published Saturday, October 6th, 2012

Test Drive: New Ford C-Max Hybrid wagon puts fun in frugal

The Ford C-Max Hybrid is as cool as its Ice Storm Metallic exterior color. 
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
The Ford C-Max Hybrid is as cool as its Ice Storm Metallic exterior color. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

* Model: C-Max Hybrid SEL

* Exterior color: Ice Storm Metallic

* Interior color: Light Stone

* Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder plus lithium-ion battery.

* Horsepower: 188

* Transmission: continuously variable

* Fuel economy: 47 mpg highway, 47 mpg city

* Dealer: Moss Motor Co., South Pittsburg, Tenn.

* Price (as tested): $33,555

The new Ford C-Max Hybrid, a compact wagon that gets 47 miles per gallon in the city, is sneaky cool.

At first, I didn't notice it sitting there in front of Moss Motor Co. in South Pittsburg, Tenn. But by the time I gave the key fob back 30 minutes later, I was smitten.

It was my first encounter with the rare C-Max, Ford's new Toyota Prius fighter. Like the Prius, the five-passenger C-Max is powered by a small gasoline engine supplemented with battery power that the car recovers from the braking process. Although it shares some components with the popular new Ford Focus, the C-Max is considerably more spacious inside.

The Prius, which sold about 136,000 units last year according to Car and Driver magazine, is the eco-mobile of choice for most Americans. But the little C-Max is a free-spirited alternative that puts the fun back in frugality.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Our C-Max test car was outfitted in Ice Storm Metallic paint, a fitting color for a car this hip.

The first thing you notice driving the C-Max is the huge windshield that makes it feel as if you are piloting an ultralight aircraft. The sensation has been compared to cresting a big hill in a roller coaster, and it's a blast.

The thrill is compounded by the zippy little gas-electric engine that tosses the C-Max around. Making 188 horsepower (about 54-hp more than the Prius V), the hybrid powerplant is mated to a seamless continuously variable transmission. Steering is responsive, and braking is secure.

Reviews have noted that the C-Max can launch 0-60 mph in about 8.1 seconds, but midrange acceleration is where the car really shines. The sprint from 40 mph to 60 mph is impressive. The switch from electric to gas engine power is exceptionally smooth and almost imperceptible.

Ford estimates the C-Max will get 47 miles to the gallon in both city and highway driving.

STYLING, COMFORT

Far from a Spartan green-mobile, our well-equipped C-Max included such niceties as leather seating surfaces, a 10-way power driver's seat, 17-inch machined aluminum wheels, ambient cockpit lighting, dual-zone climate controls and push-button start. An option cluster adds a power liftgate, rear-view camera and navigation.

The interior of the C-Max is upscale and features a panoramic sunroof that spans the front and back seats. There's a roomy storage area behind the back seat that makes the C-Max a great family vehicle.

Shoulder and leg room is enormous for a car with such modest exterior dimensions.

And did I mention it's fun to drive?

BOTTOM LINE

Our $33,555 test car came with just about every conceivable option, which may seem strange in a car built around fuel economy. Still, saving the planet doesn't mean you don't deserve a nice car. (In SE trim the C-Max Hybrid starts at $25,995.)

My bet is the C-Max will quickly build a following, and soon will begin showing up in the parking lot of a yoga studio near you.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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