The Ford C-Max is a compact hatchback hybrid, like the Prius liftback or Prius V wagon. The C-Max is built on the Focus platform, and is in the fourth year of its first generation. The only changes for 2016 are new colors and the new Sync 3 voice command replacing the problematic Sync with MyFord Touch.
The base hybrid makes an excellent 195 combined horsepower using a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with two electric motors. The plug-in C-Max Energi model uses a 7.6 kilowatt-hour battery, compared to the 1.4 kWh in the standard hybrid, which gives it an all-electric driving range of 19 miles at slow speeds.
The Ford C-Max Hybrid is EPA-rated at 42/37 mpg City/Highway, while the C-Max Energi is rated 38 mpg Combined city and highway, using the 19 miles of electric. The 2015 Prius is rated 51/48 mpg.
The C-Max is less stressed and noisy than the 2015 Prius. An all-new Toyota Prius is being introduced for 2016.
Underway, the Ford C-Max does not feel tight and lithe like the Focus does. The C-Max is heavier, by 650 pounds, and its suspension is less compliant.
The C-Max earns a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and four stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for frontal crash and roof strength, and five stars for side impact. Rearview camera and seven airbags are standard.
The C-Max is tall and round-looking. With a vertical liftgate and slab sides, it looks like a wagon, or a minivan around the windows. Its big trapezoid grille shouts Ford. The snub nose climbs to a high beltline and arched roofline that drops down to a pert tail.
The cabin is sporty and charming, with a rich dash of soft-touch materials, more upscale than the odd interior of the new Prius. Ample insulation and active noise cancellation help it feel refined inside. The instrumentation is easier to understand than the Prius, as the C-Max color displays can be programmed to show the information you want.
Spacious and comfortable, the C-Max can handle four adults. There’s good headroom and legroom in the rear. The rear seats are mounted low to the floor, however, and our tester found his knees under his chin.
Cargo space is sufficient in the C-Max Hybrid, but the Energi model’s larger battery pack puts an awkward rise in the cargo floor that gets in the way of loading luggage and other cargo.
Even though the portly 3700-pound C-Max is heavier than the Prius, it feels perkier thanks to the 195 combined horsepower, and it doesn’t struggle going uphill. Steering is precise and balanced, maybe not as good as the Focus but better than most small crossovers. It feels solid, with good road feel and driving fun while giving the driver confidence.
Hill Descent Control is standard, useful on ice. There’s an L mode that gives more regenerative braking to gain more electric energy; it feels like Low gear in an automatic transmission. The blending of electric and friction braking is a challenge for an engineer, very difficult to execute smoothly, and in the C-Max it’s almost imperceptible.
With an electric range of 19 miles, the Energi model is a useful small-town car. Or drive 10 or 12 miles to work, charge it there, and drive home. Use the gas motor for weekend trips. It all works in the right circumstance.
The Ford C-Max follows in the footsteps of the Toyota Prius, but it makes its own footprint. If you can use a compact hatchback plug-in hybrid, look at its features and take it for a test drive.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. Sam Moses contributed to this report.