Good For: Why not A+. I didn't realize all North American Ford C-Max's were hybrids, and only started to perceive something different when I pushed the "Start" button on the dashboard. The motor didn't start, but a message popped up indicating "Ready to Drive". Then I took my usual rental car walk around and confirmed the "hybrid" badges. This is my first time driving a hybrid, and the difference in the driving experience boils down to about two things: The first addition is regenerative braking, and the Ford software presents this as energy returned during braking that you spent earlier to accelerate the vehicle to speed. In fact, the dashboard even gives you a score, up to 100%, showing how much of the braking you performed was used to generate energy, as opposed to being lost in heat on the brake pads. It didn't take long to figure out the threshold of braking power that the system can regenerate, and I was already getting 100% stops on my second trip out with the C-Max. In fact, some of the stops would come back as 99%, and since I'm an Asian Dad I'm yelling, "99%? Why not A+!"
The second additional element to driving this hybrid is the "EV mode". The gasoline motor shuts off when you aren't using it, so it's not consuming gas idling at a stop. The electric motor can also propel the car forward all by itself if you go easy on the accelerator. This cuts the time that the gasoline motor operates in the trip. When the gasoline motor runs, power distribution is regulated while cruising, allowing some of the gasoline engine's power to charge the batteries back up if needed for future EV propulsion.
Compromises: It's reasonable to classify this FWD 5-seater C-Max as a wagon here, but it's still awfully tall and heavy (3600 pounds). The weight and tall profile probably limit the car's efficiency, despite the aggressive marketing and interesting shutters on the grille that open and close to improve aerodynamics. If I was going for efficiency, the Jetta wagon TDI seems like a more fun choice. A very noticeable bulge in the floor, which I assume houses the batteries, also compromises the rear cargo space.
Overall reaction - None: Driving a hybrid was a different experience, but not necessarily a better one. For $29k, the C-Max still gives you only a tall, FWD, 5-seater with no ground clearance and can barely beat the efficiency of a diesel SUV. But it is bigger than a compact car, has a versatile hatchback configuration, and has some nice features. The car comes with a real handbrake and real buttons for Sync's audio and climate controls instead of the intolerable touch controls in the Explorer and Taurus. The SEL package also does a reasonable job of including features that should be found on any $29k car - even the base 6-speaker stereo is up to par.