2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid: First Drive

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The verdict is in: At last, the fabled Toyota Prius hybrid has a viable competitor.

If you're in the market for a five-door hybrid hatchback with very high fuel economy--an EPA rating of 47 mpg combined--you should drive a C-Max Hybrid before you trot down to your local Toyota dealer and sign the papers for a Prius.

Two weeks ago, we drove the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid for half a day through a mix of Los Angeles stop-and-go traffic and the winding, hilly curves of the Pacific Coast Highway.

It's Ford's first-ever "dedicated" hybrid--no gasoline-only version is sold in the States--and at a starting price under $26,000, Ford has priced it more aggressively than past hybrid models.

While the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid is less visually distinctive than the well-known Prius Liftback, its interior is nicer, with a more conventional dash design and much higher quality plastics and trim.

One little example that caught our eye: Most cars with 12-Volt "cigarette lighter" power sockets have rubber plugs on floppy rubber lanyards. The 2013 C-Max has a hinged plastic lid "12V" printed on top, surrounded by a small, tasteful chrome ring.

The front seats are comfortable, and the tall body gives plenty of headroom for four 6-foot-plus adults. And the interior is filled with useful cubbies, bins, and other storage areas, including small hidden compartments in the rear footwells. The load bay has a family-friendly storage net and grocery-bag hooks.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

Enlarge Photo

Most importantly for drivers, the performance of the hybrid C-Max simply feels better than that of the Prius.

Its 141-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and electric drive motor combine to put out a maximum of 188 hp, or 54 hp more than the Prius powertrain can manage.

That means the C-Max feels far less stressed and desperate under maximum power than the Prius--despite almost 600 pounds of extra weight compared to the Prius Liftback, and about 300 lbs more than the Prius V wagon.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, Los Angeles, August 2012

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, Los Angeles, August 2012

Enlarge Photo

With the 60/40 split rear seats down--they fold and lower with a single pull on one lever--the C-Max Hybrid offers 52 cubic feet of load space. With the rear seat up, cargo volume is 25 cubic feet.

Those numbers exceed the capacities of the Prius Liftback (which has only 21 cubic feet with the rear seat up), but are less than the comparable specs for the Prius V wagon. It offers 34 to 40 cubic feet with the sliding rear seat up, and a whopping 67 cubic feet when it's down.

So Ford has neatly positioned the C-Max Hybrid between the Prius Liftback and the larger, slower Prius V wagon (which we felt was underpowered when fully loaded).

It's slightly cheaper than the most popular Prius Three Liftback trim level, so it competes head-to-head--but offers more room and a nicer interior.

And it's significantly cheaper than, and almost as roomy as, the Prius V wagon. Not to mention more confidence-inducing under hard acceleration.

We can't comment yet on the C-Max Hybrid's real-world fuel efficiency, though we have some questions about whether it will live up to its EPA ratings as reliably as the Prius does.

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Comments (36)
  1. Well it is about time that that Prius had some real competition. It will be great to see more of these Prius rivaling high MPG cars on the road.

  2. Outside some concern shared with GCR on the real world-mileage, well done Ford, for the most part. I agree that no AWD is a major negative in some regions, though. I'll have my first snowy (?) winter without it myself this year after getting a Volt.

    Excellent interior, very pleased there, too. Just good to see a credible contender to the Prius after so long.

  3. Great writeup - Will be good to see these prowling the streets here in SF as replacements for Escape Hybrid taxis.

    I do, however, disagree w/ the assesment that the lack of AWD is a failing here, as there's no need to drag around a couple hundred extra pounds of mechanical complexity 90 percent of the time. Our fathers and grandfathers survived for decades in snowy climates in places like Michigan, Illinois and New England with RWD American sedans: They simply put snow tires on the car in the Fall, used tire chains if it got really bad out, and drove cautiously in bad weather.

  4. @Brian: What you say about previous generations driving RWD cars in snowy climates is correct, but they probably also drove without seat belts, ABS brakes, traction control etc. I guess the point the article was trying to make was that new cars should be going forwards with improvements and features which makes driving easier, safer and more comfortable.

  5. Well, AWD would get you to Tahoe without putting on chains during a blizzard...

    To some people, that is worthy the "price" to pay...

    And to some people, you can find about couple hundreds pounds of "junk" in their trunk at all time... So, they are hauling those extra "junk" around for no reason at all...

  6. I think the Prius is better looking then this and is still the better hybrid. But its good to see someone finally attempt to compete.

  7. What are the Performance numbers? 0-60mph? 1/4 miles?

    I am glad that someone finally produced a more powerful, better looking and more competent version of the Prius...

  8. It is great to see some competition being dished out to the Prius. Although I like the Prius, competition will help bring down Prius prices.

  9. No plug, no sale...


  10. "Almost as roomy" (apples to apples, please)
    "Nicer interior" (subjective)
    "Feels better" (subjective)
    "?'s about living up to reliability of EPA ratings" (always a concern with Ford)
    Remember, these are the guys who fudge their numbers ("Focus now outsells the Corolla worldwide" for one, not to mention the reliability their EPA mileage numbers, in general).
    15 years later, finally comes Ford with a 'dedicated hybrid" and we go crazy for the new "Prius-killer". Expanding the category is great and I am sure Toyota doesn't mind the competition. Still, let's wait for the real world verdict. Heard this story before!
    Obviously, Ford is hammering away with these Prius comparisons and that PR wind is really filling up blogger's sails!

  11. @John: Yep, it's a subjective call. You're welcome to make your own judgment.

    I drive 50 or more cars a year, and I like to think that it gives me some basis for comparison, but you're more than welcome to disagree. Educated, informed (and polite) comments are always welcome on GCR.

    But do please give us some backup (links are good) for the assertion that Ford are the guys who "fudge their numbers". Curious to see the basis for this rather blanket assertion.

  12. When launched there were numerous 'first drive' articles comparing the Fusion Hyb to the Cam Hyb. Most concluded that while the Camry Hyb did better than EPA numbers in the tests the Fusion Hyb did not.
    Links are good - Motor Trend: #:http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/alternative/112_0901_2010_ford_fusion_hybrid_2009_toyota_camry_hybrid/viewall.html
    "According to the EPA, the new Fusion achieves 41 city mpg and 36 on the highway compared with the Camry's 33 and 34, respectively. Our impromptu testing revealed a very different result, however. While the Camry confirmed its EPA numbers, the Fusion didn't. How come? Good question."
    What we hear in the alt fuel biz is that in adept hands Toyota hybrids do better than EPA and Ford's do not!

  13. http://www.caranddriver.com/comparisons/2010-ford-fusion-hybrid-vs-camry-hybrid-altima-hybrid-and-malibu-hybrid-comparison-tests

  14. http://news.consumerreports.org/cars/2009/04/ford-fusion-hybrid.html

  15. Toyota was not always where it stand now. Company car move and the one that is first now can easily be the last some day! For the better quality interior the "real worl verdict" like you said will never be real enough for you, because the "real world" already give better quality interior for the Ford product than Toyota. And reabillity improve, but you can not see it, because wathever what Ford will do, you will always disagree!

  16. Interiors don't save money on gas!

  17. Is that all that you can say! You seem for me a guy who is so scare that another company can do better than your Toyota. But no matter what you can think or saiy, Ford give a good blow to Toyota with the Focus and will give another one with the Fusion. Toyota time is going to past, and you will see.

  18. Seriously, Ford has made some decent hybrids with the Fusion and the Escape and deserves some recognition for that.

    Many other companies produced hybrids of questionable efficiency and smoothness of operation. Even some of the Toyota hybrids (e.g. the old Camry hybrid) have not had especially impressive efficiency.

    When you look for smooth function, I think you will see that Ford is a class leader along with the Toyota.

    I really think we should be celebrating Ford as a leader in this area, not tearing them down. They have done well.

  19. There are more comments in this thread
  20. 37 mpg during Summer? a bit low i think. definitely need more numbers for a fair evaluation

  21. WEll Ford has done it again....I unfortunately have to agree with your findings....owning MANY FORD products in the past has been a PLEASURE....BUT every Explorer that I owned was NEVER the EPA numbers that Ford promised....you said that they were LOWER NUMBERS....that is my argument with FORD...THE VEHICLES NEVER attain the mileage they boast in there commercials or written as in this article...numbers in the weight categories on the ALL Hybrid models as well as the Plug in are NO WAY going to be accurate...BOTH Vehicles are heavier than the Toyota models by 500 to 800 lbs....the weight always makes a differance with the Hybrids that are available Toyota as well makes there engines smaller and lighter for a reason..Technology counts a lot

  22. Number two conclusion is summed up as the larger Engines and more HP are making the Ford Hybrids two models with lesser EPA mileage as usual...as I shared in number one I was always disappointed with the numbers Ford concluded this is the usual your test drives already have made there numbers incorrect...more weight as well as larger displacement are two MAJOR AREAS to not take lightly here..they will be a major factor as a Hybrid should be less weight and the sluggish part is bogus....in Power Mode my PHEV does well for me noone is up my rear getting onto a highway in Power Mode..I agree in the ECO mode the throttle is reduced to SAVE ENERGY...this is where Ford as usual is Fudging the numbers again...what else is new...do the Math...

  23. Education seems to be required.
    1. EPA fuel economy is derived from a specific set of driving cycles that are conducted in a controlled laboratory on a dynamometer. The total drive time is around 1 1/2 hours (see www.fueleconomy.gov).
    2. Manufacturers conduct their own tests; around 15% are audited by the EPA.
    3. If a descrepency is found, EPA meets with the manufacurer. The latest case was BMW last year; BMW had to adopt lower EPA mileage.
    4. Differences between the manufacturer and EPA are not likely due to cheating but car-to-car or laboratory variability.
    5. Do those who say Ford is "fudging" understand they are implying that Ford is submitted faked data to the government? This is not likely. And it's insulting to Ford employees.

  24. Sorry Rich...BUT I have owned over ALL my vehicles owned ....QUITE A FEW btw...the Ford vehicles have always been much lower then what was expected on the MPG estimates....the REAL WORLD DRIVING is what is usully way off....I have PLENTY OF HANDS ON EDUCATION btw....I am a car owner that used to ONLY PURCHASE Ford products until my neighbor convinced me to purchase one of my first Toyota vehicles.....since that first 1 of 6 Hybrid vehicles my experience with Toyota and what there EPA estimates were for each vehicle has been much more HONEST as far as real world driving is concerned....as you mentioned the tests conducted by the manufacturers are CONTROLLED...NOT REALISTIC on the road is TOTALLY differant in reality..no way on Fords claims..

  25. @Charles,

    1. EPA label economy is the result of a specific set of tests; as they say "individual results vary" if your driving varies from the standardized testing.

    2. Prior to 2008, EPA results were very optimistic. In fact hybrids were grossly overstated, and there were unhappy Prius owners.

    3. From 2008, additional tests were added that brought mileage estimates closer to what owners were really experiencing.

    4. You can't throw around the words "fudging" or "honest" without implying Ford is submitting false data. Ford is not doing that, nor is any any other manufacturer.

    At any rate, your comments do not have any relevance to how the C-Max Hybrid will perform.

  26. Hybrid cars are not only cost more up front, they bite owners in the ass when it comes to battery replacement. I don't believe the 7 year payback period takes that into account.

  27. @Johnny: I'd like to see any data you have on the number of hybrid cars that have required battery replacement. I'm not aware that it's broadly required, at least for the hybrids that have been sold in the U.S. since 2000.

    Toyota has said that the battery pack in its Prius hybrids is less frequently replaced than most other parts. Happy to look at data that tells a different story.

  28. It is natural to be concerned about battery replacement cost, but it turns out to be unnecessary.

    The Prius battery is warrenteed for 10 years/150,000miles in many states.

    The Prius has been used in Taxi service for as much as 250,000 miles with no need to replace the battery.

    This is made possible by very shallow cycling from 40% state-of-charge to 60% state-of-charge, which yields a very long life.

    We will have to see if BEV and EREVs have similar long lives, but at least for the Prius, the answer is well know by now, the battery will last a long time.

    Unfortunately, it has a lead-acid accessory battery that I did have to replace after 2 years for $200.

  29. oops, not 2 years, 6 years.

  30. You must be logged in to post your comment. I might be interrested to buy the plug-in version used in 2022 approx where i gonna be on the market for a well maintain used low cost green car.

  31. "If you're in the market for a five-door..."
    There's no such thing as a five door vehicle. No one enters or exits the vehicle through the hatch. It's a four door hatchback. Call it what it is.

  32. @MA: You're right, few people use the hatch as a door. But the industry convention is to say "four-door sedan" or "five-door hatchback," and that's what we're sticking with. Sorry.

  33. Wrong M A. The hatch is a door. I use it for pets and drunk people to enter n exit.

  34. It is an interesting point. The 1970's vintage station wagon had a back door that could be opened as a door. So it seems like more of a door, also kids actually sat back there at the time.

  35. I really like this car, but I hope the underperforming fuel economy is not the norm. Unfortunately this is 2 for 2 for hearing a C-Max did not meet the EPA.
    128% of EPA rating in my CR-Z.

  36. Quote from story: "And the interior is filled with useful cubbies, bins, and other storage areas, including small hidden compartments in the rear footwells."

    Where are the cubbies, bins and other storage areas? I test drove the C-Max, and it just might be the most spartan vehicle around among the ones purporting to be practical, along with the Focus and Escape.

    The driver only gets the basic door pocket and under armrest bin (which is tight). There are zero cubbies for the driver, and the cup holders weren't even that good.

    Those rear footwell compartments are not accessible from the driver's seat.

    The lack of storage cubbies is all the more egregious given the intrusiveness of the center console.

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