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Auto: MMH update; and, 2017 Ford CMAX-e

2010 MMH

Mileage: ~128,000
Recent unscheduled maintenance:
  • Lower control arm
  • Front brakes
  • Cargo window hinges

Lower control arm: This is part of the front suspension and also works with the steering. Eventually the bushings and such wear out and need to be replaced. Although this was a significant repair, and I might wish that it had lasted longer, I'm not terribly surprised that it needed to be done. They say there are only 3 seasons in Boston: Winter, more Winter, and Potholes.

Front brakes: This one DID surprise me, considering that the original front brakes lasted about 80,000-miles. (This visit, I asked the service tech to check the history; he confirmed my only brake job was about 3-years ago.) Their longevity was due to the hybrid's secondary, "regenerative" braking system, which uses the car's momentum to generate electricity that is sent back to the battery pack. (Essentially, you slow the car via electro-magnetism instead via the traditional, friction brakes.)

Well, if the first set of front brakes lasted 80K-mi, why do I have to do it again just ~48K-mi later? I know my driving behavior hasn't significantly changed. Answer: Disc rot. For whatever reasons, the discs had become corroded with rust. Although a little surface rust is not unusual, this was eating into the "meat" of the discs. (I would expect that for my 2004 Subaru STi because I don't drive it for months at a time, but the Subbie still has the original brakes all around.)

It's okay; 48K-mi is still above average; and this repair (plus the control arm) give me renewed confidence in the safety and reliability of the vehicle… expensive confidence but confidence nonetheless.

Cargo window hinges: The cargo door (or: "fifth door") on the MMH is located above the rear bumper; it hinges upward to reveal the cargo area behind the rear seats. The window on that door can be opened independently; it also opens upward so one can reach into the cargo area without opening the big door. On my car, one of the cargo window hinges deteriorated.

This is weird for a couple of reasons. It looked like the plastic outer casing had been struck by something; almost as if it had been hit by a BB. A little chunk of the plastic just wasn't there anymore. But there's more: The interior of the casing looked like concrete!


It was light gray, a little sparkly, and there were like "powder trails" running down the window on both sides (not just the damaged side). What the heck is that?! According to the discussion thread (from which I grabbed that image), the interior of the hinge is pot metal. (Never mind a rock band; "Pot Metal" is a great name for a whole genre!!)

So… for $114 each (plus labor), I now have RENEWED CONFIDENCE in the safe and reliable operation of the thing I look through every day via the rearview mirror. (Yeesh, "spin" is exhausting.) :-)

2017 Ford CMAX-e

While the above repairs were being made, I had the opportunity to drive a new 2017 CMAX-e. Note that it's not actually called a CMAX-e, that's just my abbreviation for the CMAX "Energi" version of the model. (The deliberate misspelling may be cutesy commercialism but the grammarian in me rebels.) The CMAX is a compact SUV-ish crossover (almost a "tall car"), originally intended to compete directly against the Toyota Prius. (See this 2012 C&D softball review.) It's a tad smaller than the late-model Ford Escapes that I've previously mentioned.

The CMAX was nicely appointed with much of what you'd expect in a new car. Sound system, navigation (with traffic), front seat heaters, auto HVAC, Ford's latest version of SYNC (Bluetooth with voice control), etc. The dash compartment ("glove box") seems capacious but the center console compartment is much less so. (Console-mounted parking brake levers take up a lot of real estate.)

The driver seat was eminently adjustable with decent uprightness; although (like the Escape) not so much freedom at the knees (compared to my 2010 MMH). It has the now-typical "busy" Ford cockpit, with 2 dash mini-screens, and more steering wheel-mounted controls than folks my age can use without driving into a swimming pool. I jest but it's like a video game controller. (It's okay, you can just sit in it and start driving, so long as you don't get distracted by: "I wonder what this button does.") It's very nimble on its 50-series tires, and the suspension is firm but not tiresome. The rear bench seats 3 young Japanese schoolgirls comfortably.

For me the most interesting aspect was the drivetrain. It's a "plug-in hybrid"… what the heck does THAT mean?

My 2010 MMH (Mercury Mariner Hybrid) is a "full hybrid": It can run on the gasoline engine alone, the electric motor alone, or (usually) a combination of both. But the gasoline engine is the "main event" (or: "prime mover"); it's got the horsepower and top end to get the car moving and keep it at speed. Without the 2.5L Atkinson-cycle engine, the MMH would be a very heavy and expensive golf cart.

Conversely, the CMAX-e is essentially an electric vehicle that just happens to have a gasoline engine on board; the electric drive is the prime mover. Indeed, with the press of a button on the dashboard, you can dedicate your CMAX-e to electric drive ONLY. (Hence the plug-in option.) I'm not sure WHY you might want to do that… but it's there if you need it. Since I've eschewed consideration of electric vehicle ownership due (largely) to range limitations, the concept of a MOSTLY electric vehicle is quite appealing. I could live with this, and enjoy it… BUT…

The electric vehicle-sized battery pack of the CMAX-e significantly (and obviously) INTRUDES into the cargo area. The cargo capacity for the standard CMAX is listed as 24.5-cubic feet (rear seats upright) but the CMAX-e is only 19.2 cubic feet; that's a reduction of about 22%. I looked back there; your family would have to pack carry-on sized luggage for a driving vacation. This car may be a fine commuter and grocery-getter but I think it would be tight fit as the primary vehicle for a family.

The CMAX-e that I drove apparently did not have any of the modern driver-assist functionalities. (Or if it did then I didn't notice.) I'm looking at the Ford web page referenced above, and I don't see "active cruise control", "automatic emergency braking", or lane-keeping assistance. But fear not, it does have a "SOS Post-Crash Alert System™". (Irony intended.)

I respect Ford for its early adoption of hybrid technology, and its dedication to its advancement (such as the engine auto-on/off of the non-hybrid Escape). I also remember that Ford was the only American automaker that didn't take Government bailout dollars in the 2008 economic crisis, and you've got to respect them for that as well. And then there's the unbroken history of Mustang retail performance cars; none of this Charger/Camaro RETRO "rediscovery" of hotrods, Ford was always there. Yeah, I admit it; I like lots of vehicles but Ford has a special place in my heart.

I see the CMAX-e as filling a market niche for certain American car-buyers; it's a nice car so long as it meets your needs.

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