Venerable but Viable
The hybrid vehicle segment is now old enough that some models have been around for quite a while. Toyota’s Prius–the name many associate with the word “hybrid”–is nearly 20 years old, and is currently in its fourth generation. The 2017 Ford C-Max Hybrid is getting long-in-the-tooth (it was introduced in 2012), but it is practically unchanged.
There’s a lot to like with the C-Max. Originally a European minivan (which they style as an MPV or multi-purpose vehicle), the hybrid models have been built in Wayne, Michigan. It’s is a bit more compact than an American-size van, and has satisfying ride and handling, despite a rather large turning radius. You feel in control, sitting up high and perusing traffic through an expansive windshield.
I’ve tested three C-Maxes in the past—the first one nearly five years ago. The 2017 models are nearly identical, with just some minor grille and taillamp tweaking. This year, the new Titanium series replaces the SEL; it includes 17-inch machined aluminum wheels, leather-trimmed seats and a 10-way power passenger seat with lumbar support.
Two Choices of C-Max
As it has been since 2012, you can choose the Hybrid or the Energi (plug-in hybrid) version. My tester, in this case, was the Hybrid, so all its electricity came from regenerative braking stored in the 1.4 kWh lithium-ion battery. Simply press the brake—or roll downhill—and the car charges its battery.
That means you can drive in pure EV mode part of the time during commutes or short trips in town, but the car normally shifts automatically between the 2.0-liter engine and the electric motor, depending on driving conditions. The Energi model comes with a plug and a larger lithium-ion battery, so it acts like a pure EV more often, supplying that smooth, silent propulsion so welcome in EVs.
The engine/motor combination is good for 188 combined horsepower and 129 lb.-ft. of torque, so the car moves along OK, but you won’t win any green light grand prix against other all-electric vehicles.
Fuel Economy Boost
Hybrids help the gas engine work a lot less, so you get much better fuel economy. There is no gasoline-only C-Max in the U.S. to compare it to, but the same drivetrain is used in the Ford Fusion. Comparing Fusions, the gas-only model earns 21 city/31 highway/25 combined while the hybrid gets 43/41/42 respectively. That’s a significant difference.
My Ruby Red Tinted Clearcoat tester’s official scores were 42 city/38 highway/40 combined. Emitting 222 grams of CO2 per mile, essentially half a typical car, and gets a commendable 8 for Smog and 9 for Greenhouse Gas from the EPA.
Years of experience can be a good thing. The bugs are worked out, some updates have been applied, and everything’s familiar. The 2017 Ford C-Max Hybrid, in the lower SE level trim, though, seems a little old now. It came with a metal key, which I had to take out of my pocket, insert into the ignition, and turn to start the car. That felt like grabbing a vinyl LP and dropping the needle down for some music. The center dash screen, although it has the latest (and much improved) Ford Sync interface, is very tiny, so what are usually four tabs on the touch screen are rendered as separate strips below the screen. Of course, there’s no keyless access from outside, so you need to take out the fob and press a button.
Old (Design) Language Still Spoken Here
Ford has moved its interior design language forward, but the C-Max has the look of a 10-year-old model inside, with edgy, aggressive shapes that have been banished from newer models.
You still get the tools you need to drive efficiently. The instrument panel lets you view your fuel use history, and provides three horizontal bars that tell you how well you’ve been driving for Acceleration, Braking, and Cruising. You can also elect to view the Efficiency Leaves, which grow lush when you’re motoring cautiously and wither away when you press too hard on the accelerator.
The left panel gives you choices of how you view the interplay between the engine and the motor, as well as a way of seeing whether your behavior is charging or discharging the battery. There’s also a Brake Coach, so you can learn how well you’re regenerating power. I scored 100% sometimes, which gave me some satisfaction. This data helps you learn to drive more efficiently, but you can apply the techniques in any car.
Thanks to its efficient package, the C-Max flaunts a 540-mile driving range, a welcome benefit for long trips. Prices for the 2017 Ford C-Max Hybrid SE start at $24,175; the Titanium model begins at $27,175.
The 2017 Ford C-Max still provides an alternative to other hybrids, but there’s lots of competition now, including the stylish and trendy Kia Niro, among others like the Nissan Rogue Hybrid and Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. With a slew of fresh product on the way, Ford will be in great shape in this segment in the future. For now, The C-Max is a golden oldie.
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