The all-new 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid is designed to outgun the popular Prius V model, the largest Prius hybrid model. That’s a big job because the Prius is the darling in its various forms of the hybrid-car crowd.
However, the front-drive C-Max appears to be a fairly well proven vehicle in that Ford says more than 100,000 have been sold in Europe since it was launched in late 2010.
The Prius V is rather boring to drive, but the five-passenger C-Max is based on the sporty Ford Focus, which Ford proclaims was the world’s top-selling passenger car in 2012.
Ford calls the C-Max Hybrid “the right car for the time as it combines the dynamics and quality of a traditional car with the versatility” of a MAV.” (One assumes Ford means “Multi-Activity Vehicle.) Some call the C-Max a compact wagon, but what’s in a name in today’s auto world? The key word here is “hybrid.”
Using the Focus architecture is a definite plus. The Focus underpinnings allow sporty handling, although the C-Max felt somewhat ponderous when pushed hard through curves because it weighs a hefty 3,640 pounds.
My test C-Max Hybrid had quick, but rather stiff, power steering. The ride was supple, and four-wheel disc brakes provided short stopping distances, activated by a firm brake pedal.
The C-Max is wider and taller than the Prius, which makes it slightly roomier for occupants, although the Prius V is longer and has a larger cargo hold. Still, the C-Max cargo area is large, and split fold-down rear seatbacks sit flat to enlarge it.
Neither the C-Max or Prius V four-door hatchback models will win beauty contests. The Prius V looks much like an appliance. At first, the 104.3-inch wheelbase C-Max looked too big and somewhat bulky to be a decent hybrid. But its functional appearance began to grow on me after awhile, although its low front end could be easily damaged.
The C-Max delivers an EPA-estimated 47 miles per gallon both in the city and on highways, outdoing the Prius V a bit. However, the C-Max I tested only got 34 miles per gallon during a mix of brisk city and highway motoring. It likely would have done better if driven moderately for a longer time period.
List prices for the C-Max range from approximately $25,200 to $32,950. There’s also a plug-in C-Max hybrid version called the Energi, which is Ford’s first plug-in hybrid. No Energi was available for driving.
Ford says the C-Max Hybrid has a driving range of 570 miles with its 13.5-gallon tank of regular fuel. (The Energi’s range is an estimated 620 miles.) The C-Max is said to be able to do 62 m.p.h. in electric-only mode.
Beneath the hood of the C-Max Hybrid is a new 2-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine with dual overhead camshats, four valves per cylinder and intake variable camshaft timing. The result is 141 horsepower. The engine is seamlessly teamed with a 118-horsepower electric motor and small lithium-ion battery pack—resulting in a peak total of 188 horsepower. (You don’t add the two numbers with this hybrid to get a total horsepower figure.)
The electric motor and gas engine seamlessly work together or separately to maximize efficiency. The engine also can operate independently of vehicle speed, charging the batteries or providing power to the wheels, as needed. The motor alone can provide sufficient power to the wheels in low-speed, low-load conditions—and work with the engine at higher speeds.
In the C-Max Hybrid, the battery pack is recharged when the gas engine is operating. Also, the car’s regenerative braking system recaptures more than 95 percent of the braking energy that otherwise would be lost, and it can use that power to help charge the battery. The C-Max Hybrid needs no plug-in charging.
An efficient continuously variable automatic transmission transfers power.
The 0-60 mph time of the 115-mph C-Max is 8.1 seconds. Quick 65-75 mph passing is no problem. The engine drones under heavy acceleration, but not annoyingly so.
I tested the $28,200 SEL version of the C-Max Hybrid. Its features include dual-zone automatic climate control, a power leather-trimmed driver’s seat, speed control and remote power windows and locks with keyless entry.
There are plenty of safety features, including a bunch of air bags, side curtains and traction control with roll stability control, besides a reverse sensing system.
Options include a rearview camera and power tailgate that opens after a gentle kicking motion under the rear bumper when used with a key fob. The same motion can be used to close the tailgate.
The C-Max has supportive seats and easily read backlit gauges. Controls don’t take long to figure out. There are a good number of storage areas and nicely placed front cupholders. But a cheap plastic strap holds the glovebox door open. If Ford wants to cut costs, it should do that in less visible places.
A higher, command-style front seating position provides a good view of the road through a giant windshield. Large, folding outside mirrors help rear vision.
The quiet interior is roomy, both front and rear, although the center of the backseat is stiff and best left to the center armrest, which contains cupholders. Rear-door openings are narrow.
The low, wide cargo opening and a large tailgate that raises on struts facilitates quick loading or unloading during a rush at, say, airport departure areas.
The heavy hood needs a prop rod, not hydraulic hinges, to hold it open. But the engine compartment of this nicely assembled car is surgically neat.
The C-Max Hybrid is off to a good start, with 3,769 units sold here during the first three months of 2013. Toyota has a long head start over Ford with its Prius hybrid models, but it must be looking over its shoulder at the C-Max.
Pros: Fuel stingy. Roomy. Lively. Decent handling. Supple ride.
Cons: Rather stiff steering. Narrow rear door openings. Low front end.
Bottom Line: Drives like a regular car but has high estimated fuel economy.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for nearly 45 years. To read more of his new and vintage reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.