Test Drive: 2017 Ford C-Max Energi SE

As quickly as the automotive industry moves these days, the electric vehicle segment moves even faster.

If you grew up playing Street Fighter on the Super Nintendo and have a competitive streak, it will all come rushing back to you when you sit down in this car’s driver’s seat. Having a computer set goals for you makes saving fuel fun.

When the current generation of Ford C-Max was launched for the 2013 model year, there weren’t nearly as many electrified options on the market as there are today.

It served a noble purpose early in its time by giving eco-conscious car buyers a relatable, practical, and spacious option with fuel economy they could brag about to their friends. Plug-in hybrids were even less common, and signing up for one was a sure-fire sign of one’s green street cred.

But we’re edging toward 2018 now, and today’s market is a different game. Affordable EVs abound, and multiple choices exist with ranges into the multiple hundreds of kilometres.

Is there still a place for the 2017 Ford C-Max Energi in the increasingly crowded electric vehicle space? For a specific type of consumer, quite possibly.

Powertrain

The C-Max Energi is powered by the same 2.0L four-cylinder hybrid engine and electronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) that drive the standard C-Max Hybrid. The difference between the two vehicles is the increased battery storage – it houses a 7.6 kWh battery as opposed to the Hybrid’s 1.4 kWh unit.

This gives the C-Max Energi an electric-only range of 33 km, which is not a stellar figure in the face of today’s market, but it’s also larger than zero. More importantly, the regenerative braking system is a performer and goes a long way toward making the car’s charge last longer than it otherwise would, if you’re willing to work at it.

Plus, you can get those 33 km back with an easy overnight charge in a household plug. It takes seven hours to top up the battery on a 120V power source and 2.5 hours from 240V.

I don’t have access to a charger at all in my condominium’s parking garage, but I got my daughter to her Muskoka sleep-away camp and back – that’s two separate round-trip runs of roughly 400 km each – on a single 53 L tank of gas without ever fully depleting the battery. In my week with the C-Max Energi, this led to a final fuel use rating of 5.7 L/100 km. Yes, I still had to visit the pump at the end of it all. But still, that’s not a bad result for a car that comes in at well under $30,000 in provinces with EV incentives - that's a $7,730 government rebate currently in Ontario, $4,000 in Quebec, and $2,500 in BC).

Drive experience

The C-Max Energi isn’t the quietest vehicle on the road, which comes as a surprise since it can run at least part-time exclusively on its electric motor. But unlike some newer vehicles, it doesn’t have the latest insulation and noise reduction technology and therefore lets in more tire, wind, and road noise than its contemporaries.

But the drivers who will be the most likely to excuse this are those of the videogame generation. The C-Max Energi has the same coaching aids that the traditional hybrid does, that help a driver optimize acceleration, braking, and cruising speed to make the best use of the engine’s most efficient running band and the regenerative braking. If you grew up playing Street Fighter on the Super Nintendo and have a competitive streak, it will all come rushing back to you when you sit down in this car’s driver’s seat. Having a computer set goals for you makes saving fuel fun.

Speaking of sitting down, I found doing so to be surprisingly comfortable in this 2017 model. I have a friend with an older C-Max Hybrid of the same generation, and her car’s seats feel thin and flimsy. In this tester, they seem sturdier and more comfortable by comparison.

I also enjoyed the C-Max Energi’s handling characteristics more than I thought I would. The electric motor’s instant torque and the corner-positioned wheels give it a surprisingly spirited feel. I had more fun guiding it around Muskoka’s twisty roads than I’ve had in some significantly newer cars.

Design

It hasn’t been substantially updated since its launch for the 2013 model year, so the C-Max family is beginning to show its age. The grille is still laid out in Ford’s more recent legacy style, and the super-cute look of the headlights could use some streamlining.

One benefit of its pedigree comes in the airiness of the cabin courtesy of the C-Max’s lower-than-the-current-average shoulder height. Although this SE trim doesn’t come with a sunroof of any kind – you can get one in the Titanium trim – plenty of light makes its way through the tall windows, and there’s never a hint of feeling claustrophobic.

On the inside is where a sense comes through that there’s newer technology here being plugged into a car that wasn’t designed for it. The gear lever is directly in front of many of the buttons, including the EV mode button, which can make them hard to pinpoint while the car is in motion. The infotainment touchscreen is now equipped with Sync 3 instead of the MyFord Touch system that was installed at the car’s launch, but many of the controls of Sync 3 and modern smartphone apps lie at the very bottom of the screen, which is hard to access due to the dashboard casing’s rounded design.

The cargo area is the hardest pill to swallow. Ford’s literature says that the C-Max Energi has 545 L of space available behind the second row. That may be, but the layout of that space is very shallow because the extra battery is placed on the cargo-area floor with a shelf laid on top of it. This means that anything taller than a backpack is either going to be impeding your rearward vision or will need to go onto the back seat. And dropping the rear seats doesn’t get you anything close to resembling a flat load floor thanks to this arrangement, negating much of what makes the C-Max a compelling offering in the first place.

That doesn’t necessarily mean this isn’t the car for you. But if you have a family and like to bring $300 worth of groceries home from the store at a time, then let’s be honest: it’s probably not.

Connectivity

C-Max models now come with Sync 3 installed, which is one of the better infotainment systems on the market right now.

No, it doesn’t have some of the fanciest bells and whistles like onboard Wi-Fi. But it does have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, an easy-to-read interface with quick response times, and automatic 911 calling in case of a crash. Recently, I’ve become a big fan of its favourites feature that will notify you if a band or song you’ve flagged is playing on any other satellite radio channel. Good music adds immeasurably to the driving experience.

This system is also nicely configured to let you do things like listen to the radio while you have a smartphone app enabled. Using either a drop-down or by selecting a custom screen on the dash, you can skim through satellite radio stations and see which songs are playing while keeping the app engaged.

For younger buyers who need to stay connected, this infotainment system might be one of the C-Max Energi’s biggest draws.

Safety

This is one area where the C-Max Energi is lacking compared to its more modern competition. Apart from the aforementioned automatic 911 calling introduced with Sync 3 and a back-up camera with available reverse sensing, there’s not much else to speak of in the SE trim apart from airbags. For options like active park assist and blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alerts, you’ll need to upgrade to the Titanium trim.

Verdict

For buyers shopping for a family-oriented, compact plug-in EV, is this the best option out there? Probably not. The inflexible cargo space alone would be a deal-breaker for many households.

But it may turn out that Ford is willing to put some good incentives on these as the company introduces new models in its increased push toward electrification. If you don’t need much space, appreciate a well-connected and genuinely fun driving experience, and score a great deal, familiarize yourself with your province’s EV incentive rebates and go for it.

2017 Ford C-Max Energi SE
Engine Displacement: 2.0L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 141 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 129 lb-ft @ 4,050 rpm
Fuel Economy: 5.85/6.2/6.0 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb; 2.5 Le/100 km
Cargo Space: 545 L
2017 Ford C-Max Energi SE
Base Price $29,828
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,650
Price as Tested $33,903
Optional Equipment $2,325 – Equipment Group 402A (SE driver assist package, power liftgate, voice-activated navigation, reverse sensing system) $1,800; dealer-installed all-weather floor mats and cargo area protector $225; exterior protection package $300
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.2
7 Styling
8 Powertrain
7 Quality
8 Comfort
6 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
6 Features
6 Value