Ford C-Max: A Mini Minivan

The Ford C-Max, just introduced at the Detroit auto show, will be offered with a bewildering number of powertrains -- and it will likely make headlines, as it marks Ford Motor Company’s return to the minivan wars.

But the seven-passenger C-Max is only one of the wide varieties of C-Max multi-activity vehicle models that will come to market here over the next two years.

The lineup is filled with a number of new and advanced technologies unique to the compact multi-activity vehicle class, and most interesting among the variants are the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid and C-Max Hybrid, which is not a plug-in.

Other available powertrains won’t include chipmunks on treadmills, but it’ll have practically everything else, including more conventional Ford EcoBoost gasoline engines.

The environmental crowd might cotton to the C-Max Energi, which is targeted to achieve Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) status.

Its defining characteristic is a 500-mile-plus driving range, achieved by pairing a high-voltage lithium-ion battery and electric traction motor with a high-efficiency Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine. This allows it to run in electric-only mode for some time before using the gasoline engine. Because of its battery size, the Energi can easily be completely recharged overnight using just 120-volt power, but its electric-only range is also limited by the battery size. If you want electric-only range, the Chevy Volt offers more -- tempered by the fact that the C-Max is predicted to deliver better charge-sustaining fuel economy than the Volt when operating on gasoline.

The C-Max Hybrid will use Ford’s third-generation, power-split full hybrid system, and promises to be more affordable than the plug-in Energi.

In the power-split system, the electric motor and gasoline-powered engine can work together or separately to maximize efficiency, and the engine can operate independently of vehicle speed -- charging the batteries or providing power to the wheels as needed. The motor alone can power the wheels in low-speed, low-load conditions.

At higher speeds or greater load, like driving uphill, the electric motor works with the internal combustion engine. In the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which uses this system, all-electric mode ends at 47 mph. But in the two C-Max hybrids, Ford engineers are expecting higher electric-only speeds. Very sophisticated electronic controls and charge-monitoring systems are in the works for both C-Max hybrids, including a unique execution of the MyFord Touch driver-connect technology, which is specifically tailored for electrified driving.

The C-Max hybrids will be built in both the United States and Spain, and they are expected to go on sale here in the U.S. in 2012.


Tom Ripley is a contributing editor for Driving Today. He writes frequently about autos, safety and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France



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Driving Today Auto Review - Ford C-Max: A Mini Minivan