COAL: 2017 Ford C-Max – Ford v Toyota

While sitting in church on Earth Day 2018 I had an epiphany. Our sermon that day was, logically enough, on the topic of Earth Day. I will admit, my mind often wanders during this part of worship, but on this day I was unusually focused…on cars.

Maggie and I were planning to buy my older brother’s 2011 Toyota Highlander as soon as he took delivery of his new 2018. Our plan was to pick it up on a trip out east to attend my daughter’s graduation from Wooster College. This would allow us to haul her worldly belongings back to Minnesota until she decided her next steps. Having the Highlander would mean we would no longer need to rely on our 2012 Volvo C30 for towing our teardrop camper. It was beginning to nickel and dime us on routine maintenance, so we were thinking hard about getting rid of it. But we were faced with a quandary, our other car was my 2014 VW Beetle with a 5 speed manual. While Maggie could drive the manual, it was not her preferred transmission for city driving and we now lived in downtown St Paul. So the question was, which car to get rid of, the two door 2+2 Volvo with potentially expensive repairs or the 2 door 2+2 VW with the unloved stick?

On that Earth Day I had my epiphany. We would trade both our Volvo and VW on a new Ford C-Max. In late 2017, Ford had announced they would cease production of the C-Max by mid-2018. Nearing the end of 2017, combined sales of the Hybrid and Energi models were less than 1,500 per month and falling fast. Despite having a competitive design, Ford sales never approach those of the Prius. Their best month of sales came in late 2012, just after introduction, topping out at just over 4,800 compared to almost 8,000 Prius sold that month.

My plan was to grab one of the last of these orphans at deep discount. I had attended church that day by myself and couldn’t wait to get home to tell Maggie about my brainstorm. I knew she had no idea what a C-Max was, so I started my pitch from the save-the-planet angle. This would be the lead in to my idea to buy a new C-Max. First though, I went on-line to see if there were actually any of these still available. Turned out there were a few, but not as many as I expected. My target was a Titanium, formerly the SEL trim level. A dealer in Hudson, WI had one on the lot. Once inventory was confirmed, I made my pitch to Maggie and she was all in on the plan, provided we were given a decent trade in allowance for both cars.


While Maggie was at work, I drove over to the dealer to see the car. It was buried behind a dozen F150s so it took awhile before I could actually drive it. Having confirmed that the car was available and would meet Maggie’s expectations, I explained the two for one trade plan. I had driven my Beetle that day, so they worked up the numbers on that car. I knew what I wanted in trade and they exceeded that amount by about $500 so we were off to the races. Maggie and I came back that night to give her a chance to see and drive it. Coming from the C30, this car was certainly down on power, but in Titanium trim it had a much nicer interior. The dealer worked up the trade value on the C30 and again came in over our target so all we needed now was a price on the C-Max. We got to a number we could live with pretty quickly and soon owned a new top of the line Ford C-Max.

Now about that name. I think one of the reasons that the C-Max bombed in the US was the name. The C-Max was originally sold in Europe, where C class denoted a particular size of car, but who in the US understood that? So much easier to flaunt your eco stripes with a Prius than try to explain to your friends what a C-Max was. It also didn’t help that Ford initially overstated the fuel economy numbers for the C-Max by 20%. Supposedly this was a technical error based on a rule that allowed manufacturers to base there EPA mileage numbers on similar cars within their line up. Ford used the Hybrid Fusion estimates for the C-Max. Consumer Reports found actual mileage was not the 47 MPG Ford advertised but closer to 40 MPG in real world driving. MPG accuracy is usually not a big deal among the car buying public, but hybrid owners are another breed and Ford got caught. They eventually settled a class action suit and restated their mileage numbers to more accurately reflect real world performance.

Our Titanium level C-Max was painted an inoffensive shade of beige called White Gold Metallic. Hey, when you’re at the end of a production run, you don’t get a lot of choice in color. The interior was Medium Light Stone leather, actually a nice place to spend a long drive. These seats were a definite improvement over both the VW and the Volvo with 10 way adjustment on the driver’s side. Titanium trim also got you a nice leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Given the tall nature of the greenhouse, the view out the front, back and sides was very good. Complimenting this was Ford’s BLIS blind side alert system which was maybe too alert, sounding a chime anytime someone even looked at the car.

The driver’s instrument cluster let you cycle through various versions of the same data relative to fuel consumption and battery regeneration which Ford calls MyView. There was also Engage and Empower views which were kind of instantaneous views of the same data. And then there was Coach view which would tell you how efficiently you were driving relative to acceleration, braking and cruising. Be warned, cruising faster than 70 put you in the yellow zone. Sorry Coach! Anyway, lots of different displays to choose from. We found one we liked and basically left it alone. There was one cool feature that would switch the car to battery mode when you were within a mile or so of your home or work (or any other destination that was repeated often). I think the idea here was to deplete the battery somewhat before shutting down but I’ve never taken the time to try and understand battery technology.

The SYNC3 infotainment system was Ford’s latest attempt, which was pretty decent in both features and ease of use. The only disappointment was the lame remote start feature. You had to be within about 20′ for the car to turn on. At that distance, might as well climb in and start it up the old fashion way. Ford advertised a longer antenna boost option but it was never programmed for the C-Max. My wife is an Apple fan and podcast listener when she drives and she loved the SYNC3 system.

The back seat was not bad for two with decent head, knee and foot room. Seats folded flat to extend the cargo area, which provided pretty decent space for tallish objects, again an improvement on both of our other cars. The Hybrid battery resided in the floor of the hatch area, raising it about 4″ above the rear sill leaving no room for a spare tire. Instead, you got a can of slime and a cheap air compressor housed in the rear passenger side footwell.

You could open the hatch by waving your foot at it, which worked some of the time or by remote, interior release, or latch. The foot thing failed often enough that we mostly didn’t bother with it. Another feature we never used was Parking Assist. I mean if you live in the city, you better know how to parallel park, right?

This was our first CVT transmission so we weren’t sure what to expect. Under modest acceleration, it was adequate, but to get the C-Max moving at anything approaching on-ramp escape velocity you really had to put your foot into it. Then wait for the long rubber band of a transmission to stretch far enough to get some action going. Once you hit about 40 MPH, things settled down in the acceleration department and cruising at 70 with occasional bursts of speed for passing was no problem.

Very early on in our ownership, the car got into a little bit of a tussle with one of the concrete columns in our parking garage, $6,960 little to be exact. My wife just clipped the rear passenger door and fender as she drove down from our third floor parking spot. One of those “oh, I’m not even sure I’ll file a claim” sort of accidents. Except she hit the column hard enough to bend the side impact beam in the door, necessitating a replacement. And damage to the rear quarter panel was also significant enough to warrant replacement. Parts alone ran $2,735, but in the end we got our almost new C-Max looking almost new. In Maggie’s defense, lots of folks have sideswiped various sections of the garage including two of our kids; one driving a Scion Xd and the other in a Chevy Sonic. There must be something about these smaller cars that inspires a false sense of space.

Other than that one minor mishap, the cars has been flawless through 3-1/2 years of ownership and 20,000 miles. As you can see, this car doesn’t get a lot of long trips, although we did do a 2,500 mile trip out east to visit family and the car proved to be a very capable long distance cruiser. Unless there is a catastrophic failure of the battery or something, I suspect we’ll hold onto this car for quite awhile. Our next urban runabout will likely be an electric but at this time our garage is without charging stations, so that plan is on hold for now.

I think if Ford had worked a little harder in marketing this car, starting with that name, they might have had a contender. As it is, they threw in the towel after 6 short years. They appear to be serious about their EV line up this time, starting with the Mustang Mach E. We’ll see if that name plays any better over the long haul.