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Do C-Max hybrid and plug-in hybrid give Ford worthy 2016 Prius fighters?

What changes will make it different?

Although Ford appears to be focused on synchronizing its global offerings, the C-Max follows a completely different type of strategy. It’s known in the United States as a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid that rivals the Toyota Prius and Prius V, but it’s sold in other parts of the world as a gas- and diesel-only vehicle. So even though a refreshed 2016 model is to be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show, we can only speculate on what will wind up in U.S. showrooms. At this point, the changes appear to be mostly confined to a remodeling of the car’s front end.

Why should I wait for the 2016?

In some ways, the U.S. version already appears to be ahead of European models, as America’s is a hybrid. On the other hand, Europe’s has a long-wheelbase, seven-seat version called the Grand C-Max, which is unlikely to come to the States. If the front of the model-year ’15 car offends you for some reason, then feel free to wait for a remodeled fascia in model-year 2016. Otherwise, there seems to be little reason to wait for what will probably be only a cosmetic refreshing.

Should I buy a 2015 model instead?

Ford doesn’t get too many things wrong these days, and the model-year ’15 C-Max is a fine car. It may not deliver the stellar mileage that we may want from a hybrid, but it’s sportier and more engaging to drive than the Prius. Give it a good look if you’re shopping in this segment right now.

Will the styling be different?

The styling—or more specifically, the front styling—is about all we expect to be refreshed. The 2016 model will follow the lead of other recent Fords with a bigger, almost Aston Martin-style grille that has a lower full-width intake. The more stylish central section should be flanked by thinner headlamps like those on the Fiesta, and the car’s face will probably have a more chiseled look.

Any mechanical changes?

There’s no word at the moment on this one. Since the car is built on the same platform as the Focus, expect to see refinements on that model before they filter through to the C-Max.

Will fuel economy improve?

Fuel economy is something of a touchy point, as Ford was forced to revise its figures for these hybrid models. The automaker initially claimed 45/40/43 mpg city/highway combined for the C-Max Hybrid and 43 mpg overall with a gas/electric 100-mpg-equivalent for the C-Max Energi. Citing an error in its testing procedures, it issued new ratings of 42/37/40 mpg for the Hybrid and 38 mpg/88 mpg-e for the Energi. Perhaps Ford’s engineers will be tasked with boosting the 2016 models’ mileage closer to those original numbers.

Will it have new features?

Fords like the C-Max are already bristling with both standard and available features, so don’t count on a lot of new additions. Possibilities include improvements to systems like the voice-recognition and further safety features coming from the driverless vehicle development work that is ongoing, but concrete details haven’t yet surfaced.

How will 2016 prices be different?

With so little potentially being done for the ’16 model year, you can be pretty sure the pricing will remain about the same. This may not be the cheapest car in its class, but it’s not the most expensive either.

When will it come out?

The European model-year ’16 version is likely to appear in the second quarter of 2015, while the hybrid and plug-in hybrid offerings in the States should be available by early summer of ’15.

Best competitors

Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Toyota Prius, Prius V, Volkswagen Passat

What change would make it better?

The tall stance of the C-Max is one of its less admirable attributes, but that is unlikely to change anytime soon since it’s an integral part of an interior-space-oriented design. The expected refinements to the front of the car will be a welcome, but something a little more radical and futuristic would be even better. The biggest concern is improving the mileage of both versions of the C-Max, and the electric-only range of the C-Max Energi. The electric-only’s range of 19 miles is almost laughable compared to other vehicles in the segment.

Quick hit

The main complaint about this vehicle is its boxy and upright stance, which makes it resemble a minivan. And a five-seater that looks like a van isn’t exactly an ideal combination. There are much more stylish five-seat family hybrid vehicles out there right now, so Ford really needs to decide what it wants the C-Max to be. Europe gets a more practical format, while the States receive more economical power trains. This model is crying out for global synchronization.

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About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]