2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

LOS ANGELES — Ford invited comparison to the larger Prius V during an evaluation of its all-new-to-the- U.S. 2013 C-Max Hybrid, a station-wagon-like vehicle about the size of a Ford Focus. The C-Max is popular in Europe where it lives in the fuel-efficient and cargo-friendly multi-purpose vehicle segment.
Ford thinks Americans are ready for such a vehicle, especially one that is EPA-rated at 47 mpg highway, 47 mpg city and (of course) 47 mpg combined.

The Prius V, a bigger version of the standard Prius, stacks up well against the C-Max in cargo capacity with the abiity to haul 67cubic feet of stuff with rear seats folded and 34 cubic feet with seats in place. The C-Max features a cargo capacity of 54.3 cubic feet and with seats in place, 24.5 cubic feet.

This begs the question, how much cargo-hauling space do you need in the chores of everyday life?

Ford was not stingy, offering several Prius V vehicles to drive side-by-side with the C-Max, and after driving both we can understand their confidence in offering up the comparison. Outside of the aforementioned cargo space, the
Ford in our estimation is the hands-down winner.

We will insert an astric here — although the Prius is rated at 44 city and 40 highway, we know from real-world testing that it is, indeed, capable of those numbers. It remains to be seen if the C-Max lives up to its 47/47 billing. We managed 40 mpg in a combination of city streets, highways and hill driving. But we are lead-footed, a trait we have been unable to overcome. We talked to several other journalists, two of whom said they were able to average 60 mpg in careful driving with the AC off.

But even if mileage falls a bit short, it should still rival the Prius. And as far as other measurements — handling, acceleration, stopping, styling and interior refinement — we give the nod to the C-Max.

Performance trumps a lot of things in our book — it's as much a safety feature as airbags and brakes — providing the driver with the ability to get out of trouble and keep from getting into trouble. In this regard, the C-Max has the upperhand making 188 horsepower from its 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine. That's 54 more than the Prius.

And what's more, Ford says the C-Max can reach 62 mph in EV mode. The Prius can manage only 25 mph.

We were impressed with the car's ability to climb hills and surge past traffic on the highway. Gratifying acceleration AND outstanding gas mileage. That's a nice combo.

The exterior of the C-Max is stylish, an eye-catcher. And the interior is handsome, a delight to the eye. The C-Max features the SmartGauge system from the Ford Fusion Hybrid, a traditional speedometer flanked by two LCD screens that an display an array of information about what the hybrid system is doing.

The much-criticized MyFord Touch system was included in the top trim level SEL model that we drove. Perhaps we are getting used to the features and buttons, but it posed no problem in the C-Max. And there were traditional dials and buttons for the dual-zone climate control system.

Pricing will start at under $26,000 for the base SE and under $29,000 for the SEL. 

For those who want even better fuel economy, the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid is coming later this autumn.  It’s projected to deliver 550 miles of total range, including more than 20 miles in electric-only mode, about 50 percenrt more than the electric-only range of the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid.

One of the interesting features of the Energi, a Ford official told us, is that the 20 miles of electric-only driving, can be "saved" until it is needed the most.

— Jim Meachen