No Prius Killer

As much as we enthusiasts like to rail on the lowly Toyota Prius as the harbinger of death for all we hold dear, there's no denying the machine's absolute and interminable grip on the hybrid market in the United States. Toyota has so thoroughly sunk its teeth into the segment that you can clearly hear the automaker's incisors clacking against one another with the conclusion of each financial quarter. And there's little wonder why. Buyers can plop down less than $25,000 and have a runabout that can return up to an estimated 51 miles per gallon in the city, leaving every other entry on the market with precious little gristle to gnaw on.

Enter the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid. With its claimed 47 mpg combined, the funky little hatch from Europe already falls behind the 48 mpg city offered by the Prius, but that marginal sacrifice in fuel economy could be a small price to pay for buyers who want a credible alternative to the stalwart Toyota. Unfortunately, like the Fusion Hybrid, the C-Max Hybrid had trouble even approaching its Environmental Protection Agency estimates during our time with the car.
2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid side view2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid front 3/4 view2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid rear 3/4 view

It hasn't lost any of its weirdness in the translation from European people mover to North American subcompact.

Outside, Ford has grafted its corporate nose onto a plucky little two-box shape. With its short wheelbase and cavernous headroom inside, the C-Max Hybrid can't help but look more than a bit inflated, lurking somewhere between hatchback and minivan forms, though the 17-inch wheels on this machine help take some of the bloat out of the vehicle's appearance. The C-Max certainly hasn't lost any of its weirdness in the translation from European people mover to North American subcompact, but the Aston Martin-esque lower grille and swept headlights help the machine look fairly attractive up front. Around back, hexagonal taillamps help distinguish the C-Max as a Ford product, and the large hatch hints at an easy time loading or unloading cargo.

The C-Max does offer an attractive and comfortable cabin with a familiar, contoured steering wheel laden with various redundant controls. Occupants up front are treated to decently bolstered and comfortable front seats with contrast stitching, though the swept center stack does impede on knee room a bit.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid headlight2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid grille2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid wheel2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid taillight

As with other Ford products equipped with MyFord Touch, the C-Max Hybrid boasts a sharp instrument cluster with two small LCD screens set to either side of the speedometer. The screens can be configured to display a variety of information ranging from fuel economy and trip data to climate control and radio settings.

Fortunately, the C-Max Hybrid doesn't rely solely on the touchscreen to control audio and climate settings. Ford has given buyers honest buttons and dials for quick manipulation of both, which means the driver can circumvent MyFord Touch at his or her discretion. We probably don't need to expound on how much that setup means to some of us.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid interior2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid front seats2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid rear seats2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid rear cargo area

Fold the back bench down and cargo capacity jumps to 52.6 cubes, handily besting the base Prius.

The back seat offers serviceable space for full-grown adults, thanks in no small part to that epic headroom. There's 39.4 inches of room for Sputnik-sized craniums even in the back, and with 24.5 cubic-feet of cargo area behind the second row, the C-Max Hybrid brings plenty of utility to the table. Fold the back bench down and that number jumps to 52.6 cubes, handily besting the base Prius. Line the C-Max Hybrid up against the bigger and more similar-looking Prius V, however, and the Ford falters badly, with the larger Toyota delivering 67.3 cu-ft of cargo room with the second row folded. The C-Max also suffers from a fairly tall rear floor, which means loading heavy cargo takes a bit more effort than we'd like.

The C-Max Hybrid does offer up solid acceleration thanks to a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and AC synchronous electric motor combination. The internal combustion mill is good for 141 horsepower and 129 pound-feet of torque, though adding in the electric motor ups the final tally to 188 ponies. That's enough to get the 3,640-pound hybrid down the road without being a traffic obstruction. The run to 60 miles per hour takes less than 10 seconds, which is more than adequate for daily driving.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid engine

We managed an average of 35.6 mpg with a peak of 40.6 mpg.

On the highway, the hatchback is quiet enough for long-distance travel, and the fact that the driveline can seamlessly drop into an EV mode at speeds of up to 62 miles per hour is fantastic. Jump off the four lane and head for hill country and the C-Max delivers decent steering, though the vehicle's regenerative brakes aren't exactly what we'd call progressive. When a manufacturer figures out how to build a hybrid with decent stoppers, we'll make sure they get a sizable gift basket in thanks. Go for the brakes in the C-Max and it's as if the car can't decide how much brake force to serve up at any given time. The result is what feels like an unpredictable stopping distance.

And what of that 47-mpg combined rating? Over our week with the C-Max Hybrid, the hatchback managed to yield a disappointing average of 35.6 mpg with a peak of 40.6 mpg. As with the Fusion Hybrid, the averages we recorded are a country mile from factory estimates. Yes, our week with the car fell in February, but temperatures ranged from the mid 40s to low 50s, and while apologists will point to winter fuel blends and cooler temperatures as the culprits behind the lackluster fuel economy, we can tell you none of the other hybrids we tested over the winter suffered a 14-percent drop in performance. Owners themselves report similar numbers, with – a site that lets owners track their fuel economy and displays the aggregate as an average – showing a 38.8-mpg average for the C-Max.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid rear 3/4 view

Ford offers the C-Max Hybrid in two trims: SE starting at $25,200 and SEL, which kindly asks $28,365, excluding a $795 delivery fee, for a set of keys. Our particular C-Max Hybrid, an SEL with navigation, power liftgate and rearview camera, weighed in at $31,210 with that destination charge. That price is within reach of a comparably equipped Prius or Prius V, but we can't say the C-Max Hybrid is so much better than either of those offerings that it offsets the disappointing fuel economy and is worth a buyer's wad of cash.

Could it be that Ford built both the C-Max Hybrid and the Fusion Hybrid not with the goal of outselling either the Prius or the Camry Hybrid, but rather in an attempt to bolster its Corporate Average Fuel Economy rating? A pair of EPA-estimated 47-mpg models would certainly do just that, even if real-world performance falls well under the tested average.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      I always assumed that Ford designed the power train to ace the EPA testing. But it never occurred to me that the reason they did that was to meet EPA/CAFE regulations. Smart move by Ford. Unfortunately they did so by compromising real world drive-ability. So as more and more tests - and consumers - show that their new hybrid system is very difficult to make hit the EPA ratings, people will simply stop buying the car. I think Ford should have aimed higher and made sure that real world testing results were closer to what they got in their EPA testing. I can appreciate the C-Max being quieter and more fun to drive than the Prius, but people buy these things first and foremost for great gas mileage. Had they been more competitive with real world MPG numbers, the other positives of the C-Max would have made it a much better option.
        • 2 Years Ago
        What a lame excuse! If other companies can meet CAFE requirements without lying, why can't Ford? Prius gives better mileage and doesn't have to lie.
      • 2 Years Ago
      On the one hand, I understand just how complex the issue of fuel economy is. So many factors play a part - everything from weather, gas, roads, type of trip, and the all-important driver - can swing economy numbers rather dramatically. Because of that, I always take it with a huge grain of salt when some reviewer says they got dramatically better or worse than the EPA numbers. BUT, on the other hand, too many of these car companies seem to like to game the system just so they have some artificially high mileage numbers to advertise. Because they are sooo quick to advertise those big mileage numbers, carmakers should be taken to task as to why getting those results are so damn hard to replicate in real life. When people hear "you mileage may vary", they expect mileage maybe +/- 10% of the numbers on the sticker... not closer to 25%. That's a massive difference.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Michael Scherping
      • 2 Years Ago
      that sucks. How hard can it be for Ford to match or best Toyota in this department? Really?!?!
      Andy Johnson
      • 2 Years Ago
      We just filled our new C-Max up for the 1st time with 479 miles on the odometer in a mix of city & highway driving. Apparently the car likes warm weather -- took exactly 10 gallons of regular for a 47.9 MPG result. If you drive the car the way it is meant to be driven, it can hit the EPA estimates.
      Michael Larsson
      • 2 Years Ago
      Having owned a C-Max Hybrid for 7 weeks now and over 6,400km (4,000m) on the clock now, I am ready to write a review. I originally bought the C-Max after having a rental Prius from AZ to CA and was amazed by the concept but hated the look of being a tree-huger and the low ceiling. Having driven ford focus's in the UK years back, I always loved the handling. Firstly, living in Canada I noticed the C-Max was advertised at 4l/100km, this is equal to 58.8MPG (US). - This is clearly incorrect and I dismissed this claim and went with the US statistic of 47MPG (US) which is 5l/100km. The figure of 5 is the correct figure. So how is my performance? - To be honest, the first 1,800km (1,125m) was poor, seeing 6.8l/100km (34.6MPG). I read that I should stick with it as the engine has to break-in. - I did. After breaking past 2,500km (1,563m) the performance totally changed and continued to improve. Through using the breaking coach and the "Engage" menu I analyzed how the car was performing. I am now averaging between 4.5l/100km (52.2MPG) in city and 5.5l/100km (42.8MPG) on the freeway. Note that being of British origin I tend to exceed the posted limit of 100kmph (60MPG) by 15%-20% if conditions are suitable. - Once you are going, the momentum and gearing keeps you going efficiently. So, being a bit lead footed, this should not be possible you say? - Here are some of the driving tricks I have been using. - They are pretty common sense but it makes a huge difference to the fuel economy. Fast starts. - Yes, at the lights, the light changes, fast start, then when up to just over the speed I want to be, release accelerator and count to 3, then ease in. - The automatic is now in a higher gear, rather than pushing the car to the max of each gear as you slowly accelerate. - This makes a HUGE difference!!! Good breaking. - I always like to keep a good distance and allow my passengers to have a comfortable drive. Using the breaking coach by breaking is smoother and getting 100% score most of the time, adding extra charge. Using the electric mode wisely. - The "Engage" menu shows the power usage, including battery. - Drive better to improve the battery use instead of draining it. Having the windows slightly open instead of the aircon on full blast. - Turning off the heated passenger seat when no-one is sat there. To summarize, I think fords results are pretty fair. - If I can average these results then anyone can. - I do think however Ford could improve the coding in the hybrid system to smooth the gear changes better, as it is not smooth or efficient enough and requires you to over accelerate in order for it to increase the gear. I have the totally packed out SEL with every extra after saying goodbye to my beloved GMC Acadia Denali which averaged a very poor 14.7l/100km (16MPG). Previous gas spend $500, current gas spend $177. I'm a happy bunny and I love the drive of the C-Max too! - Even if I am the only C-Max driver in Calgary.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I am a contractor who uses my C-Max for work every day. I'm getting 45-47 highway miles and 50-52 city miles. Because I use it for work this car is always loaded. Sometimes ladders on the roof racks. I also currently own a Prius and I've found that I prefer the C-Max. Can you get lower mileage? It's a mechanical machine so of course what you do with it affects it's performance. This constant comparison to Prius miss's the point that there are obviously people who enjoy the car and get great mileage besides. You seem to have gotten less but I know for myself that once I had over 2600 miles on the car the mileage went up significantly. It now has 11,500 miles and I have no complaints.
        • 11 Months Ago

        Good to know. I am thinking of getting one. 2015 Camry Hybrid has better EPA figures so that kind of has me jammed up. Ha!

        I love the European hatchback look/style as I drive a 2003 Suzuki Aerio SX AWD.

      up north
      • 2 Years Ago
      We have owned our C-Max for about 6 months now (14,000 miles). I love it! Inside head room is terrific. The easy in/out seating is a + for those of us with hip/knee issues who no longer want to sit down into a car. The gee-whiz electronics are amazing, everthing can be done hands-free which I really like, but, as was pointed out earlier, the buttons area there if you want them. The car has great pep when you pull out to pass---no slug here. The back end hatch back is great when your hands are full of bags. The kick under opening occasionally requires a second kick, and stand to the side, as if it detects you are in the way, it will unlock, but won't pop up. You are correct that the mileage is not what we had hoped. We just traveled from FL to MN, all freeway, cruise set at 75 and averaged 36.5. But during our 5 months in FL, with some highway, some city we learned that if the majority of your driving is under 60 mph, we were averaging 42 mpg. The only other "complaint" is the lack of a tight turn, as in u-turn. Our large extended cab pickup has about the same turning cycle, so don't think you can whip around on a narrow road. All in all, I'm sold. Just rode in our friend's new hybrid Lexus, and wouldn't trade for the world---low, squatty and noisy. We're hoping the mileage contiues to improve, but if we can average 40mpg we're happy. Up North
      • 2 Years Ago
      Li-Ion batteries are the culprit. Cold temp + E10 fuel = diminished MPG for Hybrid, reduced range for EVs. Any other Li-Ion powertrain hybrids/EVs experiencing the same MPG issues? Wait, ALL of them? Indeed. No Li-Ion batteries, no huge derivation from EPA estimates.
        James L. Edwards
        • 2 Years Ago
        MPG is also effected by Buying Lower Quality Cheaper Gas! Try to Stay with Brand Name Fuels! Cheaper Suppliers most likely use more Ethanol which does not burn as efficiently! I noticed a big increase in Gas mileage when I used a slightly higher cost Brand Name Product!
      • 13 Days Ago
      Its very impressive.See more on columbus ohio dui lawyer
      • 11 Months Ago

      Just read that the 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid gets better EPA ratings.

      So what is it about the C-Max that lends it credence to be considered a better buy than the bigger sedan?

      (and I hate Camry's and am considering buying a C-Max)

      • 2 Years Ago
      Gees, 35.6 mpg! And now merlot066 + his legion of multiple accounts will tell us how it's perfectly acceptable for anything below room temperature will cause Ford's powertrains to become roughly 25% less fuel efficient. And if anyone were to think of that as ludicrous, they will be voted down by his MA army.
        • 2 Years Ago
        Thanks for the shout out. Gees, 62 mpg! That's what MPG-o-matic got when they tested the C-Max. They also got as low as 31.9 MPG on a cold day. Making the same commute for a long period of time his C-Max settled nicely between 41.1-47.5 MPG with temperature having a huge affect on his numbers. "Temperature appears to be a significant factor, not just in initial warm-up, but in over-the-road performance. The system prevents EV mode when the engine cools down, while en route on colder days. This is likely to be a system safeguard." Other cars have achieved dismal numbers in testing as well. The Camry hybrid returned 30 MPG when tested by Car and Driver and the Sonata hybrid returned 27 MPG. The previous Fusion had no problem hitting 41 MPG in the real world with Ford's old hybrid powertrain. The new hybrid powertrain features a new, smaller, more efficient gas engine, a new more efficient eCVT, a higher capacity battery, a significant reduction in weight, and lower Cd in new models equipped with it. Ford's new hybrid powertrain is very sensitive to ambient temperature. How many other Li-Ion hybrids are there to compare this to? None. Nobody has extensively reviewed the new Civic or CR-Z. Other Li-Ion vehicles like the Leaf are having huge issues in cold and hot weather. Owners in Texas are reporting capacity losses of up to 40% after just two years. Leaf taxi owners in Japan are refusing to turn the heater on in the winter because the range is so dismal in the cold. Go ahead and down vote me for making a valid point. I'm pretty much done beating this dead horse. Ford is selling these in huge numbers and the majority of owners are completely satisfied with them. It's nothing more than a vocal minority (backed by greedy lawyers) and morons with a keyboard who have no experience with hybrids whatsoever.
          Old Dude
          • 2 Years Ago
          I hope they pay you well.
          • 2 Years Ago
          \"Ford is selling these in huge numbers\"? HUH? they sold 3600 in April and have sold 13K this year. Not bad but not huge numbers. The fact is most people are getting much worse MPG\'s than the EPA estimates.
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