2016 Ford C-Max Hybrid

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Not all hybrids are slow.'16 C Max lead

One of the few that goes is Ford’s C-Max hybrid, which is a kind of Jack & Coke to Toyota’s Diet Coke.

You know, the Prius.

The Toyota gives you really good gas mileage. But it also takes a really long time to get going. Ten seconds to 60, on a downhill.

The Ford can get there in just under eight.

That’s the difference between 188 hp (in the Ford) vs. 134 hp (the Prius).'16 C max sideview

The C-Max is the speediest hybrid you can buy right now … well, for under $25k to start. (Porsche’s Cayenne hybrid is quicker but it damn well ought to be for $77k to start.)

It’s also the roomiest – with much more cargo capacity (52.6 cubic feet vs. 39.6 for the Prius) despite being the smaller-on-the-outside ride.

So, what’s the catch? Just one. Here, speed will not cost you money – or room. But you will pay a bit more at the pump.

The Prius is still the king of fuel efficiency hill, posting an untouchable 51 city, 48 on the highway vs. 42 city, 37 highway for the Ford. So, the age-old question gets changed around a little:

How slow do you want to go?

WHAT IT IS'16 C-max hybrid 1

The C-Max is Ford’s perky alternative to the stereotypical Al Gorean hybrid.

It’s a bit less fuel-efficient than rivals like the Prius, but it’s a lot more fun to drive.

Being several inches smaller on the outside, it’s also an easier car to park/maneuver into (and out of) tight spots – and its substantially greater cargo capacity makes it more useful for carting stuff around than the Prius.

Base price is $24,170 for the SE; $27,170 for a top-of-the-line SEL, which comes with an array of luxury amenities that includes heated leather seats and a larger (8-inch) touchscreen.'16 C-max IP

LIke its main rival, the Prius ($24,200 to start; $28,435 loaded) the C-Max is also available in plug-in form. These versions can be recharged externally, via any household power outlet (or especial fast-charger) and are capable of operating on just their batteries and electric motors for much longer (and at higher speeds).

They also cost a few bucks more than the regular hybrid versions: $31,770 for the plug-in C-Max and $29,90-$34,905 for the plug-in Prius. They’ve been a harder sell lately because gas prices have gone down – making the higher buy-in price harder to justify.

WHAT’S NEW'16 C-Max Sync 3

Ford has been upgrading the much-criticized MyFordTouch interface in its vehicles, including the ’16 C-Max, which gets a new Sync3 system along with an upgraded 8-inch touchscreen. Sync features Smartphone-style pinch/swipe controlsand larger, easier-to-comprehend icons for the various apps.

Otherwise, the ’16 C-Max is a carryover, functionally the same as last year.

Which could be trouble – for Ford.

Because Toyota is on the verge of replacing the current Prius with an all-new model that the rumor mill whispers will deliver the expected gas sippyness with a shot of sexiness, too.

Look out! (as OJ used to say.)

WHAT’S GOOD'16 C max cut away

It’s actually fun to drive.

Does not make sad noises.

Smaller-than-Prius footprint.

Roomier-than-Prius cabin.


Lower-than-Prius MPGs.

Pending 2016 Prius might be as quick (or even quicker) as well as more efficient and possibly just as roomy inside, too.

Gas mileage advantages aren’t what they used to be because gas prices are half what they used to be.

UNDER THE HOOD'16 C-Max engine 1

Among hybrids, the C-Max is a horsepower heavyweight.

A fairly large – for a hybrid – 2.0 liter gas engine plus a lithium-ion battery pack and an electric motor produce a total of 188 hp.

The current Prius has a smaller 1.8 liter engine and its combined output (the gas engine plus the battery pack and electric motor) is a mealy-mouthed 134 hp.

The 50-something horsepower difference in output explains the Performance Gap between the two contenders.

The Ford goes.

The Toyota goes slowly.

Zero to 60 in just under eight seconds for the C-Max, which is hot-roddy for a hybrid and “par” for a current non-hybrid family car or economy car… vs. well over 10 seconds for the Prius.'16 C-Max under hood 2

Which is slow for an economy car and under par vs. a current  family car.

But the Prius pulls ahead at the pump – by about 10 MPG overall (average). It does about 8 MPG better in city driving (51 vs. 42 for the Ford)  and about 11 MPG better on the highway (48 vs. 37 MPG).

In my real-world testing of both cars, I found that the overall difference is about what the EPA says it is.

Well, the spread, at any rate.

If you drive “hypermile” style – turtle starts, lots of coasting, keeping your foot out of it –  and keeping your speed under 70 – you can achieve and even exceed the EPA’s stats, for either car.

But if you drive so as to at least keep up with traffic, your mileage will vary.'16 C-max gauges 2

The way I drive – stealy wheely automobiley style – the average in the C-Max was low 30s vs. low 40s in the Prius. So, about the same split (roughly 10 MPG) but less-than-advertised in both of them.

This is still very good, but when gas was $4 a gallon, the MPG advantage was financially more relevant than it is at the moment. With gas currently costing about $2 a gallon, it’s easier to indulge the Ford’s much better performance because the cost of doing so is minimal. Driving the Prius might save you $30 a month – at current gas prices. But how much will it cost your will to live?

Of course, gas prices could change… .


We’ve already touched on the Performance Gap between the C and the P. There is also the Noise Gap.'16 C-max road 2

Both cars have continuously variable (CVT) automatics, a type of automatic transmission with just one continuously varying forward speed rather than five or six (or more) fixed gears, as in a conventional automatic. The CVT design eliminates the feeling of gears changing (and shift shock as the gears change) because there are no gears. The car accelerates seamlessly. Push the gas pedal and the car kind of surges forward. The sensation is similar to what you experience in a commercial jet on its takeoff roll.

But CVTs can also be noisy.

Especially if the engine they’re mated to is wheezy.   

A CVT transmission is designed to let the engine rev to where it makes the power needed to get you going. But if the engine doesn’t make much power (Prius) it will rev up to what can feel (and sound) like alarmingly high RPMs (at or near redline). And stay there, as long as you keep your foot in it. This happens because the little – and underpowered – engine makes what little power it makes at high RPM. There’s not much going on lower down in the powerband. So when you try to make tracks, the car squeals like Ned Beatty, or at least a mechanical simulation of such sounds of despair and agony.'16 C max shifter

It’s not the CVTs fault, though. It’s the fault of putting a weak engine in front of it.

Ford did not make this mistake.

188 hp is serviceable. There is enough power in reserve that the C-Max almost never feels maxxed out.

The Prius constantly does.

Try driving one up a 9 percent grade, for instance.

Try passing another car on a 9 percent grade.

Or, maintaining 75-ish on the highway. Which – these days – is just barely keeping up with traffic.

The C-max has no trouble doing all those things. Or rather, it does not struggle to do those things. It’s not necessary, as a for-instance, to floor the thing to pass another car.

At 80, there is plenty left on tap.

The Prius is about tapped out at that speed.'16 C-max road 4

It is the better (the more fuel-sippy) city car, by far. It also has a tighter turning circle (34.2 feet vs. a surprisingly broad-beamed 38.4 for the Ford).

But on the open road, its deficits are much more apparent. The steering is dead-feeling and the drone and whine and other sad noises made by the Prius get old after awhile.

Especially now that you’re not saving that much money on gas.

The C also looks less geeky.geek pic

It has a conventional car-type gear shifter mounted where you’d expect to find it (on the center console) as opposed to the Prius’ video game-style toggle shifter (which has nil tactile feedback) mounted up on the dashboard.

The Ford also doesn’t hit you with a Safety! Safety! Safety! back-up buzzer when you put the transmission into Reverse.

The Prius does. And you cannot shut it off.

Not without a hammer.

The C’s much higher roofline (63.9 inches vs. 58.7 inches) and tall side glass also give you a much better view of your surroundings – as well as much more headroom and cargo room, which we’ll take a look at now.


The C-max, like the Prius, is its own unique animal because there is no non-hybrid version of the thing. Unlike the hybridized versions of, as a counterpoint, the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and the C-Max’s corporate kin, the Fusion sedan.

Emphasis on sedan.'16 C max curb 1

The models just mentioned, in addition to being hybrid conversions, are also conventional sedans – with all the liabilities that come with that layout, including very limited cargo space in smallish trunks and lower rooflines, which usually means less room for your head.

The Camry hybrid sedan, for example, has all of 13.1 cubic feet of trunk – vs. 52.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity in the hatchback C-max.  The taller Ford also has much more headroom in both rows (41 and 39.4 inches, respectively, vs. 38.8 and 38.1 in the Camry). The stats are similarly stilted in the C-max’s favor vs. other hybrid sedans.

But that’s  apples-oranges. How does it stack up against the Prius, which is also a five-door hatchback?'16 C-Max split cargo

As alluded to earlier, even though it is stubbier, the Ford has more room in almost every category – especially room for cargo. The Prius has 39.6 cubic feet with its second row folded flat. This is a 13 cubic foot difference (one whole Camry’s worth) in the Ford’s favor. Headroom and legroom are better int he Ford as well. By 2.4 inches (headroom-wise) in the front row.

That’s a big difference.    

Toyota does offer a larger version of the Prius – the Prius  V wagon. But its starting price of $26,675 is $2,505 higher. For that you get an additional 14.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity (67.3 vs. the C’s 52.6).

You also get less in the way of gas mileage.

The Prius V isn’t nearly as fuel efficient as the regular Prius hatchback. EPA tags it with a 44 city, 40 highway sticker. Re-read the C-max’s numbers. It does better in city driving (42 MPG) and nearly as well on the highway (37 MPG).'16 c Max door panels

Plus, it is even quicker – because the Prius V is even slower. That thing is a road toad. Same drivetrain as in the regular Prius, but a few hundred pounds heavier equals 0-60 in about 11.5 seconds.

A ’70s VW Bus would give it a sweat in a drag race.   


Another area where the C outshines the current Prius is equipment-wise. The stuff it comes standard with vs. what’s extra-cost in the Toyota.

For instance, 17 vs. 15 inch wheels, leather vs. cloth trim and a better standard stereo with Bluetooth and Pandora radio. Keep in mind the two are priced virtually the same to start (the Ford is actually $30 cheaper).

Same deal on the other end of the continuum.'16 cmax sync detail

An SEL trim C-max is just over $27k while a top of the line Prius “5” lists for $30,005. The Prius “5” gets you 17 inch wheels (standard on the base trim C-max) foglights (standard on the $27k SEL C-max) and LED lighting, which is one of the few things you get for the extra coin that you don’t get for less coin with the Ford.

The Toyota does offer some things you can’t get in the Ford, such as a solar roof that ventilates the interior while the car is parked and a heads-up display (HUD) like in jet fighters. But the Ford drives more like a jet fighter (as hybrids go) and you’ll have to weigh that in that balance.

You can also get automatic parallel and perpendicular park assist – though in this car (with its tight proportions and superb visibility) it’s really not necessary.'16 c-max park assist

Though it’s basically a carryover model, the ’16 C-Max gets Ford’s latest-generation Sync3 infotainment interface, which replaces the harder-to-use MyFordTouch system used previously. Sync3 is modeled on current smartphone technology and features pinch-to-zoom, larger (easier-to-read) icons, upgraded voice recognition capability and a new-design/larger touchscreen.

It’s a huge improvement.


If you want to save fuel and have some fun, the C-max is calling your name.

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  1. I have a 10% grade on the way home from the office. This being Austin, there are also a lot of Priuses (Priuii?) in town. They really struggle once they lose momentum on that hill. Usually dropping to 15 mph under the speed limit.

    • Ditto, Chip –

      The climb from the valley to my nest is about 2,000 feet and the Prius sounds like a worked-over mechanical galley slave as it ascends the mountain.

    • Hey, another Austinite!

      I split my time between my apartment in far northern Austin and my GFs house in far southern Austin.

        • When we lived at Cedar Park that was a narrow, twisty two lane road with lots of wrecks. It was a good racing road up till the early 70’s and then the traffic was wretched. Our old ranch house was sacrificed for a boulevard to nowhere just east of 83 off a county road right across 83 from 2244(think that was the number). We lived down in that valley and kept vigil at the Buckboard bar only a couple hundred feet from that county road off 83.

        • I’ll try again. Back when we lived at Cedar Park this was a bad little two lane road. It was good to race on up to the early 70’s when the traffic got thick well before there were signs and houses to be seen. A buddy and I wanted to get a McD franchise at 2222 and 620, something that happened years later and no doubt made somebody very rich.

          We lived in a ranch house on what is now a boulevard to nowhere(or last time I was down that way and that’s as long as I can string it out or forever)that parallels 83 off a county road right across from 2244. We kept vigil at the Buckboard bar only a couple hundred feet from that county road. It was a great place run by an elderly couple and served really cold beer in iced mugs and pitchers. The only way to end up with a warm beer there was to die……and that wasn’t a given.

          • > A buddy and I wanted to get a McD franchise at 2222 and 620, something that happened years later and no doubt made somebody very rich.

            I see a red Tesla P-85 at that McDonalds quite often. I suspect it’s the owner.

            There’s money in Austin, for sure. I wangled a tour of this place the other weekend. I can’t post pictures (the owners of these cars wouldn’t appreciate it), but how often do you get to see a Ferrari F-40 parked next to a Porsche 918? And across the aisle is a Shelby Daytona Coupe (that has a CSX number).


  2. Eric,

    I will try to post more often! Your thoughts have been echoed by me for the last couple years and I am always sure to cite my source. My buddy is a member of the VW club and he likes that someone is swinging a bat for them. I know he will be suicidal if they go under.

    Off the top of my head my most cited of your rants deal with: gas price correlation with MTBE additive, your stats on 30% of Americans actually owning their cars, airbags, and the uselessness of car dealerships. Interestingly the article on the Crown Victoria helped me sell one to a young kid – the fact that he can drive over a parking curb at 60mph was the selling point (yes, I sold cars – blasphemy!).

    Sadly, this recent grad hasn’t been able to donate to your cause but rest assured you have a future donor. Keep writing because you do speak for a majority of Americans whether they know it or not. Too many people have their opinions informed by misinformation.

  3. Eric,

    I recently bought a new vehicle. I opted to get a truck as opposed to another car. My reason was I could no longer justify gas mileage over reliability. My first vehicle was a 4cyl with a stick, my second a sedan. I don’t feel the need to publish brands as I feel it will take away from my point in writing this.

    I purchased a year old hemi with less than a years worth of mileage. After hours of the back-in-forth with the dealer I paid less than a few grand above what I what have paid for the top package C-Max. It was good deal. However, I bought a truck, which I will rarely use for its intended purpose, because it will hold its value, last longer, and always be more useful. For a 4×4 truck it isn’t that thirsty. Sure, I could double my mileage in a prius. But in ten years that car will be worth almost nothing. A truck always retains value and for the piece of mind of not experiencing the mechanical issues I faced in the past – I feel it is a better deal.

    I feel my opinion is in line with many of your opinions you share. I find that clovers move out of my way when I get behind them in the fast lane. It’s nice to make PT Losers, Neons, Prius, etc. – feel nervous. The intensity of their nervousness helps eclipse their self-righteousness in maintaining a slower speed than the hoards of people like me using the right lane just to get in front of them.

    Yet, they look smug as you pass. Yes, I am the bad guy. No one dares to make the comparison of safety of the autobahn compared to our our interstates. Speeding is always the blame for these freak accidents. How about exploring these terrible people who get a disgusting arousal out of causing the rest of us to hit our brakes – when they hit theirs for no other reason than to make sure they keep at 65.

    I wanted to share this with you because I have been reading your site since 2012 and my desire to own a truck became justified the more and more I read your site. You might be interested to know that in the city I live – a highly rated mechanic shop does full hemi swaps for around $2500. Yes, that cheap.

    “throw it in the woods?”



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