Ford touts the 2013 C-Max as a hybrid that drives and looks like a “real car.” The marketing approach is a direct shot at the Toyota Prius, which despite its immense popularity still has plenty of detractors. The Prius still has a futuristic-looking exterior and it drives like . . . a hybrid.
A decade after its debut in Europe, Ford unveiled the C-Max in the United States in the fall of 2012 as the carmaker’s hybrid-only line. It’s available as a gas-electric hybrid and the Energi, a plug-in hybrid. It’s not available in a gas-only model.
Ford’s goal is simple: It wants to infiltrate the long-standing dominance of the ever-expanding Prius family.
Ford is onto something with the C-Max. It’s easy to like because like other hybrids, it has a quiet push-button start and a quiet overall demeanor. But it also performs with the acceleration, steering, braking and overall feel of a non-hybrid.
I drove the highest-end SEL edition for a week and primarily during several weekday round-trip excursions from Sacramento the San Francisco Bay Area. I like a lot about the C-Max
It has a grand, near-panoramic view from the driver’s perspective. Like the Honda Fit, two small front side windows add to the overall open feel of the car.
The C-Max isn’t the fastest-accelerating wagon around, but once it reaches any cruising speed of at least 40 mph, the C-Max gets its “second speed.” I quickly and efficiently sped around on the freeway and easily passed several drivers with confidence.
Small Appearance, Big Hybrid Deal
It may look like a smallish wagon, but Ford’s engineers did a great job incorporating a lot of space into a small space. The C-Max has plenty of cargo room, a lot of storage bins, cup and bottle holders and the 60-40 split of the rear seat is done well.
The C-Max with SEL trim includes a $2,200 Equipment Group that features a premium audio system, a multi-functional navigation system, power liftgate, rearview camera, keyless start and hands-free technology like the MyFord Touch sync system with voice command functionality. It’s all worthwhile, although the power tailgate isn’t the most efficient and often stuck while opening or closing.
Like a lot of vehicles rated as five-passenger cars, the C-Max is ideally suited for only four passengers unless the three passengers in the rear seat are children or petite adults.
The C-Max suspension isn’t the car’s strong suit. The ride is rough and most bumps and other undulations in the road are accentuated.
The EPA rates the C-Max with averages of 47 mpg in the city and highway. Those averages have been questioned often by reviewers. I drove the C-Max about 300 miles and didn’t have the opportunity the calculate the average via a full-tank refueling. But with more than half the tank remaining, I averaged 32.7 mpg.
2013 Ford C-Max Fact & Figures:
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $28,200.00.
Price As Driven: $31,605.00.
Manufacturer’s Website: www.ford.com/cars/cmax
Transmission: Automatic (Continuously Variable Transmission)
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive.
Gas Mileage Estimated 47 mpg (city), 47 mpg (hwy).
Horsepower: 188 combined gas/electric.
What Other Hybrid Reviewers Say
“Although it’s hard not to imagine how much more useful the C-Max would be if it had sliding doors, it’s the only hybrid in this price range that we could recommend to someone who genuinely enjoys driving. And if the idea of a hybrid that’s fun to drive doesn’t mean much to you, the C-Max still has those big EPA mileage numbers to fall back on. Call it a true hybrid in more ways than one.” — Edmunds.com
“Quibbles aside, the C-Max is a very good car. It does the most basic automotive things well, and in fact does so many of them well that it reminds you how many cars fall short in at least one basic area.” — Winding Road.
“With impressive fuel economy, there’s less sacrifice to be made in the driving enjoyment department with a solid, dialed-in chassis and peppier drive. It might not have the Prius name recognition but the C-MAX is certainly a serious rival to the Toyota family hybrid.” — AutoGuide.com
The Weekly Driver’s Final Words
“The C-MAX Energi plug-in qualifies for $3,750 in federal incentives, and for buyers in California there’s another $1,500 in state tax incentives. That drops the price $28,495 for a hybrid that has more than a 600-mile range. That’s certainly enough to give savvy consumers something to ponder.”
“Likewise, the standard gas-hybrid C-Max is a good alternative, but the market stronghold of the Prius family of hybrids may be too much of the C-Max to overcome. Still, competition is a good thing.”