2015 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL

2015 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL

Still the biggest threat to Prius domination.

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This isn’t our first go-around in Ford’s C-Max Hybrid- we had one in the Carpages Garage a few years ago shortly after it made its Canadian debut. Since then, not much has changed. It’s still based on the sprightly Focus platform, it still packs the same hybrid drivetrain and it still represents a compelling alternative to the Toyota Prius. Folks who need more space than your typical compact but still require a hybrid setup seem to have noticed the many virtues of the C-Max- as of 2014, Ford had moved 1,411 C-Max units with Toyota holding down a slim lead with 1,819 Prii. That the Ford has closed a considerable gap between itself and the hybrid that started it all in a few short years is not something to be taken lightly.

PROS: Excellent to drive, terrific value, roomy and well-equipped.

CONS: Droning CVT transmission, MyFord Touch, can be difficult to attain lofty fuel consumption claims.

THE VERDICT: Ford’s goal was to build a better alternative to the Prius, a goal it happily overshot.

A working theory has emerged from the Carpages Garage on why buyers would choose the C-Max over the Prius. The first and most obvious reason would have to be the fact that the C-Max is vastly more engaging to drive than a Prius. Hybrids have never been known to light the fires of any enthusiast (they still don’t) but when a palpable effort is there to keep the driver somewhat engaged, that effort is most appreciated. The second reason is that the C-Max feels significantly more substantial and built with quality in mind than the flinty, plastics-galore Prius. Ford is going to great lengths to make your hybrid experience somewhat more enjoyable.

Our tester’s top-rung SEL trim helps in this department by offering up a comprehensive list of kit for drivers and passengers alike. There are the usual but appreciated bits- self-parking, a power lift-gate in the rear, comfortable leather trimmed seats. Those who spent time in the C-Max during its stay with us were more impressed at how delightfully easy it is to get in and out of the thing, how commodious the interior feels and the excellent outward visibility. Strangely, the MyFord Touch system in the C-Max feels just as hapless as it did a few years back- some of the Ford product we’ve driven recently still aren’t perfect, but operate much better than what we experienced in the C-Max. Ford’s anticipated all-new Sync 3 system cannot arrive soon enough.

There are a few other miscues, with some staying below the radar to anyone but a car enthusiast while others don’t enjoy such anonymity. The CVT transmission, the ubiquitous choice for gearbox duties on hybrid cars causes the 2.0 litre Atkinson Cycle engine to drone and is quite out of step with actual road speed. If you spend most of your time commuting in urban centres where you’ll be running in EV mode most of the time, this won’t be a huge issue. What will stick in people’s craws is not hitting the low fuel consumption figures Ford boasts for this little people mover. To get really sparkling numbers we had to drive the C-Max so gingerly that doing so in everyday conditions simply isn’t realistic, unless you can allocate much more time to your commute and easily tune out the blaring horns of your fellow (read: pissed off) motorists.

But if it’s a hybrid you must have, and there are people you must move about with their stuff in tow, the C-Max makes a very good case for itself. The Prius may still be the reigning champ, but if the next C-Max can build on this already successful recipe, the gap between it and the Prius could close for good.

2015 Ford C-MAX Hybrid SEL — Specifications

Price as tested: $35,049

Body Type: 4-door, 5-passenger wagon

Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive

Engine:  2.0-litre Atkinson Cycle inline-4, DOHC, 16 valves

Horsepower: 141 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque (lbs-ft): 129 @ 4,000 rpm

Electric motor: 1.4 kWh, 120V lithium-ion battery, 35 kW

Combined System Output: 188 horsepower

Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission

Curb weight: 1,659 kg (3,658 lbs)

Observed Fuel Consumption: 6.3 L/100 km (39 mpg)