That means it's now time to talk about the new 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, which will serve as the company's hybrid entry in the compact segment.
The 2013 C-Max is a five-passenger small minivan or "multi-activity vehicle" (Europeans call it a "people carrier") that will be offered only as a pair of hybrid models, giving Ford a dedicated hybrid five-door like Toyota's iconic Prius--a vehicle without a gasoline-only model.
Like the Prius, the new compact vehicle will also offer a plug-in hybrid variant, called the Ford C-Max Energi. It will be Ford's first plug-in hybrid, though likely not the sole such vehicle within its global lineup.
Next-generation hybrid system
Both 2013 C-Max versions will use the next generation of Ford's hybrid-electric drive system. But unlike the current 2012 Escape Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid models, which use a 2.5-liter engine, the 2013 C-Max hybrids will use a smaller, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.
Like most engines in full hybrids, it has been adapted to run on the Atkinson Cycle--meaning it burns gasoline very efficiently but has little low-end torque, which is provided instead by the hybrid system's electric motor-generators.
Like Toyota and General Motors, Ford's hybrid system uses a pair of motor-generators within an electronically continuously variable transmission, allowing the engine to run at its most efficient speed.
This new-generation hybrid system in the C-Max, however, is the first to use a lithium-ion battery pack, which is smaller and lighter for the same energy capacity than the older nickel-metal-hydride packs used in all Ford hybrids to date.
More than 42 mpg combined
While Ford hasn't released specifications for engine power, motor output, battery pack sizes, or projected fuel economy for the C-Max models, it repeats its "class-leading fuel economy" claims for the pair of new compact vehicles.
More specifically, Ford projects that the C-Max Hybrid will earn higher ratings than the 2012 Toyota Prius V wagon. The EPA rates the Prius V at 44 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 42 mpg.
2013 Ford C-Max HybridEnlarge Photo
If that happens, besting the gas mileage of Toyota's newest Prius model in a similar package--a five-door wagon-like hybrid vehicle with five seats--could be considered something of a coup for Ford.
For the plug-in C-Max Energi, Ford says it will deliver better gas mileage in "charge depleting" mode--running mostly on electricity with occasional supplementary engine power as needed--than the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid.
It also claims a driving range of more than 500 miles for the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in, between the range provided by the larger battery pack and that from the engine and electric drive operating as a standard hybrid system once the plug-in range has been depleted.
The Energi's charging port door is on the left front fender; like all such plug-in hybrids, it can recharge either on standard 120-Volt household current or through a dedicated 240-Volt charging station, which Ford will make available through its dealers.
The company's engineers have worked on improving the efficiency of every part of the hybrid system. Ford claims that more than 95 percent of the energy that would be wasted through braking in a conventional car is recaptured to charge the battery pack in the C-Max hybrids.
Tall but short
The C-Max twins represent a type of vehicle that's common in Europe, though not much seen so far in the States. The closest models from other makers are probably the Mazda Mazda5 small minivan and the now-discontinued Kia Rondo.
At 64 inches tall, the C-Max driver sits higher than in a compact car like the Focus, offering the "command position" so appealing in crossovers. The C-Max Hybrid has 25 cubic feet behind the rear seat, 54 cubic feet with the second row folded flat.