Ford C-MAX Offers Drivers a Good Green Alternative | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 01 November 2012 15:10

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Ford’s next-generation powersplit architecture allows the electric motor and gasoline-powered engine to work together or separately to maximize efficiency in the C-MAX.

By Steve Schaefer

San Leandro Times

The Toyota Prius has been successful partly because it‘s an iconic presence on the road. Even people who don’t own one or have even been in one know that it’s an environmentally friendly hybrid that gets great gas mileage.

Well, who says the Prius has to hog all the attention? Ford has decided to build the European-designed C-MAX in Wayne, Michigan. The C-MAX is a compact but tall four-door hatchback, and is sold only as a hybrid in the U.S. It looks like a member of the new Ford family, but also stands apart as a hybrid. Now Ford’s marketing people need to develop it as a recognizable brand.

My Blue Candy Metallic Tint Clearcoat SEL test car sure seemed like what a hybrid is supposed to be. It looks a bit like a Prius, with a similar side window line, but the nose has the new Aston Martin grille appearance — sitting low on the prominent plastic bumper.

Like a good hybrid should, the C-MAX mates a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor to make your fuel fill-ups take you further. The C-MAX doesn’t have a screen that shows you wheels turning and arrows from the power sources like the Prius, but it offers a coach to help you drive efficiently. It shows you how much power is in the battery and displays when you’re regenerating power while braking. It even tells you the percentage of energy you regenerated. One screen on the highly configurable MyFordTouch instrument panel lets you grow leaves with your good driving behavior and thanks you for driving a hybrid.

110112a2The airy cabin is welcome… and familiar. The windshield goes way forward and there are little triangular panes in the substantial pillars. The various angles and surfaces in today’s Ford interiors keep your eyes moving around the cabin, so you don’t get bored. It’s quiet in there, especially when the car’s using the electric motor only.

Ford’s SYNC system is a fascinating look at the future of automotive technology. The problem is that it’s frustrating to use. I spent substantial time testing the voice commands for the audio system, navigation system and climate control. I asked for an artist and sometimes got the wrong person. I set up a destination via voice and the car actually took me to the wrong address.

But when it worked, it was satisfying. Even after the system let me down, I kept going back for more. I discovered that it works a lot like software — you need to move from one screen to another, systematically. It would be great if the system understood a sentence and didn’t need to be fed a series of commands, such as “Audio > USB > Sirius > artist > song.” This is exciting — but I wonder if we drivers are working as Ford’s beta testers.

The C-MAX is listed by the EPA as averaging 47 miles per gallon (City, Highway and Average). Sadly, I averaged a disappointing 37.9 mpg over my test week. That’s actually better than virtually every other car I’ve driven, except the Prius, but the sticker said 47 mpg.

Perhaps it makes more sense to compare the C-MAX to the new Prius V, which is more wagon-shaped. My test of a 2012 Prius V recently came up with 38.8 mpg — pretty much equivalent.

The Prius has never been renowned for its sporty driving experience, so that may be the Ford’s biggest selling point. The C-MAX handles tautly, and feels more alive on the road. You’re riding high, so it’s not like a sports car, but the steering is more direct than the Toyota and the engine feels more responsive.

Today, C-MAX models include the SE and the SEL, but a plug-in hybrid model is coming soon. Like the Prius Plug-In, it offers fuel-free motoring for a limited distance and you can charge it with a plug and cord in your garage. It will offer some of the advantages of an all-electric car with the freedom to fill your tank and take off for anyplace you want to go.

Prices for a C-MAX SE start at $25,200. The SEL, with additional features, starts at $28,200. My car had a $3,080 optional equipment group that included Premium Audio and Navigation, a power liftgate, keyless entry, the high-tech parking technology package, and the charming and aggravating hands-free technology package. Like a Prius, the price range starts out fairly reasonable and moves into entry luxury territory in a hurry.

The C-MAX is a new entry in the American car market, and appears to have the right ingredients. Perhaps passing on the SYNC voice interaction would be a good idea for now, but for efficiently hauling your family and gear — with some driving satisfaction — it seems poised for success.

 

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