate, which makes loading easy but somehow appears odd.

In Energi models, the 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.

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8

2015 Ford C-Max

Safety

The C-Max has all the safety you'd expect in a small, frugal vehicle; but it offers no above-and-beyond active-safety kit.

The 2015 Ford C-Max has respectable crash-test scores, as well as a reasonably good safety-feature set. But it fails to wow with either top-notch ratings or an abundance of active-safety extras.

The federal government has given it the C-Max Energi model a four-star overall rating (with four stars for frontal and five for side impact). The other U.S. agency, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), has given it a second-best 'acceptable' rating in small overlap frontal protection but 'good' in all other respects, enough to merit a Top Safety Pick award for 2015.

The C-Max models include the usual array of electronic safety systems as well—including stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes with emergency brake assist. Standard features also include front and side airbags for both front-seat occupants, as well as side air-curtain bags for first- and second-row occupants, and a driver's knee airbag.

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2015 Ford C-Max

Features

Even at the base level, the 2015 Ford C-Max feel far less spartan than the Prius; and there's plenty of room for options.

Ford C-Max models continue to be offered in two different trim levels. Between SE and SEL models, you can get the C-Max Hybrid or C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid with a level of equipment that's either well-equipped, or more like that of a premium-brand model.

All C-Max Hybrid versions 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.

Step up to the SEL, and you get Sync with MyFord Touch, a push-button start with proximity sensing, rain-sensing wipers, a reversing proximity warning system, heated and leather-trimmed front seats, and ambient LED interior lighting.

To the C-Max SE, you can add the Winter package (heated power mirrors with side indicators, and puddle lamps), or you could go with the Power Liftgate and Rear Park Assist package, or a package that bundles Sync Services, the MyFord Touch voice-control system, and Sirius XM satellite radio. And other possibilities include a Hands-Free Technology package that offers hands-free liftgate operation triggered by a kicking motion below the bumper, and a Parking Technology package that lets the driver direct the C-Max to steer itself into a parallel parking space.

A la carte options include items such as heated side mirrors, a power liftgate, and MyFord Touch.

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2015 Ford C-Max

Fuel Economy

Recent adjustments to the mileage of the Ford C-Max set expectations back in line with window-sticker numbers.

Ford, it seems, has been hedging backward on fuel economy numbers for the C-Max ever since, two years ago when it came out with 47-mpg city and highway ratings, most owners weren't seeing anything close to that. 

Last year, Ford voluntarily cut those ratings to 43 mpg city, 43 highway, and is making payments to the owners of 2013 C-Max models to help make up for the discrepancy. Then later in the 2014 model year Ford made a further cut to the numbers -- to 42/37 mpg for the hybrid and 38 mpg for the Energi -- due to a series of blunders in the way Ford calculates the numbers. 

Those new numbers, by the way, much more closely correlate to what we've seen in test drives all along: very low 40s in most normal types of city and suburban driving, falling to mid- to upper-30s on higher-speed highway runs. 

Ford also cut the estimated range of its C-Max Energi model from 21 miles to 19 miles. 

In both models, you get a special Eco Coach set of displays, oriented toward helping you understand the power flow of the powertrain and optimizing your use of charging, and of the system's all-electric mode.

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July 10, 2015
For 2015 Ford C-Max

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I bought my Cmax Energi in March 2015. I use it for work as a LYFT and UBER driver. I am absolutely thrilled with the cars performance and quality. I don't regret the 36k I paid for this car one bit. The... + More »
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July 8, 2015
2015 Ford C-Max Base

Great car it's a hybrid with a sporty edge to it

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I have a 2013 Ford C-max. It goes up to 85mph on battery after PCM reflash at dealer. Also mpg is dependent upon driver, distance and outside temperature. As far as I'm concerned, car does everything it... + More »
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