Review: 2014 Ford C-Max Energi

It looks like a Toyota Prius and Mazda 5; an electricity enhanced version of Ford’s answer to people who wanted a hot hatch with hybrid technology. But, is it family friendly? Road trip worthy? Here’s what we found:

Ford C-Max EnergiUnder the Hood:

The 2014 Ford C-Max Energi features a 2-liter inline 4 cylinder gasoline engine teamed with an 88 kW motor powered by a 7.6kWh Lithium-ion battery. The two produce a combined 188 horsepower which runs through Ford’s Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (eCVT).

The C-Max Energi features what Ford calls their power-split architecture which allows the gasoline engine and electric motor to work together or separately in order to maximize efficiency. The Energi can be plugged in to a standard household 120-volt outlet or a 24-volt charging station. It also features regenerative braking that if done just right–there is a handy indicator in the driver info screen in the instrument cluster to et you know how you are doing–sends 95% of braking energy to recharge the batteries.

We were impressed with the regenerative braking. It was fairly easy to get used to the idea thanks to the intuitive indicator which is an image of a battery filling up with the color blue as you increase the charge. At one point in a day trip to the Smokey Mountains we were able to add 22 miles of electric power to the battery on one particularly long run down a mountain.

2014 Ford C-Max EnergiExterior:

The C-Max was initially manufactured in Germany and sold in the European market as a 2003 compact multi-purpose gasoline or diesel vehicle. It was launched in the US as a hybrid only line late in 2012. Exterior design of the current North American C-Max is still a classically European aesthetic with its compact footprint, high sides, and spacious rear end cargo area behind the fifth door.

The C-Max des not push the typical buttons for a good looking car, sleek, sporty, muscular, etc., but it is still manages to be a not unattractive vehicle in a utilitarian, shrunken minivan kind of way. We caught more than a few people giving us a second glance as we drove along.

One of our favorite features, and one of the more ingenious features to come along is the hands-free liftgate. Got the key fob in your pocket? Just make a kicking motion under the rear bumper. Sensors detect the motion and open the electric liftgate. Grocery shopping just got easier. All your groceries may not fit in the trunk but we’ll get to that later.

One of our major gripes with the C-Max Energi was the aim of the headlights. Driving a winding road in the dark was a speed reducing endeavor at every turn with the centered focused lights unable to fully illuminate the road in front of us for a confident drive.

Ford C-Max EnergiInterior:

Our C-Max was outfitted inside with dark leather seats and plastic throughout the dash and console area. There is a lot of plastic, but fit and finish are solid. While the materials inside don’t communicate a particularly premium feel, they aren’t cheap feeling.

Seating is a bit higher than you expect in a car. It’s almost chair-like and manages to give the vehicle a crossover feel. The seats are firm but comfortable. A three and a half hour road trip never really had us giving much thought to our lower backs. Adults and ‘tweens had plenty of room in the back seats with the driver and front passenger in their typical seating positions. Ford calls the C-Max a 5-seater, but a third person in the middle wouldn’t be good for any of the rear passengers.

HVAC and basic audio controls (volume and tuning) are all easily within reach. Ford thankfully doesn’t fall into the trap of some manufacturers who put climate controls in the infotainment system only. The simple, traditional design of the controls make it easily manipulated. Occasionally though the console mounted shifter blocks the driver’s view of the right side of the digital readout.

The layout of the infotainment system doesn’t make sense to us. The controls are on a surface that is basically horizontal. This layout leaves you reaching over other buttons that are easily bumped. More than once we found ourselves in a menu we weren’t familiar with after fingers dragged across buttons we didn’t want to use.

The wedge-shaped front end design of the C-Max requires sloping windscreen which may take a little getting used to for some. The slant and the dark plastic along the top of the dash work together to create an issue with sunlight reflecting off the dash and onto the windscreen.

A fixed-glass panoramic roof was a nice touch; however, our mountain drive left us wishing we could open it to enjoy the early fall air. The window is equipped with a power sunshade operated with the touch of a button, The screen looked and felt like t-shirt material. It was never obtrusive, but when we did notice it the screen screamed cheap.

Ford C-Max EnergiOne issue with hybrids and electric vehicles is the batteries require space. The C-Max batteries are in the floor of the cargo area and significantly reduce the cargo area. We may have been able to load day bags in the 19.2 cubic feet for the four of us traveling, but any more than that would have been above the top of the rear seat. No passengers means the backseats can lay down giving a much more useful 42.8 cubic feet.

Infotainment:

The C-Max Energi we tested came with the SYNC and MyFord Touch system. The system consists of a standard-sized infotainment screen and two driver info screens on each side of the instrument cluster.

Driver info screens are controlled by easy to use and understand steering wheel controls. The left screen can be set to display fuel economy info and charging status along with braking and driving information to make your electric vehicle driving more efficient. The right screen can change to display what Ford describes as Efficiency Leaves which appear along a vine and green up as your driving habits get greener.

The SYNC system is intuitive even if some of the audio controls are a little slow to respond. The Navigation System was accurate save for one national park area where we ended up driving into a parking lot. That said, the area where we were was confusing and poorly laid out. The issue was certainly a result of the planning department and not the nav system.

Ford C-Max EnergiThe Drive:

While no C-Max is likely to be called sporty by anyone outside of Ford’s marketing department, the ride and overall driving experience was a surprise. We expected a stodgy ride with very deliberate input and response, but enjoyed a pleasant drive. The vehicle is best described as comfortable.

The design of the C-Max powertrain allows it to be driven in electric only mode even at highway speeds which is a nice feature. This obviously depletes the batteries quicker than if electric mode was governed as in most hybrids.

When the gasoline engine works on its own it can be loud. It can sound as if you are really thrashing the engine getting up to speed even if you aren’t pushing it all that hard. A couple of times the gasoline engine would kick on while we were stopped and was surprisingly loud.

Power is adequate–don’t expect to beat anyone off the line in the C-Max. We drove at freeway speeds, up and down more than one mountain, and clogged urban streets and never really felt a lack of pull.

Important Numbers for Families:

  • 0 – There is zero change in exterior vehicle dimensions between the C-Max and the C-Max Energi. There is also the same amount of space for head, hip, and leg room between models.
  • 3 – Three different warranties are available for the C-Max; New Vehicle Limited Warranty- 3 yr/36,000 mi, Powertrain- 5 yr/60,000 mi, Unique Hybrid Components- 8 yr/100,000 mi.
  • 5.5 – When moving from the C-Max to the C-Max Energi, you lose 5.5 cubic feet of storage space behind the second row seating.
  • 7 – On a regular 120v outlet, Ford says the C-Max Energi takes 7 hours to fully charge. We found that number to be closer to 8.
  • 19 – Estimated EV range for the C-Max Energi is 19 miles. We experienced the same range while driving 70 mph on the highway and additional miles based on regeneration in city traffic.

Family 5 Test:

  1. Car Seats – two booster seats comfortably fit across the back row of the C-Max Energi but expect full-sized car seats to limit between passenger space.
  2. Coffee Cups – In a word- adequate.
  3. Luggage – Planning on packing more than two carry on sized suitcases for a road trip? You’re going to have a hard time fitting it behind the second row. Using the car just for two people? The second row seating will likely double as your most often used storage space.
  4. Golf Clubs – If your clubs don’t fit in the second row seating, they’re probably not going with you.
  5. Groceries – Fitting just 6 full sized grocery bags across the back completely blocks the rear window view and over the course of a week of driving, we found ourselves using the second row for shopping trip storage.

The Bottom Line:

Ford’s C-Max Energi isn’t as hot as a typical hatch but it gets the job done. While we can’t see the Energi working for families strictly because of the lack of storage space, we can see if being a great vehicle for couples or a single person. It’s chair-like seating makes entering and exiting the vehicle comfortable for drivers and passengers with arthritis, knee, and back conditions. If you’re a grandparent mainly commuting to spend time with the grandkids, we found the perfect vehicle for you.

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To see more pictures and video from this vehicle test and future tests, follow Drive My Family on InstagramTwitterFacebook, and Vine (@DriveMyFamily).

images courtesy of Ford Motor Company
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