Ford isn’t the only manufacturer attempting to infiltrate the hybrid segment dominance of the Toyota Prius. But three years ago it started its best effort, the highly touted Ford C-Max hybrid-only line-up.

Ford’s marketing plan included a motto directly pointed at Toyota. It promoted the debut 2013 C-Max as “a hybrid that drives and looks like a real car.”

Like previous years’ models, the 2015 Ford C-Max is true to the carmaker’s claim. It looks and drives like a non-hybrid. It’s available as a gas-electric hybrid as the Energi, a plug-in hybrid.

The Ford C-Max hasn’t significantly dented the Toyota Prius market share, but it’s like its main competitor in two respects.

It’s not available in a gas-only model, much to the delight of green car enthusiasts, and it has a lot to offer.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

The Ford C-Max features a four-cylinder engine and electric motor system that combine for 195 horsepower. The C-Max Energi, my weekly driver, included a bulky 7.6-kWh battery pack that consumes much of the rear cargo space.

 

The 2015 Ford C-Max performs like a non-hybrid.
The 2015 Ford C-Max performs like a non-hybrid. Images © James Raia/2015

The base SE level model has a healthy list of standard features: 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with USB and auxiliary input jacks, an illuminated glove box, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear-seat heater vents, the Sync voice-controls system, and the SmartGauge digital display system with InfoGuide screens. (They allow the driver to configure information on the car’s operation and energy consumption.)

There are also in-floor storage areas in the rear seats, a leather trimmed driver’s seat, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, fog lights, blind-spot mirrors and dual-power mirrors with heat and security approach lamps.

My SEL trim also included the Equipment Group 303A ($3,000). It embellishes the base model with an upscale audio and navigation system with hands-free technology, a power lift gate, rear view camera, keyless entry/start and lift gate and active park assist.

In plug-in only driving mode (the weekly driver didn’t experience the plug-in re-charging system), the Ford C-Max is rated with a 19-mile range, lowered from an earlier estimate of a 22-mile range. When Ford initially introduced the C-Max it presented mileages pushing 50 in gas-electric driving mode. The current EPA estimates have been substantially reduced.

The gas-hybrid or electric-only driving modes and how they’re presented involve a learning curve with a series of recharging bars across the dials. (Please see the video below for a succinct system explanation).

But most important is that the range of the C-Max is more than 500 miles. Not many vehicles can boast more.

Driving the Ford C-Max is a refreshing alternative to many hybrids, namely the Toyota Prius. The Energi has a solid European-like demeanor. The cabin is quiet, steering is authoritative and acceleration is impressive, particularly for a hybrid.

The C-Max has substantial head room and leg room, and the driver and front-seat passenger have near panoramic views, adding the vehicle’s spacious overall feel.

One caveat: With its large battery, there’s only 24.5 cubic feet available behind the rear seats. That’s about the same as its stablemate, the Ford Focus hatchback. The rear seats lower, although not-so smoothly, and that expands the cargo area to 52.6 cubic feet. That’s still substantially tighter than a Toyota Prius V wagon or many small crossover SUVs.

Likes:

Generous passenger space.
Near Panoramic vision.
Quiet ride.
Superior acceleration for a hybrid.
Opposing-styled windshield wipers

Dislikes:

Battery storage severely limits truck capacity.
Lower gas mileage averages than many competitors.
Like a lot of vehicles rated as five-passenger cars, the C-Max is ideally suited for only four passengers.

Facts & Figures: 2015 Ford C-Max

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 8.1 seconds.
Airbags: 8.
Fuel economy: 88 mpg(e), 42 mpg (city), 37 mpg (highway) 38 mpg (combined) with continuously variable transmission.
Horsepower: 195.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $31,700.00.
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.ford.com.
Price As Tested: $36,190.00.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles, Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited mileage; Hybrid electrical components, 8 years/100,000 miles; Roadside assistance, 5 years/60,000 miles.

What Others Say:

“It’s really tough to find fault in anything about how the Ford C-Max drives — especially if you use the Toyota Prius as a benchmark. The only disappointment with the C-Max on the road was that it simply didn’t have the tight, lithe feel of the Focus hatchback.” — CarConnection.com.

“If you’re seeking good fuel economy in a green car that doesn’t look boring or overly futuristic, the 2015 Ford C-Max Hybrid deserves a good look.” — Kelley Blue Book.

“The Ford C-Max is based on the frisky Focus, making it an economical, fun-to-drive alternative to the typical hybrid snooze fest.” — CarandDriver.com.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“The Ford C-Max isn’t perfect. But it’s a good choice for consumers considering a hybrid that doesn’t look or drive like a hybrid, but possesses the keen environmental benefits of a hybrid.”

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