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2015 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL Review 

C-Max a thrifty alternative to the crossover

  • 2015 Ford C-MAX Hybrid
HIGHLIGHTS
ENGINE
2.0L I-4 FWD
POWER
188hp @ 6,000RPM
CURB WEIGHT
1,636 kg
TORQUE
129 lb.-ft. @ 4,000RPM
FUEL TANK CAPACITY
51.1L
ECONOMY
6.4L/100 km
BASE PRICE
$25999
PRICE AS TESTED
NA

THE PROS & CONS

WHAT’S BEST: Good fuel economy without sacrificing pep

WHAT’S WORST: A straight gas or diesel version would be nice

WHAT’S INTERESTING: “Efficiency leaves” and braking coach

When Prius came to Canada back in Y2K, our sense of urgency to buy hybrids wasn’t particularly urgent.

Sure, we were all trying to save the planet, but it takes more than green guilt to convince buyers to spend more dough for less vehicle – especially with gas selling at around 70 cents per litre.

Since then fuel prices have soared. And although they dipped again last fall, we still have collective nightmares over the $1.30 to $1.40 per litre gouging that no doubt will return.

RELATED: Why are gas prices so low and what it means for Canadians

Hybrid popularity has more or less followed this curve, evolving from novelty to mainstream, with most automakers offering at least one model. Toyota, which arguably defined the segment, now has at least six in its mainstream lineup and another six under the Lexus brand.

The opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed at Ford, where hybrids, plug-ins and even an EV variant complement popular gas models like Focus and Fusion. The C-Max – my tester for the week – is a little different, having no gasoline-only variant available in Canada.

It came here in the fall of 2012 as the company’s first dedicated hybrid, with two models available: the C-Max Hybrid, which starts at $25,999 for the SE and $29,849 for the SEL as tested, and the C-Max Energi, starting at $34,249.

The Energi is a plug-in, which allows it to run on battery-only EV mode up to 32 km.

The others are conventional hybrids, getting their full charge from the gas engine and regenerative braking. The onboard system makes all energy decisions: electric only for light demand or coasting, gas only for steady cruising, and a combination of both when you need full power.

C-Max offers a more conventional alternative for those not enamoured with Prius’s quirky styling. It is somewhere between wagon and CUV – perhaps “tall wagon” describes it best.

But height doesn’t make the C-Max ungainly, with a wide track and protruding wheel arches over 17-inch alloys giving it a more planted stance. And with Ford’s signature trapezoidal grille, the look is more aggressive than Prius.

Cargo space is a generous 694 litres behind the second row – despite the battery pack beneath – and 1,489 litres with the 60/40 seats folded flat. That’s more than Prius liftback, but less than the larger and more capacious Prius v.

The Energi provides a smaller 544-litre hold, expanding to 1,212 max which is a tradeoff for its larger battery pack.

Where C-Max zooms ahead is in performance. Both Prius models are powered by a DOHC 1.8-litre, four cylinder with hybrid drive, producing a total system output of 136 hp. C-Max hybrid gets a larger 2.0-litre Atkinson cycle engine that delivers 141 hp and 129 lb/ft on its own, with electrics pushing it to 188 hp.

RELATED: Hybrids no longer just for eco-chic

I’ve always wondered how they arrive at these specs, when the electric motor itself generates 118 hp and 117 lb/ft of torque, but it’s an alchemy that is better felt than understood.

Step on the gas from a standing start, and the electric motor’s instantaneous torque provides plenty of kick before the petrol engine hits its stride. Go hard into a turn, and there’s less lean than you’d expect from a tall-box design, thanks to its somewhat firm independent front/rear suspension.

The C-Max is no road rocket, but it’s quite capable for a penny-pinching hybrid.

But you may use more of these pennies than with the competition. Fuel economy is rated at 6.7/7.6/7.1 L/100km (city/hwy/comb), which is close to my real world results. Prius scores a thriftier 4.6/4.9/4.7 L/100km for the liftback and 5.4/5.8/5.6 for the Prius v.

This, of course, is dependent on your driving style, and although I’m not particularly light of foot, the C-Max offers plenty of encouragement to adopt a greener technique.

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This starts with the braking coach – selected via the multi-info screen left of the speedo. Each time you step on the binders, it provides an efficiency score, indicating how well you’re converting braking energy into electrical charge. Brake hard and you’ll score in the fifties or sixties; do this smoothly and gently, and you’ll be hitting top marks. I managed 100 percent on several occasions.

“Efficiency leaves” are another reward for good behaviour.

This user-friendly display of vines and leaves will grow lusher when you’re driving efficiently, and will shed foliage when you don’t. A few changes in driving habits transformed my display from the Charlie Brown Christmas tree to a virtual jungle.

Whether you’re operating on electrons only, gas or a blend of both, the transitions are barely perceptible. If I hadn’t set Ford’s Smartgauge to monitor the flow of power, I’d seldom have known.

All of these features are standard fare, along with a lengthy list of equipment on the base SE model that includes dual-zone climate control; heated front seats with six-way/four-way manual adjust for the driver and passenger; leather-wrapped, tilt/telescopic steering with audio and cruise controls; second-row in floor storage; one 110-volt and two 12-volt outlets; SYNC infotainment system and six-speaker audio.

My SEL tester came with some additional goodies such as smart key with pushbutton start, ambient lighting, leather bucket seats with 10-way power for the driver, reverse sensing system, rain-sensing wipers and more.

For an additional $1,300, you can option up the SEL with premium audio, navigation, rearview camera, foot-activated power liftgate and automated self-park feature. That’s a lot of tech for the dough, but I’m still hesitant to let an onboard computer park my car. Call it a trust issue, but it has served me well.

Inside the passenger cabin, there’s plenty of soft touch in the upper doors and dash, with attractive trim pieces – all fitted nicely without rattles or squeaks.

Overall, the C-Max appears reasonably well dressed for a vehicle in its price range, not giving the impression that all the money went into its electrics.

Indeed, this tall wagon ticks all the right boxes for flexible family transport – with the added bonus of hybrid drive, making it a compact and fuel-efficient alternative to the ubiquitous crossover.

2015 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL at a glance

BODY STYLE: Compact hybrid wagon
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, front wheel drive
ENGINE: 2.0-litre Atkinson cycle inline four cylinder with electric motor (combined 188 hp)
TRANSMISSION: Electronically-controlled, continuously variable transmission
EV MODE TOP SPEED: 100 km/h
CARGO: 694 litres behind second row, 1,489 litres when folded flat
FUEL ECONOMY: 6.7/7.6/7.1 L/100km (city/hwy/comb)
PRICE: base SE – $25,999; SEL – $29,849; Energi – $34,249. (see web site for packages and stand-alone options, as well as latest offers)

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