I bought a C-Max Hybrid in May. I have had it for a few months and I love this car, so I’m writing this review about it.
I had a 2000 Honda Accord and it was losing its reliability. I spent a lot of time researching cars. (My wife was finally saying “Jeeze, just buy a car already, I don’t care anymore, just buy any car and get it over with.”)
Before trying the C-Max I researched and drove (and rented when I could) Ford Focus & Fusion, Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu, Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry. My favorite of those was the Volt but it was more expensive and my wife wasn’t as enthusiastic. I also liked the Accord.
The Fusion was nice but oddly my wife could barely see out of the passenger window and there were no options for raising the seat. (She is not short.) After driving the Fusion the salesperson suggested trying a C-Max — otherwise I would not have thought of it and hadn’t really even heard of it. This is when I discovered the C-Max, and both my wife and I loved it.
Even though I liked the Accord, I finally decided to buy either a hybrid like the Prius or a plug-in like the Volt or Ford’s Energi. (Notes: 1) I vastly prefer the C-Max now that I have been driving it. 2) Honda’s Accord Hybrid and plug-in Hybrid weren’t readily available yet and more expensive than they should be.) I’m just sick of being so dependent on the oil companies, shelling out huge amounts of $$ every time I fill up and filling up so often. I didn’t want a pure EV like the Leaf because of range. I want the freedom to take longer trips without renting a car. But the plug-in Energi didn’t work for me for a few reasons. (I am starting to regret the decision to just go hybrid.)
Also, by the way, hybrids and especially plug-in hybrids are not using the gas engine as often so the future maintenance costs will be lower (think water cooler, etc.) The recommended oil change interval on the C-Max is 10,000 miles.
In the C-Max hybrid I’m getting right around 40.5 miles per gallon right now. This is mostly city driving but I get the same mileage on the highway – maybe even a bit more. I know this is the opposite of what to expect, but I just do. Also the mileage is improving as the car breaks in and as I get used to better driving habits, so I this this mileage will go up but we’ll see.
I am careful about braking ahead of time and the “braking coach” helps with this. The displays for mpg, etc. also help. I try to cruise at a consistent speed. I could probably be getting a bit over 41mpg with a bit of work. I do accelerate more than the “green” guidelines once in a while — and this car can accelerate.
The C-Max might be a little overpowered. 188 HP in a smaller(?) car is a lot of power, and you really feel it when you step on the accelerator. This car just kicks ass when you need it. But it’s also great when it is working in electric mode. The transition is seamless – you rarely notice that the engine has come on or turned off.
The handling is also very, very good. The steering is responsive, the “road feel” is great. As I said I tried a number of cars, the C-Max was just about the best.
In fact the performance and handling were the major reasons for choosing C-Max over a Prius. I was at the Ford dealer, they were jerking me around about price, lease, terms, interest and everything else and I got fed up and left. That was when I finally went to a Prius dealer and drove a Prius to see if I could stand it. I couldn’t, after driving the C-Max. And then the dealer texted me with a very good price on a 2013 C-Max they still had so I went over and bought it.
Did I mention how easy to park this car is? It’s really easy to park. It’s actually smaller than it seems so you have many more options, and with the back-up sensor I just don’t have to worry. The excellent handling helps as well.
This is weird. We can’t seem to figure out how big this car is. It (usually) doesn’t look that big. But it’s like the Tardis: Inside it’s bigger than it is outside. Seriously. Inside there is a lot of room, and you can fit three in the back. But outside it’snot really that big. It’s like a tall Focus. But it’s also like an SUV. Parked next to some cars it’s small, others it seems big. The color seems to make a difference, too. Anyway go see for yourself.
The car is tall. You can fit a very, very tall person in front or back, no trouble, plenty of room. Plenty of leg room. It is almost surprisingly big inside.
The back seats fold down separately, giving you a flat space to the rear door. This gives you plenty of room for bicycles, big things from Ikea, etc. (In the plug-in Energi version the extra battery takes up some of the space so it is not flat.)
Quiet And Comfort
One of my main requirements for a car was a comfortable and quiet ride. The C-Max starts up with no engine noise because a hybrid is in electric mode until it needs the engine running. You turn the key, nothing, and you have to get used to that. (These days when I get in a regular gas car I turn the key but don’t wait for it to start, and then wonder why it won’t go.)
So the first part of quiet is when the engine isn’t making noise. You start moving – no noise. You stop at a light – no noise. Much of the time the car is operating in the city – no noise.
When the engine does come on the car is still quiet. As I said, this feels like a rather high-end car. And you don’t even really notice the transition to gas-engine mode. (Later you’ll start getting sensitive to when you are using gas, and then you’ll watch for the engine to come on.)
On the highway the car is quiet, but don’t open the rear windows without opening a front window also. The aerodynamics cause an intolerable thumping noise. It’s not as bad as the Volt, which sounds like you are in a helicopter if you open a rear window on the highway, but it’s the same effect.
Seats are comfortable, steering wheel telescopes and goes up and down. There is a huge windshield and visibility is great all-around.
The car I bought also has the glass roof. I hadn’t thought I cared about that but the car with the price had it, and now I love it and wouldn’t get a car without it.
This car also has the ambient lighting and I have to admit it is really cool. And the powered read hatch door is a big bonus. I don’t have the option where you wave your foot under the car to open the tailgate but I can see how that would come in very handy!
The cup holders are great. However, the storage space in the front is … weird. There is a center console that is really just a deep hole. You put something in it and you have to dig, and it is lost down there with all the other things that fell down the hole. The “glove” box is good, and even has a pen holder. But there really isn’t much else. The door pockets are non-functional, there is a cup holder in each but no cup is going to go in there. They are too deep and too narrow to put much in… There is a little place to put a few quarters… Nowhere to put CDs or anything else. The sunglasses holder above it good.
It would be great if there was an aftermarket center console organizer available.
Electronics: Phone, Map, Music, Climate Control, Etc.
Cars have changed and improved a lot in the last few years. I just love using the touch-screen to handle many of the car’s functions.
The navigation works. This is a big deal because car navigation didn’t used to work very well. It is accurate, it is designed to get you there, it beeps at the right times, etc. It recalculates instantly when you go off the route. But the map is mostly useful for directions and not as a way to see what is nearby. I still use the phone map to see what is nearby, get a bigger picture of the area, search for things, etc.
I do have to say the voice commands are pretty much useless. You might think that Siri on the iPhone can never understand what you are saying, but don’t even bother with the Ford system. I have not been able to use voice to set a destination on the navigation system. It does recognize when I say “destination home” but for some reason it forgets my settings for home every few weeks and I have to put them in again every couple of weeks. So get used to using the the touch screen to enter your destination. You have to do this before you start driving, or pull over – for safety it won’t let you do this if the car is moving.
The radio and Sirius XM are great. The sound quality is very, very good. But again, I don’t bother to try to use the voice commands. The car hooks up to your phone or tablet through Bluetooth or through the media hub, USB, etc. and you can play your music, Pandora, etc. You can also charge your phone with the USB. There’s a 12v port on the console, a 110 volt outlet in the back and another 123v in the storage space behind the rear seats.
The car hooks up to you phone through Bluetooth. The calling and call-receiving controls are great and work well, (except I used to be able to get it to read texts from my iPhone and now I can’t – what’s up with that?) I am able to use voice tell it to call people in my phone book and that works fine.
The climate control is great and you can have different temperatures for the passenger and driver. I haven’t even tried to use the voice control for that.
I have the back-up sensors and they are great. They have already kept me from bumping into other cars and things in parking lots. But I ended up with no back-up camera. I do wish I had that. I also think I would get the self-parking system next time if only just to get front sensors as well.
One more thing – the automatic headlights are great. You don’t have to turn the headlights on or off, they just come on when they need to and turn off when they aren’t needed. Of course you can manually turn the headlights on, for example when the road requires daytime headlights.
Interestingly the C-Max fells like a higher-end car instead of a regular family or mid-size car. It feels solid, drives very nicely and responsively and has a nice interior (I love the ambient lighting.)
I recently visited a cousin who has a Cadillac SUV, and the C-Max has pretty much every feature the Cadillac had, except I bought one that doesn’t have electric seat adjustment. And I get 40MPG. HA!
Buy or lease? After doing research I think a lease is a good deal depending on how many miles you will be driving, especially if you are getting a new car every few years. It’s a big deal that you don’t pay the full sales tax if you lease — only the tax on each payment. If you buy a car and then sell it to get a new one in a few years you pay the full sales tax each time. On the other hand if you are driving a lot the miles will eat you up.
Ford dealers have some great incentives on the C-Max right now so check it out. But watch out – they’re car dealers. Be prepared to leave, especially if you are getting tired. be sure what you want to spend, and look carefully at all the terms. I had a problem with the dealer pushing me too hard to try to close a sale involving a lease. It was so much it just freaked me out at one point — and I didn’t understand a lease well enough — so I just left (and went to a Prius dealer). As I said the dealer texed me with a special deal on a 2013 so I came back in and bought it. (Some of the incentives didn’t apply to a lease…)
Energi Plug-In vs. Hybrid?
If you commute to work it is a no-brainer, get the Energi plug-in version. Seriously. If your round-trip commute is less than around 20 miles — or 40 miles if you have somewhere to plug the car in at work — you aren’t paying for gas to get to and from work. You also aren’t using the gas engine and that saves on maintenance as time passes. Look at your monthly gas bill and thing about not paying that anymore! Plus there is a tax credit from the government, and an additional state tax credit in many states.
My electric company has a special deal for EV owners, where they charge very little if you set the timer to charge very late at night/early morning.
I bought the hybrid because 1) I don’t commute so I won’t have the huge savings on gas and 2) I wanted the extra space instead of battery behind the seats for suitcases because we will be using this car for longer trips where the plug-in won’t save all that much.
I like the C-Max better every day. Above I wrote about liking the Volt and Accord, but I am so happy with the C-Max that my next car almost certainly would be a C-Max as well. It’s just such a surprise. The need to work on the console and other front storage and nooks, and they really, really need to work on the voice controls and user-not-friendly nature of the commands, especially with the navigation. Fortunately I expect they will be updating the software so even my 2013 will improve on that.
Definitely get a C-Max! It’s an awesome car. It is not the Ford you might have expected. I’d get this over a Honda, Toyota, Chevy and many other cars. If someone reading this sends me a Tesla I’ll keep it, though.
PS The C-Max is the car with the great ad in response to the “asshole” electric Cadillac ad.
The “asshole” ad:
The great C-Max “Detroit Dirt” ad:
Disclaimer — I am not writing this for any reason or for any compensation of any kind, except that I really like this car and I have a blog. I worked at Ford in the mid-late 1970s, working on the early computerized carburetors, but trust me that experience would not lead me to be biased toward recommending a Ford. Looks like maybe the company and the product has changed for the better.
Please leave a comment — especially if I have given some incorrect information here. Also, feel free to just start or add to a discussion.
(Updated, new info, pic added Sept. 7)
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I rented one recently and was very surprised by the amenities. A lot of fun.
I experienced more noise during highway operation but not intolerable.
Ford’s “response commercial” was embarrassing and unnecessary but it still might be my next car.
I love my Prius, but the C-Max sounds great too. There weren’t many of them around when I got the Prius..
I also bought one few months ago, got a great price too since gas price falling no one looking at hybrids, love the car, i get 44 mpg going to work mostly and if i ride the pedal carefully i get 52, car handles great and the SEL is loaded with options, leather, heated seats, moonroof, etc. great car that nobody seems to know about
I agree with everything. We have had our C-max Hybrid for about a year and a half with zero problems. It’s the best car we have owned and the mileage seems to be getting better (around 46 mpg average)
I just traded a great little 2012 Prius C for plug-in CMax Energi. I agree with the author of the article on every item. The CMax is much roomier inside but seems to take only a little more space in the garage than the Prius. I buy 5 gallons of gas once every two weeks. Mileage is great. Of course, I’m paying more on my home electric bill to charge it, but I get 22 miles on a charge, which handles most of my routine driving. It’s nice not to visit grungy gas stations very often. If the price of gas spikes again, I’ll save even more. Also, this car is quiet inside and out with terrific acceleration when you need it. The Prius was really noisy inside, and I could tell how fast I was driving by the noise level in the car. The sound system in the Max is very good, while the speakers in the Prius put out a sound like two cans tied by a string. I loved my Prius, but the CMax is definitely a better driving experience. If everybody knew about it, the CMax would be top selling auto. It’s really a “big” small car and gives you a mid-sized driving experience.
Dave, very useful review – how tall is your wife? and does she fit the C-Max comfortably?
Here’s an excerpt from a message I posted on the C-Max blog:
“BUT, when it came to my wife’s experience – she’s a pretty normal 5 feet tall (at the 30th percentile); the passenger seat has no height adjustment and she felt very uncomfortable with her feet (seemingly) dangling in the air. The driver’s seat is height adjustable but she could not find a position that allowed her to see comfortably over the dash while having a good interface with the steering wheel and pedals.
I am so very disappointed – she was happy to let me do all the driving but I’d like a break sometimes.
Has anybody else encountered this issue? If yes, has anyone found a practical solution like pedal blocks or foot stool??? Don’t bother to suggest getting rid of the wife – she is staying!!! (I hope).”
Needless to say we didn’t buy it.
Just wanted to say how much I appreciated this post against all the industry-type reviews. They all told me about things I didn’t really care about but this was perfectly real life. We just bought a 2016 and are enjoying it so much. Even the first week we got amazing fuel economy, it’s totally roomy enough for 2 kids and the features are amazing. I’m scratching my head as to why ford isn’t selling more of these.
I purchased a used 14 Energi this year, our other car is a 12 Prius V 5. Love the interior and amenities of the c-max. The V wins in cargo space, but otherwise they are pretty interchangeable to us. We joke that we are going to take them to the local 1/8 mile track, and see who wins, but then our mpgs will drop.
Being that the c-max is two years newer, a plug in hybrid, and our newest car, I drive both and they average similar mpg overall on gas. The advantage for the c-max is the additional 20+ miles on electric, when traveling ev friendly routes. The V feels roomier internally. The c-max had more power, not sure about the top end speed, since we drive them mostly for commuting. Either way you get a good mpg ride.
I’ve had my C-Max Energi for just over a month and I haven’t had to put in any gasoline. I find it comfortable and fun to drive. The driving coach is entertaining as I try to better my driving score each time I take it out. The sound system is very enjoyable.
I’m sure this car isn’t for everyone but for the pattern of driving my wife and I do, it’s pretty much perfect. We have a short work commute, well within the EV range.
We had considered fully electric vehicles but sometimes we need the extended range this plug in hybrid provides.
How about not having spare tire?
I drive C-Max now.
My tire had a hole on the side. Their inflator can not inflate the air when there is a big hole on the tire.
Test drive the 2017 C-max Hybrid Titanium. Feature-wise, it is really better than its competitors: prius/ioniq/niro. Price is not bad either, ford seems to be giving a lot of incentives. I totally agree with you that they should advertise this car better.
The best I like it is its software self upgradability via OTA(wifi) just like our smartphone. It the support for Apple car-play/Android-auto. It is kind of odd they do not even mention these on their website….
Great post. Thanks for sharing.
I bought a used C-Max SE hybrid 2015 with 40,000 on it. The lifetime mpg indicator showed the previous owner was getting 29.8 MPG. I’ve had it for one month now and that average is now up to 41 MPG. (I do a great deal of non-hiway driving and almost always get 50+ MPG per trip. )
I absolutely love my C-Max! I’ve owned 2 Altimas, a muscle car (or two) a MR2 Spyder, and a Spitfire. The Spyder was fun to drive but the visuals in my C-Max are much better (and the seat is fantastic.) I’m not accustomed to nor regularly use techy stuff in the car so I can’t really comment on that. I just like to drive. This car accelerates rapidly with plenty of “oomph” and filling up the tank once a month instead of weekly is a treat too. (I drive around 40-50 miles a day. )
Anyway…this is the best money I’ve spent on a car in a long time. I couldn’t be happier.
P.S. I’m 5’2″ tall and seat adjustment is fine. I’ve only ridden in the passenger seat once but I don’t remember being uncomfortable.
We bought a C-Max Hybrid SEL 1-1/2 years ago and LOVE it!! We’re averaging around 50 mpg overall. Very pleased with the quietness, handling, comfort, and peppiness too! This car will certainly make it hard to buy anything else when it’s time to trade cars again. More than likely we will buy another C-Max when the time comes.