To say that the Toyota Prius has sold well would be an understatement. Toyota could've copyrighted the word "hybrid," since the Prius has become the unofficial poster child for the green car segment. But other automakers also play the hybrid game. Ford, for example, has had an electrified version of the Fusion since 2010, and next year, the 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid will be available, too.
"What's a C-MAX?" you might ask. While it might sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, this fuel-sipping compact hatchback has been in Ford's European lineup since 2003. Built on the Ford Focus platform, the 2013 version of the C-MAX is the first to hit American dealerships, and it's the first model year to include a hybrid drivetrain, too.
From the outside, it looks slightly larger than the Prius, but slightly smaller than the Prius V. Its aggressive, Euro-hatchback styling is something you'll notice immediately about the C-MAX Hybrid. The overstated front grill with the sweeping body lines looks a lot like the newer designs coming from Ford, a la Focus and the 2013 Fusion. That is, until you look at the giant rear hatch, of course, which can be opened via the foot-activated hands-free lift gate.
If the European exterior styling doesn't win you over, the simplicity and well-laid-out interior might just do it for you. The vehicle's high roofline gives the cabin a spacious feel, despite the fact that we'd still consider the C-MAX to be a compact car. The front doors open to a full 90-degree angle and the seats are extremely easy to slide into. The 2013 Ford C-MAX's dash is simple and easy to navigate, and we didn't have any issues reaching the buttons while sitting behind the wheel.
One drawback to the C-MAX's unique styling was the massive A-pillar, and while it doesn't really hinder your vision, it took some getting used to. The Microsoft SYNC system wasn't as intuitive as we'd like, and we found ourselves repeating phrases like a robot when trying to switch between songs on our iPod. On the positive side, the features you'd like to see are all there, and the navigation was extremely easy to see from the driver's seat, while still being accessible from the passenger seat. While the rear seats felt a little snug, the rear storage area was large enough to fit three full-size carry-on suitcases and then some.
We drove the C-MAX Hybrid through Los Angeles and took to the hills above the Pacific Coastal Highway to get a feel of how the C-MAX performs in all conditions. While the C-MAX boasts 50 more horsepower than the Toyota Prius, it achieves similar fuel economy. We managed to squeak out 49 mpg after a full day with the C-MAX, and that's nothing to shrug at. We really didn't find ourselves longing for more power as with most hybrids, and the extra horsepower really came in handy on the hills and highways. The C-MAX felt balanced on the windy roads, and the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and CVT kept the power up and shifts smooth.
The C-MAX makes the most out of its resources, and coincidentally it asks the same from the driver. The gauges provide constant feedback on how efficiently you're using the accelerator and brakes in order to train the driver to get better fuel economy.
The C-MAX Hybrid is sure to make some noise when it hits the US market later this year, and its base price starts right around $28,000. If you're in the market for a well-rounded hybrid with impressive fuel economy and room for weekend road trips, the 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid might be just right for you.