The streets of suburbia should be packed, curb to curb, with the 2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid. It’s roomy, quiet, stingy and affordable, and it also has a certain European charm.
That should surprise not, because the Ford C-Max was designed for Europe, and to make the most of its footprint on narrow European streets and byways. Essentially, how much car can you pack atop the shadow of a C-Max?
Well, a C-Max’s worth. And that’s because it’s not really a car but what used to be called a tall wagon. Based on the same 104.3-inch wheelbase as the Ford Focus, the C-Max is a half-foot taller than the Focus five-door hatchback and about two inches longer, but the C-Max is roomier inside. With its rear seat higher off the floor, the C-Max has about three inches more rear leg room while increasing rear headroom by an inch and a half.
The C-Max also has more cargo room. Fold the rear seatbacks for 52.6 cubic feet for the C-Max versus 44.8 cubic feet for the Focus five-door. Although the seatbacks fold flatter than most of its competitors, the C-Max’s cargo floor with the seatbacks down is completely flat. What’s more, the floor is higher than the bumper, making the C-Max one of the easiest-to-load vehicles of its size.
Actually, part of that flat floor comes from raising the rear section. If the seatbacks can’t go down to meet the cargo floor, raise the cargo floor to meet the seatbacks. That doesn’t waste space, however, because the cargo floor flips up for access to a surprising large hidden cargo bin.
The interior of the C-Max is more than roomy, though. It’s up to date and reasonably rich for our SE trim-level tester, though it’s short on the kind of cubbies and bins to the assorted stuff that comes with life in the modern family. The center console hosts a shift lever and two cupholders, with a bin under the center armrest. Where do the pencil, two barrettes and the change from the drive-thru go? Apparently Europeans don’t live in their cars as much as we do.
Here in the States we get a five-seat four-door version of the C-Max, though Ford also builds a seven-seat Grand C-Max with sliding rear side doors—and there’s a smaller B-Max as well. But while Ford offers a variety of engines for different markets, including diesel power and even the 1.0-liter Ecoboost engine that’s also used in the Ford Fiesta SFE, for the U.S., the Ford C-Max is available only as a hybrid—called obviously the Ford C-Max Hybrid—and a plug-in hybrid, the Ford C-Max Energi. The powertrains are the same as used in the Ford Fusion Hybrid and the Ford Fusion Energi.
For the C-Max Hybrid, that means a 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder with a sophisticated hybrid system that adds a 118 horsepower electric motor to the 141 horses of the gasoline engine. The two combine to peak at 188 horses and that’s enough for normal traffic for drivers with any situational awareness. Anyone needing to outrun Godzilla, well, you’re on your own.
The C-Max Hybrid, however, is impressive not for acceleration—as if that’s a surprise—but for how long, under reasonable throttle, the powertrain in stay in battery-electric mode. Ford says 62 mph and our experience says you don’t have to featherfoot it to get there. While some hybrid systems are calling in their gas engine as soon as any pressure is put on the pedal, the C-Max Hybrid can be driven without any particular attention to the “how” to get the “what.”
The powertrain was impressive in the C-Max for being transparent, with little tactile indication of when the gas engine was running or when it started or stopped. The only real way to tell was via the power flow graphic on the multi-information display at the top of the centerstack. What’s particularly impressive is how often the engine actually turns off. On downhills, even slight downgrades that don’t require any throttle, even coasting to a stop, the engine turns off, unless the engine is needed to recharge the hybrid battery.
The regenerative braking is aggressive, and Ford claims that 95 percent of kinetic energy can be recovered with careful braking. And if you don’t know what that is, the C-Max will teach you with a “coach.” After coming to a stop, the C-Max Hybrid will display a braking efficiency rating on the information screen to the left of the speedometer. Basically it’s doing what you’ve been told to about aggressive braking: don’t. The regenerative braking, however, is touchy.