2017 Ford C-Max Hybrid review – Roadshow

I circled the San Francisco Bay and drove to the coast, but the fuel gauge in the 2017 Ford C-Max hybrid barely budged. It moved as slow as the wall clock in calculus class.

As I felt the well-tuned driving dynamics from behind the wheel, and surveyed the large cargo area in back, I thought how it’s a shame Ford couldn’t sell more than 20,000 last year, less than a fifth of Toyota Prius sales.

Then again, the odd body style of the C-Max makes it a challenge to focus on, like the Somebody Else’s Problem field described by Douglas Adams in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Maybe Ford needs to take a page from Toyota’s design book and give the C-Max outrageous styling to force people to look.

2017 Ford C-Max hybrid

The C-Max may not be particularly stylish, but it boasts substantial passenger and cargo room.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

Ford launched the US version of the C-Max in 2012, basing it on a European model that had been on the market for years. The five passenger C-Max boasts a large hatchback, boasting 52.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats down. That’s almost twice the capacity of the Prius, but smaller than the larger Prius V. The more similar Kia Niro beats the C-Max’s cargo space by almost 2 cubic feet.

Under the hood, the C-Max comes with a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain, consisting of a 2.0-liter four cylinder engine and electric motor, driving the front wheels with a combined 188 horsepower. That output is pretty strong for vehicles of this size, coming in well over the Kia Niro’s 139 horsepower or the Toyota Prius V’s 134 horsepower.

Fuel economy, the litmus test for any hybrid, comes in at an EPA-rated 42 mpg city and 38 mpg city for the C-Max, although my average hit 42.7 mpg. Those numbers match the Toyota Prius V, but fall about 5 mpg short of the Kia Niro. 

Calling the Ford C-Max a driver’s car may stretch that term, but it does have a better behind-the-wheel feel than its brethren. It doesn’t feel sloppy when those inevitable turns in the road come up, likely thanks to its European heritage. In fact, a good driving feel has been a common theme among Roadshow’s recent Ford model reviews, such as the Fusion Hybrid and Escape.

A relatively stiff ride leaves the C-Max feeling connected to the pavement, and its power output lets it take off from a stop with authority. That said, this hybrid is certainly not a hot hatch. On a twisty road it exhibits definite understeer. And oddly for what is essentially an urban vehicle, its wide turning radius left me making many three point turns.

Being a hybrid, the dashboard lit up but the engine didn’t crank when I turned the key. Using a type of continuously variable transmission unique to hybrids, there are no abrupt gear changes. Taking off with light pressure on the throttle, the C-Max moved forward under electric power. Stepping up the acceleration, the engine cranks up with a not very pleasant sound, but that noise subsides at steady speeds.

The C-Max’s instrument cluster includes a graphic display of leaves on the right that grows or fades depending on how economically you drive.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

Generally, I found the C-Max an easy driver for urban errands, only somewhat hampered by the poor turning radius. Its excellent fuel economy means fewer stops at the gas station.

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