The 2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi are dedicated hybrids -- meaning you won't find a simple, non-hybrid version out there. They aim their sights directly at the Toyota Prius (and Prius Plug-In), and definitely offer more driving enjoyment than the iconic Toyota hybrid.
In size and shape, the Ford C-Max pretty much splits the difference between the Prius Liftback and the more family-oriented Prius V wagon. At the same time, it's built on Ford Focus underpinnings, so it's essentially a tall-wagon version of that Ford subcompact. From the front, the C-Max gets a version of the large trapezoidal grille that's now used throughout much of the Ford lineup; alongside, accent lines and window angles add up to what is really a small minivan, or perhaps a tall and upright five-door hatchback. Inside, however, the C-Max builds on the interior of the Focus, with a rich and stylish dashboard and a number of high-end options; in all, it's a 'premium' look.
With a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor system, the C-Max powertrain delivers 195 combined horsepower--54 hp more than that of the Toyota Prius powertrain. While the C-Max is several hundred pounds heavier, it does in practice still translate to a driving feel that's much perkier and less stressed than the Toyota. Ford's hybrid C-Max is rated at 47 mpg on the EPA combined test cycle, just marginally worse than the 50-mpg Prius Liftback but better than the Prius V's 42 mpg combined.
In general, it's really tough to find fault in anything about how the 2014 Ford C-Max drives--especially if you use the Toyota Prius as a benchmark. Steering is very precise and well-weighted—nearly as good as what you'll find in the Ford Focus. With a curb weight of nearly 3,700 in base form and around 3,900 pounds in plug-in Energi form, it's not quite as agile and lithe as the Focus, but not ponderous either.
That C-Max Energi, the first-ever plug-in hybrid Ford has offered, offers a much more compelling alternative to the Prius Plug-In Hybrid. With a longer all-electric range of 21 miles (easy to do in real-world driving), it allows even medium-distance commuter the chance to go completely electric if they charge at home and at work. The key to the C-Max's very useful all-electric driving range is its far larger 7.6-kWh battery—versus 1.4-kWh in the standard C-Max hybrid. But that battery pack takes up some valuable cargo space, turning what would be a flat cargo floor into a compromised, multi-level affair that seems critically flawed when you flip forward the rear seatbacks.
Otherwise, the C-Max Energi is pretty impressive for hauling four adults around. The back seats are a bit on the low side, leaving anyone adult-sized in a knees-up position; but there's plenty of legroom and headroom. Ride quality is firm but just agreeable enough, active noise cancellation and lots of sound-insulation measures help keep on-the-road refinement at its best.
The C-Max still hasn't been rated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but the federal government has given it a four-star overall rating (with four stars for frontal and five for side impact).A driver's knee bag is included in the usual range of safety equipment.
All C-Max Hybrids come with standard 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with USB and auxiliary input jacks, an illuminated glove box, keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear-seat heater vents, the Sync voice-controls system, and the SmartGauge digital display system with InfoGuide screens that let the driver configure information on the car's operation and energy consumption. Lots of option packages and a la carte options include items such as heated side mirrors, a power liftgate, MyFord Touch, and a Parking Technology package that will let the driver direct the C-Max to steer itself into a parking space.