2014 Earth Aware Vehicle Buyer's Guide
Featuring Top 10 Green SUVs & CUVs
2013-2014 Ford C-MAX Hybrid
by Martha Hindes
Road & Travel Magazine's Top 10 Picks
At first glance, the Ford C-MAX hybrid seems suggestive of its Escape sport utility cousin. That's not surprising, as the hybrid technology that is the foundation of the C-MAX got its training wheels for electrification with the Escape, which has abandoned it.
Escape as a hybrid was a matter of taking a vehicle designed as an SUV and adding a hybrid powered version when hybrid technology was in its infancy a decade ago. Now, with the Escape comfortably in the turbo-charged small crossover camp, devoid of a hybrid version, the C-MAX seems more aligned with the philosophy of Toyota, the parent of the electrified-only Prius lineup and the C-MAX's chief rival. That says a lot about how the auto industry as a whole is evolving beyond gas guzzlers.
C-MAX never had its toe in non-electric waters. It was born last year as a hybrid and for the 2014 model year (yet branded as a 2013) adds the highly efficient plug-in "energi" hybrid version to the fold, with a definite nod toward performance and handling despite that seeming disparity with eco driving. It also adds some $7,750 to the C-MAX base SE price of $25,200.
Inside this five-seater it would hardly be suggestive this was anything but a highly attractive crossover-style vehicle, with the expected high tech amenities, including entertainment and navigation now requisite on almost any vehicle beyond basic.
Ford eschews the CUV designation for the C-MAX, opting instead for its own segment creation of "multiactivity vehicle" or MAV. One gets a clue to the difference upon opening the foot-activated rear hatch door and finding a few inches of expected storage space is missing, with a raised floor to cover several inches of depth now occupied by a bulge of under-floor battery housed there -- a tradeoff for mileage gains.
Unlike an internal combustion vehicle, the front drive C-MAX is powered by an electric motor that gets its juice from a lithium ion battery pack combined with a small 2.0-liter inline-four gasoline engine and continuously variable transmission. Put to proper use by someone who pays attention, the combination can eke out a 620 mile driving range (108 city/92 highway electric equivalent) offering a somewhat confusing 195 "total system" horsepower rating.
Sitting in the C-MAX provides a very comfortable foundation for high speed or distance driving or for short hops around the corner for a few groceries. That definitely was a pleasant discovery as several hundred pounds of battery pack weight living under the hatchback floor in the rear would be expected to make its presence known. Our only perception, however, was a momentary sense of solidity below that vanished at the first solid tap on the accelerator. But with that kind of heft in its backside, we remained wary of sudden stopping and made sure we avoided the need.
And the C-MAX can move. As with all electrified vehicles, power and get-up-and-go torque are instantaneous and we shouldn't have been surprised at how quickly we moved from a standstill to cruising speed, an electrified vehicle trait.
We quickly became accustomed to the precision and surprisingly spontaneous handling feel as we began putting C-MAX through its paces while actually enjoying the drive in the process. In fact, the fun factor put us at less than the 21 miles one would expect to drive in all-electric mode.
And we doubt we'd make a championship super-mileage driver's list for a while, as our week of hybrid test driving went down from the mid-40s as we idled when we shouldn't have, left lights and audio engaged and sometimes ignored the Smart Gauge with ECO Guide icon that was tracking our progress on the instrument cluster. We did get boosts at times, when the dashboard gauge cluster's "vine" grew a screen full of lush foliage and the embedded "Brake Coach" tutored us into regenerative braking, and then gave us a pleasing score when we were ready to shut down.
Those opting for the energi can adapt a driving trip to the need or want of the moment with a choice of three driving modes -- EV Auto, EV Now or EV Later that parcels out electric driving mode according to driving tendencies or immediate performance needs.
We suspect that after a while such reminders and choices make a solid impression -- and another hyper miler is born, seeking to eke into the high 40's mileage rating with the hybrid, or 70-mile rating with the energi. Just a little carrot of a teaser dangling in one's perception.
How does Ford rate its success with going electric? MyFord Mobile, an app that tracks vehicle usage, calculates that Ford's plug-in hybrids (including Fusion and Focus autos), travel some 8,400 electric-only miles every hour and that electric-only usage nearly doubles after six months as drivers learn to change from aggressive to more economical driving habits. The app also can locate a nearby charging station, tells if a planned trip can make it on the current charge based on one's driving habits, schedules charging times and recharges the battery based on the most economical electricity rates at the time. Not bad for a one-year old.
How does Road & Travel rate its success? Pretty darn good!
The Ford C-MAX was voted as the 2013 International CUV of the Year.
For more information on Ford green vehicles, click here.