2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Review
The C-Max sets a new standard in all-around hybrid performance.
- 47 mpg city and highway
- Great materials, features and options
- Tall body means plenty of room
- Gets pricy with options
- The hybrid residual value question remains
- Ford calls it a utility, but why?
At its most basic, the new 2013 Ford C-Max is a tall-bodied version of the company's very popular Focus. That's not a bad start, if you ask us. And introducing it in the United States as a hybrid may just have been a stroke of genius.
Though well known in Europe, the C-Max recently made landfall here in North America. However, it didn't do so as the wagon it was in the old country. Instead, the C-Max is coming to the Americas in hybrid sedan form. It uses a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor for propulsion. The combination, in conjunction with a lithium-ion battery pack, generates a healthy 188 horsepower.
Rated at 47 mpg in both city and highway driving scenarios, the C-Max sets a new fuel economy standard in its category; i.e., it essentially bests its main competitor, the Prius V, by just a little bit.
It also sets a new feature-content standard as well, only in this regard the C-Max is way ahead of the V. That means its interior and features complement are far more contemporary and inviting.
Does this make the C-Max the gas-electric hybrid to beat on this side of the pond?
The C-Max offers two trim levels, the nicely equipped SE and nearly fully loaded SEL. Either way the C-Max is definitely not an econo-stripper, and clearly has been laid out as a fully featured car that also contains the latest in hybrid performance. Thus, in presentation, it compares nicely against its competition, measuring a cut above the current crop of economy-oriented small or midsized hybrid sedans.
By nicely equipped we mean that the materials, design and features are at least mainstream. To pick a few examples, there are everyday aids such as grab handles above all but the driver's window, plus 12- and 110-volt outlets throughout the cabin and rear cargo area. To better characterize them, the SE uses a standard keyed ignition switch and manual seats, while the SEL employs push-button starting and power seats. Other SEL niceties are dual-zone climate control and heated seat cushions. For those wanting more, the option list allows almost any of Ford's extensive comforts, such as Ford Sync, navigation and so on.
All C-Max models roll on 17-inch wheels and 225/50R-17 low-rolling-resistance tires, and any model can be had with an oversized, nonopening panorama-roof glass panel.
Under the Hood
Every C-Max Hybrid uses the same dual powertrain, which is built by pairing an all-new, variable-cam-timing 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and a lithium-ion battery and electric motor combination to put out a combined 188 horsepower--notably more power than comparable hybrids. This allows the C-Max Hybrid to reach 62 mph on electric power alone in short bursts, so there's a good reserve of torquey electrical power for zipping along in city stop-and-go traffic, plus plenty of juice for freeway merging and high-speed running.
For economy, the gas engine uses the efficient Atkinson cycle and is paired with a continuously variable transmission. All told, the C-Max Hybrid's 47 mpg city and highway Environmental Protection Agency ratings are a first, as previous hybrids score better in city than highway mileage. With its 13.5-gallon gas tank, the C-Max Hybrid boasts a 570 mile range, too.
All Ford C-Max Hybrids offer seating for five in two rows, with the back row making a 60/40 split to form a flat cargo floor. Besides the cargo- and headroom-friendly extra-tall cabin, Ford has done a good job of providing small cubbies and storage spaces throughout the cabin. There's also a suite of safety items, including seven airbags, and a full set of electronic stability controls.
Other interior highlights are the dashboard and instrument cluster. The dash is straight out of the recently redesigned Ford Escape and has a somewhat busy but contemporary look, while the bright and engaging instrument cluster is from the equally modern Fusion Hybrid. It features the leaf-growing "Eco Guide" that rewards low-carbon driving by adding leaves on a vine display — we're not making this up — and also features a configurable screen with a generous volume of easily understood information aimed at educating the driver on the most efficient driving techniques. Interestingly, all this actually helps.
Thanks to its tall greenhouse, the C-Max is also an excellent choice for tall people or those with lots to carry, such as young families. The vertically endowed enjoy great headroom, and with a long telescoping range on the adjustable steering column (along with generous seat travel) folks up to at least the 6-foot 5-inch range will find true legroom.
Cargo room is also augmented by the taller cabin, even if some gear must be stacked to realize the volume. There's a good 24.5 cubic feet in the rear storage area and an impressive 52.6 cubic feet when the second seats are folded.
On the Road
From the driver's seat the C-Max Hybrid does an admirable job of emulating a conventional midsize sedan. Power is good — especially strong for a hybrid — with an immediate rush to speed from a standing start and plenty of oomph for hill climbing. No apologies for the lack of power are needed as with typical small hybrids.
Some hybrid characteristics come through, of course. Most noticeable of these is that the brake-pedal feel is sticky, because it's balancing the regular friction and regenerative brakes. Far less prominent because of both good insulation and the muscular electric motor is the CVT transmission, which lets the gas engine rev up and stay there when you boot the throttle. Also, sensitive types may detect an occasional distant whine from the electric machinery. There are upsides, too. For one, the C-Max Hybrid glides silently in parking lots and sits vibrationless at stoplights because the gas engine is not running.
All said, however, the C-Max is a reasonably quiet car and it's surprisingly difficult to tell if the gas engine is running or not while driving. Another help is standard active-noise cancelling, which is powered through two small speakers in the headliner.
Also worth mentioning is the good rear-quarter visibility, thanks to the numerous, somewhat tall windows.
Right for You?
Base price for the C-Max Hybrid is $25,200, which is more than reasonable, considering its high feature content and the dual drivetrains inherent in a hybrid. It's also very competitive with its hybrid competition. If the hybrid concept appeals to you, the C-Max Hybrid certainly asks little compromise in return: It is one gasoline-electric that drives and feels very much like a conventional sedan. That's more than we can say about most hybrids.
(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson's credits include local racing championships, three technicalengine books and hundreds of freelance articles.
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Open letter to Ford:
I thought my 2013 C-MAX would be a Prius Killer? NOT! As a returning Ford buyer I feel deceived. I want to support US companies and US jobs. What was Ford thinking when they published 47/ 47/47 estimates? Based on the advertised EPA estimates, I would have been ok with low 40's but 28-33 mpg is not even in the ballpark. This is not an issue about EPA testing standards, but rather an issue about setting false customer expectations in order to promote sales. Ford's "47MPG" marketing campaign tarnished what should have been the roll out of a truly remarkable vehicle, the CMAX. Real world MPG estimates should have been promoted in the mid-30's. No one would have questioned those numbers and the CMAX would have received the accolades it deserves. How these MPG estimates made it through Ford corporate is beyond me! Maybe it was the rush to go to market? I have been accused of not knowing how to drive hybrid. For the record, during the last three years I have leased both a 2010 Prius and 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid, and consider myself an experienced hyper-miler. My mileage in the Prius is 50 plus, the Insight is 40 plus. The C-MAX is a well-built car, with extremely inflated EPA estimates. I respectfully request that this matter be investigated as soon as possible. My efforts to deal with this locally and through Ford customer service have frustrated me to no end. The constant response? "You need to learn to how to drive hybrid type of vehicle ". Is there a difference how I drive Prius Hybrid vs. the CMAX hybrid? I think we all know the answer to that. I need someone at Ford to reach out to me and assist in a proactive manner so we can put this matter to rest.
Ronald Kramer Yankee Ford Customer
South Portland, Maine