Finally, hybrid buyers who want a practical, roomy hatchback have a choice other than the Toyota Prius. And based on our first impressions, the new Ford C-Max is also far more engaging to drive than any Prius variant.
The practical, funky little C-Max comes only as a hybrid. It is currently available as a traditional hybrid and will soon be offered as a plug-in hybrid with a claimed 22-mile electric range before it reverts to conventional hybrid operation. Our own Gabe Shenhar recently got 23 miles of pure electric drive on his commute. (See our hybrid/EV car buying advice and Ratings.)
The basic C-Max splits the difference in size between the original Prius hatchback and the larger Prius V wagon. The interior is nicely finished, the car is quiet and feels solid but rear seat room is not as spacious as in the Prius V. The official EPA fuel economy rating is 47 mpg city and highway, and prices start around $26,000.
After counting a $3,750 tax credit, the C-Max Energi will be the cheapest plug-in hybrid on the market, starting at $29,995. It loses much of its cargo space to the larger 7.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, and it doesn't have the 40-mile range of the Chevrolet Volt, but the C-Max Energi is still a lot more practical than a Volt, with a more usable three-person rear seat. The C-Max Energi is also the first hybrid that gives drivers full control over whether the vehicle runs on electricity only, gas only, or a more efficient blend of both. Running on battery power, the C-Max Energi gets an EPA rating of 100 mpg equivalent. Real world consumption, as in every plug-in hybrid depends on how frequently you charge.
On initial drives, we found the little van has an open, airy, and well-finished interior. It also rides well and handles with agility, it corners with similar friskiness to the Ford Focus upon which it's based.
Little vans like the C-Max may not be the most stylish cars on the market, but this one wins points in our book for being fun to drive, practical, and well priced. We'll see how those impressions hold up once we have a chance to buy our own to put through our full tests.
Until then, check out our first impressions in the video below.