In the last few weeks, we’ve had a chance to drive the Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL, Ford C-Max Energi (a plug-in hybrid), Ford Focus Electric and Bill even got to spend a few minutes behind the wheel of the Fusion Energi at a recent Ford program did in Dearborn, Mich.
In this first review we’ll talk about the Ford C-Max.
Rather than re-inventing the wheel, Ford has Americanized and hybridized the successful European C-Max. It is designed specifically as a hybrid for the North American market to compete directly with the Toyota Prius V and Prius. C-Max is eight inches shorter than the Prius V and three inches shorter than the Prius, but through the magic of design, the C-Max has a little more passenger space but a little less cargo space.
Ford didn’t just react to the Toyota Prius; they planned and developed the new C-Max vehicles and have about 500 new patents to show for it.
Categorically the C-Max styling falls somewhere between a small minivan and five-door hatchback. The clean contemporary look is distinctive and very much a Ford – and that’s a good thing.
The driver’s space emulates an airplane cockpit with the center stack protruding out toward the console more than in most vehicles. This gives the driver close access to the controls and an up close view of the eight-inch display screen which is the focal point of the latest version of the SYNC® with MyFord Touch®. The close proximity not only makes it easier to see, but easier to touch without a stretch. The system controls communications, navigation, entertainment and climate through voice commands, menus controlled by steering wheel controls, touch screens, buttons and knobs. Every time we use the system it gets a bit easier, and we’ve noticed the voice controls seem to understand our commands better, or perhaps we are giving clearer commands.
The instrument cluster includes a larger center speedometer with driver-defined display screens on either side. These screens display the SmartGauge® with EcoGuide that can act as a driver coach to maximize fuel economy and efficiency.
Where the Hybrid and the Energi differ is the battery. We won’t pretend to understand the formula for the total horsepower, but Ford says combined the gas engine and electric motor produce 188 horsepower. Both powerplants drive the front wheels through an electronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission).
The Hybrid has a 1.4 kWh Lithium-ion battery and the plug-in Energi has a 7.6 kWh battery. The main difference between the two when driving is the Energi stays on battery-only power much longer. When we drove the Energi, we would plug it in when we came home to charge overnight. The next day, the indicator usually showed a range of about 18 miles. However, after going down the long steep hill into town and driving frugally, we could go much farther than 18 miles. Initially, it felt more like the pure electric Chevy Volt, which only uses the gas engine for charging the battery. It required ‘flooring’ the accelerator to get the gasoline engine to start up.
Both of the C-Max models accelerate quickly for hybrids — about 8.2 seconds for a 0 to 60 mph run and they both have top speeds over 100 mph. The Hybrid will go up to 62 mph on electric only and the Energi will do 85 mph before the gas engine intervenes.
Electric vehicles have a special EPA fuel economy designation to better compare with regular fuel models. It’s called Miles Per Gallon Equivalent (MPGe), and the C-Max Hybrid is rated at 47 MPGe city/47 MPGe highway/47 MPGe combined and the C-Max Energi is 108/92/100 MPGe.
The C-Max has some interesting tech features that really set it apart from many other cars. For example, a hands-free liftgate — simply walk up to the rear hatch with the key in a pocket or purse, wave your foot under the center of the bumper and the rear hatch opens. Another swipe of the foot and the hatch closes. It almost makes you feel like a magician.
Another “must have” feature is the active park assist that uses an ultrasonic-based sensing system to help locate a suitable parallel parking space, and then steers into the spot with the driver just operating the pedals. Some other great available and standard features include rain-sensor wipers, push button start, HD radio, MyKey teen safety feature, voice-activated navigation and SYNC with MyFord Touch®. Although we’d prefer to have an active blind sport warning system, the double angle mirrors do a good job of helping to see when another vehicle enters the blind spot. However, of course, we would prefer an active blind spot system, which seems to work better and is safer.
C-Max pricing is $25,995, including the destination charge for the SE model. The SEL adds features like leather seating, SYNC® with MyFord Touch and satellite radio and starts at $30,160. The C-Max Energi is $39,495.
The price differential between the C-Max Hybrid and the Energi is significant and due mostly to the plug-in hybrid battery and technology. However, if you are a commuter driving only 20 miles round trip in the Energi, or 40 miles if you have a plug-in near work, you may seldom stop at a gas station. A full charge using the on-board 120 volt hookup takes about 7 hours and costs about $1 for the electricity. A 240 volt connection takes about 2.5 hours.
Regenerative braking helps charge the battery in the cars each time either the driver brakes or coasts. With a full tank of gas and full charge, the C-Max Hybrid has a range of about 570 miles and the Energi 620 miles.
Another interesting feature of the Energi is the MyFord Mobile smart phone app that allows owners to keep in constant contact with their car from anywhere. Using the app, the owner can get instant vehicle status, perform key functions remotely and get alerts when it requires charging or has finished charging.
We enjoyed driving both hybrids. They seemed more like a European sport sedan than an Eco car. Handling and acceleration is respectable, the ride is smooth and controlled and they are both relatively quiet inside at highway speeds. We think the C-Max Hybrids could be a major challenge for the Prius.
In our next review we’ll discuss the Ford Fusion Electric.