The first blow — aimed directly at the Toyota Prius — is a vehicle that finally gives consumers a direct competitor in the gasoline-hybrid market. This is the vehicle we will be reviewing today.
The second blow, estimated to come by the end of the year, is a plug-in version of the C-Max. This again is aimed squarely at the new Prius plug-in hybrid.
Toyota has had the ring all to itself for a decade now, pummelling the competition, even the Honda Civic hybrid, each time.
But the C-Max is different. It looks like a Prius, but more European. Like the Escape, the C-Max is a European design, with a tall greenhouse with some crossover styling cues. Size-wise, it is just over 50 mm longer than the Ford Focus, on which it is based, but more importantly, is some 76 mm shorter than a Prius.
While the Prius looks futuristic in its centre stack, the Ford is more conventional — but contemporary at the same time. If you have seen the dash on the 2013 Ford Escape, the one on the C-Max would be instantly recognizable.
What’s eye-catching is the instrument cluster directly in front of the driver. It looks like it was taken directly off the Fusion hybrid. Drivers are confronted with a conventional speedometer with two 107-millimetre LCD flanking it on either side. The left screen is driver-customizable, showing power source (electric or gasoline) used, fuel economy, battery state, etc. The screen can also be further divided, with 10 different displays possible on the left and eight on the right.
Ford doesn’t stop there, offering Brake Coach, which lets drivers see how much energy is regenerated when braking and a trip or lifetime summary — showing distance travelled, energy used and overall brake score.
This is an information smorgasbord for those looking to optimize their driving. The screen to the right of the speedometer is more creative, with leaves and vines sprouting on the screen to denote efficient driving. I was happy to see a vigorous growth in the short time I had with my tester.
Under the C-Max hood beats a 2.0-litre four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine mated with a 88-kW electric motor. Together, the pair develops 188 net horsepower.
That’s enough power to induce mild torque steer — not something one would expect in an economy car.
What is new is the ability to drive on EV mode up to 100 km/h. Ford claims it can go from a stop to 100 km/h if the C-Max is accelerated slowly — very slowly. In real life one would be in danger of being rear-ended in regular traffic, but without any vehicles behind, it is possible. EnerGuide Canada rates the C-Max at an impressive 4.0 litres/100 km city and 4.1 on the highway. The Prius still beats it by a small margin, at 3.7 in the city and 4.0 on the highway. Close, but no cigar.
The C-Max’s tall greenhouse means occupants can sit fairly upright, with a good view of the road ahead. The door sills are fairly narrow, which is good. Vehicles with wide sills make entry and exit a reach and result in dirty pants in the winter.
The heated seats are the hottest I have ever sat in. They have five heat settings — the highest feels hot enough to cook a pizza. Hats off to the Ford engineer who kept cold Canadians in mind.
Naturally, the back seats fold 60/40. Unlike some, the releases for the seats are on the side of the rear seat bottoms. A simple tug will slide the seat bottom forward and fold the seat back forward. The resulting cargo floor is flat but there is a hump on the hatchback end.
There is a good number of hidden storage compartments in the rear, one on either side in the backseat floor and one at the edge of the hump. The cargo area also has a retractable cargo cover.
The front occupants also get a fairly deep centre armrest/console. An indentation at its base makes me surmise it is meant for a tall bottle such as a Thermos. The front also gets two other exposed regular cupholders as well as a couple of 12-volt power points.
The rear headrests appear sturdy for adults or teenagers. The two outboard ones can fold forward to improve rearward visibility. The centre one tucks into the top of the seat. When the centre of the backseat is not occupied, an armrest with integrated cup-holders can be deployed. The rear passengers are pampered with an adjustable centre rear vent as well as a 110-volt three-prong AC plug.
As this is merely the first round between the Prius and C-Max, it’s hard to foretell the outcome. While the champion has a few years under his belt, he is hardly past his prime. The new challenger may be fitter, faster and younger, but can’t seem find an opening to land a knockout punch. It looks like it is might be a long fight. One thing is for sure: This fight will be an interesting one to watch.
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