Driver's Seat: Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL: A smooth ride, but rough fuel numbers

The Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL delivers lower mileage than some of its rivals.
The Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL delivers lower mileage than some of its rivals.
Posted: October 18, 2012

Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL: Smooth, sippy family mover.

Price: $32,075 as tested, including a $3,080 package that adds premium audio and navigation, power liftgate, rear camera, and automated parking. (A base model starts at $25,020.)

Marketer's pitch: Hybrid efficiency. Real-world performance.

Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com credits its "superb gas mileage ... refined ride and responsive handling."

Reality: I'd call it 2½ out of 3.

Weekend vehicle: The C-Max came to me in an unusual way. Normally, I work with fleet companies that provide test vehicles for members of the media. But this time, I borrowed a model in stock at Garnet Ford in Chadds Ford for the weekend.

It's not often I get a vehicle with just 16 miles on it, so I feel really obligated to give it extra-special care. But I put close to 250 miles on it over the weekend, so I was still able to fully serve you, the reader.

Something new: Ford started selling the C-Max Hybrid earlier this fall. The five-passenger box is designed to compete with the larger Toyota Prius V.

Introduction: With its high ceiling, low floor, and plenty of storage, the C-Max also provides some competition for the Scion xB or the Kia Soul. Although it costs almost half-again as much as these, its price is on a par with that of the Prius.

Fuel economy: The C-Max is much sippier than the aforementioned boxes. I observed 38 m.p.g. in a highway-heavy mix of driving, much lower than the advertised 47 m.p.g. highway and city. We'll give Ford a bit of credit for a few m.p.g. for the vehicle not yet being broken in.

We're all accustomed to "your mileage may vary" disclaimers, but for comparison, a Prius I test drove last year averaged just a hair under 50 m.p.g., which is right between its EPA estimates of 51 city and 48 highway. So I was less than impressed with the C-Max's real-world numbers.

Now for something really different: Ford is planning to offer a plug-in hybrid version of the C-Max in 2013.

Performance: The nice part about most hybrids is that power is there when you need it. The C-Max is no exception. The multi-activity vehicle is much better for shooting onto the Vine Street Expressway than, say, the tiny Chevrolet Spark.

On the curves: For a family vehicle, the C-Max did a nice job of putting the fun into functionality. It's no Boss Mustang, but it makes the curves a little more joyful.

Smooth: I had a hard time noticing when the vehicle was in gasoline or electric mode. So kudos to Ford for equaling hybrid-pioneer Toyota for smoothness. (Hyundai's Sonata was the lone hybrid I've tested that I found jerky.)

Driver's Seat: The seats were comfortable and supportive, and the driver is well-positioned.

Friends and stuff: Rear legroom was a strong point, and heads fit in nicely. Feet have a bit more twisting to do, though. And owners would not want to victimize a passenger by keeping him in the middle for too long a journey.

A better position: The C-Max dashboard comes straight out of the Escape bin, and is fairly attractive. But while the Escape felt a little oddly angled or aimed at my chest, the C-Max seems perfectly positioned for the average male.

Outside: An attractive design. The lovely and very color-aware Mrs. Passenger Seat found that even in her least favorite color, white, the vehicle was still attractive.

Clogged Sync: After reporting how well the new MyFord Touch worked in the Escape in August, the C-Max version had a few minor issues. While trying to get from XM to Traffic on the 2s, the system froze up completely. Turning it off and turning it back on restored operation, so things are better than in last year's Explorer.

The GPS also cannot find Birmingham Road outside West Chester to save its life. But if that glitch keeps a few drivers off my favorite country road, then I'm all for it.

In addition, the radio and XM lose signal with greater frequency than in any other vehicle I recall testing.

But overall, I find the redesigned touch screen with a few control buttons on the dash to be among the most user-friendly systems.

Night shift: Lighting is good. Accent lighting is pretty and comes in an array of colors.

Where it's built: Wayne, Mich.

How it's built: The C-Max has no reliability testing yet, but Ford's track record is spotty at best.

In the end: I found the C-Max to be a nice ride and smooth enough to match Toyota. But I'd wait for more real-world fuel economy numbers, if that could be a deciding factor.


Contact Scott Sturgis at ssturgis@phillynews.com.

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