2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Lesley Wimbush
When the Prius was introduced back in 1997, it was initially regarded as little more than a curiosity or science project, and therefore Toyota had to create a market where none existed. There began a savvy campaign kickstarting the industry’s first use of the internet as marketing tool, linking the Prius to such events as “Earth Day” and featuring strategic product placement in movies and television. The Prius was soon adopted by the socially and environmentally conscientious celebrity set, becoming synonymous with green technology and the acknowledged leader in hybrid mobility for over a decade.
As fuel prices soar and climate warnings grow ever more dire, virtually every car manufacturer has developed either hybrid or electric mobility technology of their own – although Toyota and Lexus still have a lock on 70 percent of the hybrid market – more than all other manufacturers combined.
Going head to head with such a heavyweight favourite is a daunting proposition, especially when it’s coupled with the Toyota legacy for reliability.
But the Prius is no longer the sole choice in the segment, with others arriving to contest a growing piece of the market.
Ford’s C-Max hybrid is one such vehicle.
Available in Europe in gasoline and diesel variants, the C-Max was introduced in North America in 2013 as a hybrid only. Like the Prius, it comes in two versions: hybrid and plug-in hybrid.
This week’s tester, the 2014 C-Max Hybrid SEL resembles a very tall Focus hatchback, and features the new Aston Martin-esque front grille. It’s a neat and tidy package, and while I won’t go so far as to call it good looking, I find it a lot more attractive than the nerdishly rounded and rather dated Prius.
The C-Max returned for 2014 with some aerodynamic tweaking and improved gear ratios to make it more fuel efficient. You see, when they introduced the C-Max last year, Ford claimed an impressive 4.0 L/100 km combined fuel consumption rate – a figure that puts it close to the magical 3.8 L/100 km rating of the Prius.
But complaints from owners who were unable to match the official rating started trickling in. It seems that Ford had supplied consumption numbers for the Fusion Hybrid – which they argued was legally within the Natural Resources guidelines since both vehicles shared the same powertrain. Ford agreed to separate testing and efficiency numbers for the C-Max and compensate owners $895 for fuel discrepancy estimates. The updated consumption ratings were 4.2 L/100 km city, 4.9 highway and 4.5 combined.
2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL engine bay, trip computer, Thank You message. Click image to enlarge
Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. Due to an “error” in their testing processes, Ford recently announced a revision to several official EnerGuide ratings, among them the C-Max.
So once again, the C-Max received a new set of fuel consumption figures, with owners receiving $725 compensation, lessees receiving $475.
The new revised ratings are 4.5 L/100 km highway, 5.3 city and 4.9 combined overall. At least until later this year, when revised procedures for Natural Resources Canada dictate EPA-style five-cycle testing, likely putting the 2015 C-Max at 5.6 city and 6.4 highway. The Prius gets bumped up to 4.7/4.9 under the same testing regimen.
That’s a significant setback for any vehicle taking on a segment juggernaut like the Prius. However, the C-Max has a lot going for it and it’s a nice alternative for those put off by the Prius’s less than engaging driving characteristics.
2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL dashboard, seating, cargo area. Click image to enlarge
Starting at $27,499, the C-Max is just slightly more than the base $26,105 Prius. My tester, a loaded SEL, starts at $30,199, which gives you leather seating, satellite radio and MyFord Touch. There are three choices of equipment packages, with the less-than-charming names of Equipment Group 301A ($1,200), 302A ($1,700) and 303A ($2,500) – which combines all the features of the previous packages. It includes a Sony audio system, navigation, rear-view camera, hands-free power liftgate, active park assist, and forward sensing system for a total of $34,399. Throw in a panoramic sunroof ($1,200) and my tester rang in at $34,849 before taxes and delivery.
A fully loaded Prius is similarly priced at $34,190 – but the leather upholstery is simulated and there is no power liftgate available.