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RECENTLY DRIVEN

2013 Ford C-Max SE Hybrid 

By Ron Corbett

 

The Aston-Martin tribute grille is one of three orifices, at least one two many, that pierce the busy front facia of the C-Max

History
Though not available in North America, the first-generation Ford C-Max was introduced in Europe in 2003 and was on sale until late 2010. During the 2011 auto show season Ford displayed the long-wheelbase Grand C-Max three-row small van powered by a conventional drivetrain and touted as a competitor for the Kia Rondo and the Mazda 5. The Grand C-Max did go on sale in Europe for the 2011 model year but did not make it to North America. What emerged for sale on this continent is a hybrid-exclusive short-wheelbase C-Max

Competition
The C-Max's key competitor in this market is the five-seat, hybrid exclusive Toyota Prius V, which has outsold the Ford three-to-one since the two C-Max went on sale in September 2012. Ignoring the C-Max's hybrid powertrain, the C-Max is similar in size and concept as the Kia Soul, Mitsubishi RVR, Scion xB and perhaps even the Toyota Matrix.

Styling
With the exception of the visually busy front fascia that contains at least one too many styling elements, the C-Max is nicely proportioned for what is essentially a box. The C-Max is also a success in that it follows the edgy design theme developed by Ford over the last few years and is easily identifiable as a product of its maker. Good exterior panel fit and paintwork.  

Car tested Ford C-Max
Body style Four-door hatchback
Engine 2L-4 (141 horsepower gas), Electric motor (35 kW), 188 horsepower combined
Transmission Continuously variable transmission (CVT)
Least expensive C-Max  $27,199
Price as tested  $29,740 (SE with Winter package and 203A package)
Observed fuel economy

6.85L/100 km

  

Only slightly longer but considerably taller the than the Focus it is based on. Nicely proportionned tall hatchback body yields impressive inner space in the C-Max 

Performance
The C-Max is powered by a 144 horsepower 2L gasoline four that works in tandem with a 35 kilowatt electric motor to produce a combined 188 horsepower. Under gentle acceleration, the C-Max is capable of reaching up to 100 kilometres per hour exclusively under electric power. This may be possible but any degree of alacrity signals the gasoline engine to spin to life which it does without any vibration. That said, it does not do so noiselessly as the C-Max's rumbly exhaust system announces that the gas engine is providing input. The exhaust is a near-constant companion in low-speed light throttle operation when the gas engine is engaged. The rumbling fades into the background while cruising. With both power units working together, the C-Max accelerates briskly at all velocities, especially at highway speeds where an eye needs to be kept on the speedometre to prevent speeding. 

Power reaches the C-Max's front wheels exclusively via a CVT that, unless maximum acceleration is required when it allows engine revs to rise, calls little attention to itself. The C-Max's robust power output, including that of its high-torque electric motor, means that the CVT doesn't need to employ high revs to get the C-Max moving. 

Except for moderate road noise and excess exhaust drone at certain speeds, the C-Max is quiet overall.

The C-Max's suspension tuning reflects very European sensibilities. Long suspension travel delivers an impressively absorbent ride which is accompanied by lean that sets in early in corners but progresses no further than its initial tilt, and is reassuringly stable when pushed. APA staffers noticed some suspension squeaks when large road disturbances, like speed bumps, were traversed. 

The C-Max's steering is nicely weighted and geared, but with little feedback through the steering wheel, it is numb. Manoeuvring in tight quarters is not as easy as the C-Max's compact dimensions would indicate as the turning circle is quite large. 

The brakes of the C-Max include a regenerative function that returns energy to the batteries, but, with grabby operation at any speed, don't provide any pleasure to the driver. That said, they shed speed quick enough.   

With a large windshield, small triangular windows ahead of the front door and tall side windows, outward visibility in the C-Max is quite good. Only rear 3/4 vision for lane changes is slightly obscured, but this is partially offset by large door mirrors. The APA's test car was equipped with an audible rear parking device which was useful when reversing into parking spots. 

The APA had two C-Max test vehicles, one in the dead of winter and the other in the spring. Fuel economy appears to be weather dependent as the car tested in winter used roughly 9L/100 km, whereas the one driven in the spring logged a much lower 6.85L/100 km fuel consumption figure which is admirable for such a roomy, versatile car. However, even the fuel consumption logged by the second car is roughly 60 percent higher than the consumption figures used by Ford in its advertising. 

 

Interior
Built on the same 2649 mm (104.3 inch) wheelbase as the Focus it is based on, the C-Max is 125 mm (4.9 inches) shorter, marginally wider and 157 mm (6.2 inches) taller. The additional height pays massive benefits in cabin space as the C-Max's tall body shell provides generous space for four (five in a pinch) persons compared with the cramped confines of the Focus.  

The substantial front seats are deeply padded, supportive and comfortable, but don't do much to restrain the driver and front passenger in brisk cornering. The driving position is comfortable for most drivers though very tall individuals find the steering wheel to be too long a reach. Though its seat cushion looks skimpy, the rear seat proves comfortable. Legroom is ample for front and rear passengers and headroom is expansive. 

With numerous soft-touch surfaces, matte finishes, convincing faux alloy accents and careful assembly, the C-Max's cabin is very attractive. Two-tone cloth upholstery is a nice touch but the lighter of the two fabrics looks very dull.

Cabin oddments storage is taken care of by a glovebox, large front door bins with bottle holders and a deep central console bin that contains two USB ports, an SD card reader as well as a three slot RCA input. Two cupholders sit alongside the conventional pull-up handbrake on the centre console.

The C-Max's dashboard is fronted by a binnacle containing what has become Ford's standard gauge package featuring a central speedometre flanked on either side by changeable displays. In the C-Max, those on the right are devoted to the hybrid system and include status indicators for gasoline engine status, brake regeneration, battery charge and  fuel consumption. A green car graphic on the dashboard appears after the driver has turned the key to indicate that, despite the fact no starter was heard, the car is ready to go. The right side of the gauge package can be varied to show information for the navigation and audio systems as well as a vine and leaf motif that grows to reflect frugal driving. Out test car was equipped with the MYFord Touch screen, which, except for very slow reactions to inputs, becomes easier to deal with the more familiar you are with it. That said, the C-Max dashboard contains conventional climate and audio controls that can bypass the MyFord Touch system. In a triumph of components sharing, the C-Max reuses the entire dashboard from the 2013 Escape to front its cabin.

The C-Max features a good-sounding audio system that can be easily be tailored to suit different tastes. Bluetooth phone setup is relatively easy and the Bluetooth audio function works very well.   

 

Big, flamboyant, contemporary Ford dashboard is lifted directly from the new Escape

The left-hand readout of Ford's near universal gauge layout reflects which component of the drive system is being used as well as the charge state of the battery pack

MyFord Touch interface can be bypassed by the conventional controls located ahead of it 

Comprehensive dash-mounted climate controls can be used in lieu of the MyFord Touch system 

Though it looks skimpy, the rear seat cushion is quite comfortable. The folded seat back results in a flat load floor

Pricing
Offered only as a hybrid, C-Max pricing begins at $27,199. Option packages and trim upgrades represent reasonable value. There is little real need to upgrade to the SEL trim level as most desirable options are offered on the base SE trim. Leasing is acceptable value when measured against monthly payments for financing. The C-Max's closest competitor is the Toyota Prius V. Both cars have similar base prices but when fully equipped, the Ford is significantly cheaper than the Toyota, although it can't match its cargo capacity. The C-Max Energi, a plug-in hybrid is a variant not offered by Toyota on the Prius V, is priced from $6300 to $6800 higher than the equivalent conventional C-Max hybrid. Picking the hybrid power on the Ford Fusion SE imposes a $3600 price supplement on the car, which must be roughly what the real cost of the same hybrid system standard on the C-Max. The C-Max would be a very attractive proposition if a conventionally-powered 1.6L turbo SE was offered starting at under $24,000. 

Reliability
Not rated, new model, insufficient data. Ford's previous hybrids, the Fusion and the Escape, were reliable but this new C-Max uses Lithium-Ion batteries instead of the nickel-metal hydride batteries used previously. Three year/60,000 km bumper to bumper warranty, five years/100,000 km on the powertrain with eight years/130,000 km on the hybrid components. 

Safety
The C-Max is equipped with two frontal airbags, side airbags in the front seats, side-curtain airbags and a knee airbag for the driver. The C-Max earned a four-star (out of a possible five) overall rating in crash tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) in the U.S. The C-Max has not been crash tested by the Insurance Institute for highway safety.  

 

The trunk floor is in fact a platform required to clear the battery pack located under the front portion of the platform. This platform reduces trunk height and thus versatility 

 Tightly-packed power units are located well back in the engine bay  

 

 Attractive rear styling of the C-Max

Summary
The tall hatchback C-Max is a versatile car that packs a lot of inner space into a compact exterior envelope. It is comfortable, pleasant to drive, economical during temperate weather and appears solidly constructed. Compared with its chief competitor, the Toyota Prius V, it is cheaper and nicer to drive, but can't match the cargo space of the Toyota.


Despite its innate goodness, the C-Max's expensive hybrid powertrain results in a price that may be good value for a hybrid but is significantly higher than what a conventional version of the car could be sold for, limiting its market appeal. The Toyota Prius brand, including the V, is “golden” in hybrid circles and many people are drawn to the Prius name because of its reputation for fuel economy and durability. Though Ford has been active in the hybrid field it is not closely linked with the technology as Toyota. Ford offers hybrid versions of several of its models that are alternatives to mainstream conventional variants. Given that Ford had to adapt the C-Max to conform with North American regulations, it is a mystery as to why it chose to deliberately limit the C-Max's market potential as a versatile small family car by hobbling it with a hybrid powertrain, the cost of which will take the car off the shopping list of many buyers.