Ford’s 2014 C-Max Hybrid continues forward with minor efficiency enhancing tweaks for the hatch that launched as a new model in September 2012.
In the U.S., the front-wheel-drive C-Max is only available in hybrid form, but in Europe it’s available with other conventional powertrains. The EPA classifies it as a “large” car.
Ford’s purpose in making it hybrid only is to create an alternative brand identity to Toyota’s Prius line, and perhaps other vehicles, and it’s done a good job so far, despite some early hiccups.
Updated for 2014 is its fuel economy rating which is reduced to 43 mpg combined, and this was the case last year when Ford corrected a 47 mpg window sticker after much controversy including high-30/low-40 mpg ratings from professional reviewers, and lawsuits by consumers.
Despite initial mud in its eye, the C-Max hybrid finished its 2013 sales year in sixth place out of 44 U.S. hybrids on the market and to date this year it’s the seventh-best seller.
Changes made are intended to help it more readily achieve its now-lowered – but still respectable – fuel economy ratings.
These updates include revised gearing for more efficient transmission drive ratios and aerodynamic changes and new lower frictin engine oil.
The alteration to the aerodynamics are a new hood seal, front and rear tire deflectors, A-pillar moldings and rear lift gate deflectors.
Otherwise, still relatively fresh in its life cycle and a solid alternative to the higher-mpg Prius Liftback, or lower-rated Prius v wagon, the Ford C-Max Hybrid is essentially the same car as it was when first introduced.
Propelling the C-Max is the same “Powersplit” hybrid system as found in the Fusion Hybrid. It consists of a 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle engine built in Chihuahua, Mexico, plus electric motor and battery.
The aluminum, four-valve-per-cylinder engine is rated at 141 horsepower, 129 pounds-feet of torque and power is blended seamlessly in via the electric motor.
The motor adds as much as 114 horsepower and 177 pounds-feet torque at 6,000 rpm.
Power is routed through an eCVT transmission with planetary gearset that can decouple or combine the two independent power sources.
A 1.4-kwh lithium-ion battery provides the electrical energy storage.
The front-wheel-drive system is rated at 188 horsepower.
The 3,640-pound C-Max splits the difference between a Prius Liftback and v in terms of cargo volume.
Its length of 173.6 inches is actually shorter than both the 181.7-inch-long v and the 176.4-inch-long Prius Liftback. However, the C-Max is 1.9-inches taller than the v, and 5.2 inches taller than the Liftback while also 2.1-inches wider than the v, and 3.3-inches wider than the Liftback.
Ford builds the aerodynamic 0.29-cd car on the global Focus platform, and then maxes the dimensions out, so its name is appropriate.
Styling is smart and progressive with the signature grille seen on other compact and mid-sized Fords.
The vehicle rolls on wider 225/50 series tires which, while providing a more solid appearing stance, and potentially more grip, may also add rolling resistance compared to 195-mm-wide tires on the Toyotas.
Ford’s power, you may note, is also more than Toyota’s 134 system horsepower, which was part of Ford’s effort to distinguish the C-Max over the Prius siblings.
Incidentally also, the C-Max is much quicker with a 7-8 second-plus 0-60 time, a good couple seconds or more lower than the 10-second or so Liftback and tad slower v.
Quarter mile time has been clocked at 15.5 seconds in the low 90s for the C-Max, and believe it or not, that was all a 5.0-liter V8 Mustang might have done during some years in the early 1990s.
Ford’s eco car is thus fairly peppy in the real world, and this too means it may potentially use more fuel if one chooses to use that power.
Inside the car, the large-class C-Max is roomy enough for four adults comfortably, and possibly a fifth person, as this is afive-seater.
The middle back row may crunch some with longer legs depending on how far back the front seats are adjusted.
Comfort-wise, the electronically controlled driver’s seat is sufficiently supportive with decent, non-adjustable lumbar support.
From the driver’s seat, controls are within easy reach, and the steering wheel has multi-function buttons that can be learned intuitively.
Quality of materials is good, with soft-touch vinyl on front door panels, dash, with matching harder plastic in back.
Some may find the quality of some of the materials to hold an edge over the Toyotas.
Fit and finish for the car put together at the cavernous Michigan Assembly Plant are very good inside as it is also for the rest of the car.
As mentioned already, the car is more satisfyingly quick if that is a priority to you.
Road manners are decent also, and while the body does roll taking hard bends, it can be driven at a brisk pace with confidence, though this is no sports car.
The eCVT auto transmission blends the power in an infinite band that makes an attempt to keep mpg high as possible.
The EPA rates it at 45 city, 40 highway, and 43 combined.
Ford caught heat for how it used to test and rate the C-Max – in fact, it admitted the original 47 mpg sticker was based on a legal loophole from the 1970s that let it test the Fusion Hybrid, and assign the same rating to the C-Max.
“In addition to improving the vehicle itself, Ford is changing the way it generates the miles-per-gallon label for C-MAX Hybrid going forward,” said Gord in a press release.
So what’s realistic?
Real world mileage can vary and we have not tested the 2014, but the similar 2013 was difficult to get over 41 mpg. It’s less of a chore to hit the upper 30s.
Other reviewers have noted the updated 2014 may be good for an extra mile per gallon or so.
This whole subject has been a point of contention, however. Some Internet commenters saying they own the car have taken it upon themselves to write comments under various reviews alternately saying they meet or exceed the rated mpg, or can’t hit it no matter what.
The vehicle is otherwise a solid package, progressively styled, with high utility and quality of build.
If you want a better chance of hitting the highest mpg, a Prius Liftback has a better shot at it, and even though its sales have flattened out, the Liftback is by far the top-seller.
That said, we do like the C-Max. Its extra power can be seen as a worthwhile tradeoff. Its styling also is a nice alternative, but ultimately this is up to your own aesthetic tastes.
For more info from our 2013 full review with video, please click here.