How the C-Max Hybrid has drivers reading the tea leaves

By the time we reached the stopping point, the little screen was nearly filled with leaves.
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LOS ANGELES -- Driving the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid for the first time here on the media drive last week, I decided to pay attention to my right brain, which is supposed to be the intuitive, artistic side of the human gray matter.

Let me explain. The new C-Max features a LED screen with a graphic called Efficiency Leaves. It's positioned to the right of the analog speedometer. I don't think it's a coincidence Ford placed it there.

The more efficiently you drive the C-Max, the more green leaves fill up the screen.

Ford has used the leaves before: on the Fusion and MKZ hybrids for example. And Ford isn't the first to use such a graphic to illustrate hybrid driving efficiency. Toyota has used a similar feature on the Prius, the name that has become synonymous with hybrids. But this was the first time I really let the leaves be my guide.

You can also monitor your driving efficiency by looking at a bunch of numbers that pop up on a corresponding screen to the left of the C-Max's speedometer. Those figures include instant mpg or trip average mpg. I came to think of the left screen, with all its numbers, as the logical, left-brain side of the display.

As we headed along Sunset Boulevard out of Hollywood toward the Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu, only a single leaf appeared and I thought I must be doing very poorly. But I soon began to get the hang of driving more efficiently. With temperatures hovering comfortably in the 70s, we switched off the air conditioning and rolled down the windows, reducing our energy use in the process.

The left-hand screen confirmed I had done just fine: a 51.7 mpg average for the 20-mile trip.

I gently modulated the brake pedal on the steeper down-hills to get the benefit of regenerative braking. I accelerated gently away from stoplights, to keep the C-Max in electric mode as long as possible.

But I didn't poke along and hold up traffic, as I've noticed hybrid drivers often do. The leaves started slowly spreading along vines. Even when being driven to eke out the highest mpg, the C-Max performs pretty much like a normal car.

By the time we reached the stopping point, the little screen was nearly filled with leaves. And the left-hand screen confirmed I had done just fine: a 51.7 mpg average for the 20-mile trip. I've never been much good at keeping track of my gas mileage on a trip, but I know 51.7 is my new all-time record.

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.

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