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September 18, 2012

First Drive: Ford's New CMAX Hybrid

CMAX_400This fall, Ford is debuting their new hybrid vehicle, the CMAX - and we had our first opportunity to drive it at an event in Los Angeles last month.

Personally, I had been dying to get behind the wheel of this thing since I saw its North American debut at the Detroit Auto Show in 2011

The first thing you notice about CMAX is its unusual shape. I wasn't sure how to describe it. When it was unveiled last year in Detroit, Ford called it a "people mover," which struck me as a very British designation (these are the same people who refer to strollers as "push chairs" and elevators as "lifts"). So I was not surprised that the American version is being marketed as a "multi-purpose vehicle"(or MPV), although I have also seen it categorized as a "crossover utility vehicle" (CUV).

Ford is positioning the CMAX hybrid to compete tire-to-tire with Toyota's Prius V. There is a lot of similarity between the vehicles: both are hybrids (with CMAX boasting 46 mpg in both city AND highway driving), both seat five comfortably with plenty of configurable cargo space and both feature some of their manufacturers' most advanced technology.

Driving Experience

The first thing you notice once inside the CMAX is that it is exceptionally roomy, with plenty of legroom and headroom. There are compartments for stashing things throughout the vehicle, including below the backseat floormats. The SEL model comes with standard heated front seats, which are firm and comfortable.

I was pleased to learn that all of the CMAX's seats are filled with soy foam, one of many measures Ford has instituted to reduce their manufacturing carbon footprint.

No matter how many hybrids and electric vehicles I've tested, I am still surprised each time I drive one and discover it feels no different from a car with a traditional internal combustion engine. While you won't mistake the CMAX for a performance vehicle, its 2.0 liter engine is powerful enough for the kind of city driving I do the most: trips to work, to school, to the store.

I did not get an opportunity to test the CMAX on the open road.

At the time of my drive, the CMAX had not been safety-rated, but with seven standard airbags, the folks at Ford told me they were confident of a good report from NHTSA.

Top of the Line Technology

Ford made waves several years ago when they made their cutting edge SYNC entertainment system available in entry models like the Focus. The CMAX also offers options that are unexpected in a vehicle with a base MSRP of $25,200. This includes the new hands-free liftgate system that debuted on last year's Escape, which allows you to open the hatch with a swift kick of your foot.

Another cool option on CMAX is Active Park Assist. Once a feature found only on high end vehicles, Ford's well-defined system will be an option on CMAX hybrid and plug-ins sold in the US. Having it would make my anxiety over parallel parking a thing of the past -- but after decades of doing it myself, allowing the car do self-park will take some getting used to, as you can see me demonstrate in the video below:


 HeadshotBy Donna Schwartz Mills, Contributing Editor


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