By KBB.com Editors
When it comes to bragging rights, the Toyota Prius has long dominated the fuel-efficiency argument. However, the 2014 Ford C-Max is looking to change the debate by offering a hybrid with features that go beyond good mpg, namely style, comfort and a fun-to-drive attitude. Like the Prius the C-Max is a 5-door hatchback that can comfortably fit four people, or with its seats folded haul loads of cargo. Because it's based on the Ford Focus the C-Max is more driver-friendly than the Prius, offering a better ride, a quieter cabin and a more polished interior. While the Prius may have been first to the party, the 2014 Ford C-Max looks to be the kind of gate-crasher that isn't going to leave without a fight.
If you're impressed by the good fuel economy a hybrid can deliver, but you don't want to sacrifice the comfy features yielded by so many non-hybrid cars, the 2014 Ford C-Max masterfully blends both desires into a single vehicle.
If you're car-shopping mojo is motivated solely by the highest mpg ratings, the Prius still dominates the field. The Prius also has a slightly lower starting price.
The Ford C-Max sails into 2014 relatively unchanged. New transmission gearing aims to improve fuel economy, while a new approach to fuel-economy labeling results in slightly lower EPA estimates more in line with real-world driving.
Driving Impressions The C-Max's trump card isn't its excellent fuel economy but rather its very Focus-like driving characteristics. Ford's hybrid powertrain setup feels considerably more responsive than the system Toyota employs in...... its Prius cars, and a near-seamless transition between gasoline engine and electric motor, even at higher speeds, makes you forget you're driving a hybrid car. The C-Max's added weight – nearly 600 pounds – over the Prius should work against it, but we found the car accelerates briskly, loves to play in the curves and delivers a surprisingly comfortable and quiet driving experience. A tall roof and wide side glass provide excellent 360-degree visibility, while the elevated seats provide an SUV-like driving position. We found the C-Max brakes to be quite good, but the brake pedal's position relative to the driver is a bit awkward.
As the technology behind the plug-in hybrid is still relatively new, Ford created a smartphone app to assist owners in managing charge times and checking battery levels. The app also provides a map of nearby charging stations.
ACTIVE GRILLE SHUTTERS
Aerodynamics is the key to better fuel economy and less wind noise inside the passenger compartment. The C-Max's active grille shutters close at highway speed, directing air over and around the car's front end, reducing drag and thus reducing fuel consumption.
Ford's newfound status as a leader in interior design and material quality is evident in the 2014 C-Max. The 5-passenger cabin is filled with attractive, soft-touch surfaces that combine to produce a remarkably upscale feel, particularly for this class of vehicle. Ergonomics is excellent, with controls that are user-friendly and easily accessible. Headroom is overly abundant in all seating positions, and rear legroom is suitable for six-footers. The cargo area offers slightly more space than the regular Prius, but significantly less than the larger Prius V.Exterior
In order to fuse aerodynamics with utility, the 2014 Ford C-Max's exterior design emphasizes function over form. While no less stylish than a Prius, the Ford C-Max features a distinctive shape that associates more closely with a multipurpose vehicle than a hatchback. Although it shares the majority of its underpinnings with the Ford Focus, the C-Max is roughly five inches shorter in length. The C-Max's taller stature makes it easier for taller drivers to enter and exit the vehicle, while the available power liftgate incorporates a height-adjustable function to accommodate users of all sizes.
In base SE form, the 2014 Ford C-Max includes dual-zone climate control, manually adjustable front seats, a 60/40-split rear seat, 17-inch alloy wheels and a 6-speaker audio system with basic hands-free voice recognition and a USB port for portable music players. SEL models add heated front seats, leather seating, push-button start and the MyFord Touch infotainment system with an 8-inch touch-screen display and conversational voice-recognition software. Safety equipment includes seven airbags, a full complement of electronic stability aids and Ford's SOS post-crash alert system that activates the horn and hazard lights in the event of an airbag deployment.
Features available for both SE and SEL trims include a panoramic moonroof with a power-operated sunshade, remote-start system and touch-screen navigation with customizable routes from MapQuest. SEL models offer a convenient foot-activated power liftgate that opens and closes by simply waving your foot under the rear bumper as well as an active park-assist feature that makes parallel parking as simple as pressing a button. The C-Max Energi comes in one trim level and offers most of the features available for the C-Max Hybrid.
Every C-Max features a new 2.0-liter Atkinson-Cycle 4-cylinder engine, a gearless continuously variable transmission (CVT) and a 35-kW electric motor to produce a combined 188 horsepower. The Energi boasts a larger version of the Hybrid's lithium-ion battery pack for an all-electric range of approximately 20 miles. And, unlike the Toyota Prius, the C-Max Hybrid can travel up to 62 mph under full electricity.
2.0-liter inline-4 + electric motor
188 net hybrid system horsepower
129 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 40/45 mpg (Hybrid), 44/41 mpg (Energi)
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the base 2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid SE starts just under $26,000, with the range-topping SEL trim tacking an additional $3,000 to the bottom line. Energi plug-in hybrid models begin closer to $34,000, but are eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $3,750, depending on the state where purchased. Prices for the Toyota Prius and larger Prius V start in the neighborhood of $25,000 and $27,000, respectively. Because federal tax credits for plug-in hybrids are based on the size of a vehicle's battery pack, the Prius plug-in qualifies for a smaller $2,500 tax credit, which brings the starting price to just over $30,000. Before heading to the dealership, be sure to check KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are actually paying for the 2014 Ford C-Max. We expect the new C-Max to retain higher-than-average resale values over a 5-year period, with residuals that fall just shy of those held by the popular Toyota Prius.