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Ford C-Max Hybrid: What Flubs? What Flaws?

By Bill Moore

EV World's publisher finally gets behind the wheel of the much criticized C-Max Hybrid for a couple laps around Ford's Dearborn, Michigan test track

If there is one lesson to be learned from J.D. Power's recent trashing of Ford Motor Company's C-Max in its Initial Quality Survey, it's this: be careful how much new stuff you put on your cars.

Where the number of 'flubs' and 'flaws' found on the average new car come out around 100, J.D. Powers and Associates reported a very disappointing 222 on the C-Max. Maybe they are a lot pickier than I am, or maybe they had more time to find stuff I clearly missed, but in the short period of time I was behind the wheel of a wine-red C-Max hybrid yesterday on Ford's Dearborn test track, I didn't find a one; this despite my deliberating driving the car on the worst pavement I could find and pushing it from zero-to-60 in the shortest time I possibly could.

In fact, those two laps around the track did a lot to change my initial impressions of the car, which after seeing it at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, weren't, frankly, all that high. But sitting in a car on a showroom floor and driving one can be two entirely different experiences. If the car has as many flaws as J.D. Powers suggests, I either have a very high tolerance level for poor quality, or what they identified as 'flubs' simply aren't that noticeable under the limited conditions I experienced.

Which is probably why the two wave media event (Wednesday, Thursday) in Detroit this week started off with Ford's VP for the Americas, Joe Hinrichs, and Global Product VP Raj Nair being grilled by John McElroy, acting as moderator, about Ford's seemingly sudden drop in quality, an allegation both men acknowledged was a concern, but which largely revolved around two key technology areas, they explained: Ford's new PowerShift dry-clutch transmission and its infotainment system.

According to them, much of these problems are perceptual ones, especially the PowerShift system that has a different feel than the transmissions most Ford customers are used to, hence the expressions of worry that something may be wrong with the car. Ford assures us that there's no problem with the system; it's just different.

Customer concerns about the PowerShift system date back at least two years.

What the issues are with the MyFord Touch and Sync system wasn't discussed and during my two test drives of the Fusion Energi and the C-Max Hybrid, I used neither one, but we can probably assume most of these complaints have to do with usability or compatibility. According to Hinrich and Nair, Ford engineers have already fix some 50 percent of the problems. Whether these are the same problems as those identified by J. D. Powers, I can't say.

After more discussion on Ford sales and marketing strategy, including the roll-out of its newest F150 Tremor pickup, we were loaded into three buses and shuttled over to the track, part of which brushes up against Deerfield Village, the famed Ford Museum complex. While school buses and tourists wound they way towards the museum, our three groups were dropped at different stations around the track. In my case, it was on the far side where I'd eventually slip into a 2014 Fiesta and leave the track for a 9.5 mile jaunt around suburban Dearborn.

I chose the four door model and drove alone, following several other cars out off the track and out onto the expressway for a mile or so and then onto the streets of Dearborn, where I only got lost once, turning right into the Ford facility instead of left into the other Ford campus across the street. Finally figuring out my right from my left, I did a 180 and crossed the street back onto the correct side of sprawling Ford complex.

Next up for our group was a slalom test drive of the new 2014 Ford Explorer adjacent to the water soaked skid pad. Ford had at our disposal a new Nissan Pathfinder, which they encourage us to drive for comparison. They've implemented a number of the performance enhancements found on the 2013 and half model that they say provides better stability. Again, I am no aficionado when it comes to sensing the subtle differences in handling, but it did seem the Explorer cornered a bit better and wallowed slightly less in the curves. Styling-wise, I liked the looks of the Explorer a bit more, though there seems to be a slight resemblance to an upscale Range Rover.

After the slalom was an off-road jaunt in a Ford F150 4X4 to demonstrate its capabilities. In a word: Wow! I've not been four-wheeling in many decades, so there were moments of -- how do I put this? -- "concern" as I drove the truck along an 18 degree sloop, then down a 31 degree hill, followed by a bruising boulder field, as well as other typical off-road obstacles and terrain.

At last, we were dropped off to test drive the Fusion Energi electric hybrid, but not before being given a briefing on Ford's electric vehicle technology and told that whoever got the highest score as measured by how smoothly they stopped the car at the three stop signs on the track, they would win a prize.

That was a BIG mistake!

Advised that we should drive between 35 and 45 mph, and cautioned not to pass, everyone suddenly decided to drive 25 mph! Actually, it was just a handful of cars, but since you weren't permitted to pass, everyone ended up doing a very boring 25-30 mph.

By the time I was supposed to change drivers and give the fellow riding with me his turn behind the wheel, I'd had enough. Besides I wanted to drive the C-Max and to my good fortune they had a hybrid version available. So, inviting German Botero from AutoMundoTV, to be my co-pilot, we set off for another two laps, but this time I was determined to not get stuck behind the parade 25 mph 'grannies.'

While I wasn't allowed to pass, no one had forbidden me to drive on the rough pavement portion of the track.

Ford's test track sports multiple types of pavement: good, bad and seriously ugly, which is adjacent to the smooth asphalt they instructed us to use. There are bricks, ruts, heaves, swales, potholes; you name it. If there's a rattle in the car, this is how to find it in a hurry.

And try as we might -- at least at 30-35 mph -- the C-Max as solid. Not a squeak, not a rattle, not even a moan.

Okay, but how's the little 1.4 liter engine pull this five door Euro Crossover? [Correction: Engine is 2.0L I4].

At the next stop sign I let the other cars get a good quarter mile ahead of me - I was the last in the line up of this particular parade. Comfortable with the spacing and seeing another car coming up behind, I stomped on the accelerator pedal and held it there. With the car in front rapidly closing and the speedometer needle tickling 60, I let off.

Both German and I marveled at how smooth the car accelerated; apparently courtesy of its continuously variable transmission or CVT. Ten seconds for zero-to-60, I guessed.

On the second loop we repeated the pavement test and at the last stop sign on the track, German timed the acceleration run.

"Five, four, three, two, one," he counted down looking at the second hand on his watch.

At zero, I stomped on it again and away the car went.

30, 40, 50.. the car in front of me is closing fast.

"Sixty" I shout.

"Ten seconds," replies German (pronounced like 'heer-mon' in Spanish).

With plenty of momentum, we coasted into the pull-off area behind the other cars. We both agreed the car performed well and was smooth and tight. If this car has 200+ flaws and flubs, we sure as hell didn't find any.

Of course, cruising around a test track at city driving speeds for several miles in a spanking new car, isn't the same as living with one day-in-day out, so I asked again if Ford could get me one of them for an extended test drive back here in Omaha.

They promised to see what they could do, so stay tuned.

EVWorld.com publisher with C-Max Hybrid on Ford Motor Co. test track in Dearborn, Mi.

Times Article Viewed: 20876
Originally published: 28 Jun 2013

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