Pros: Unique styling stands out in a crowd; it's hard to argue with 47 mpg, combined; compact exterior, spacious interior and second row in-floor storage make it a practical workhorse.
Cons: The Ford Focus, on which the C-MAX is based, can be had for far less--proving that the hybrid premium is still alive and well; MyFord Touch infotainment system isn't as intuitive as it could be; seating position might be too high for some.
What's New: The 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, which is based on the Focus platform, was previously available in Europe bundled with gasoline or diesel powerplants. Seeing an opportunity to stake a claim among U.S. buyers, this 5-door uses the same hybrid powertrain as the Fusion Hybrid and incorporates a number of crossover-like features to attract an audience in this niche segment.
The all-new 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid takes aim at Toyota's $26,550 Prius v, and many of its features are clearly intended to undercut its Japanese competitor--especially, its $25,200 pricing. One of the C-MAX's key selling points is its fuel economy rating of 47-mpg city and highway, which bests the Toyota's by up to 7 mpg. Those figures are strong enough to give it an impressive total cruising range of 570 miles, despite the fact that the C-MAX also produces more power than the Prius v. If the C-MAX's fuel economy numbers sound familiar, it's because they're identical to those of the Fusion Hybrid, which shares the same powertrain.
In this narrow but growing segment, Ford offers a compact crossover-like silhouette whose hunchbacked proportions enable five passengers to be seated comfortably. If you're looking for a similar ride that's even thriftier on fuel, the C-MAX will also be available in an Energi plug-in hybrid model that boasts a 620-mile range and up to 21 miles of driving in electric-only mode. While the C-MAX Hybrid is available now, the Energi variant won't be in showrooms until late 2012.
Comfort & Utility
Functionality is the name of the game with the C-MAX, and a number of features are focused on making this a smaller but more practical alternative to a crossover. Interior space is generous: 24.5 cu ft of cargo volume is available behind the 60/40 split second row, and 52.6 cu ft are available behind the first row.
While the C-MAX SE comes standard with handy features, including underfloor storage beneath the second row of seats, Equipment Group 201A (catchy, huh?) adds a power liftgate and a reverse sensing system for $795. Sirius XM, Sync and MyFord Touch come with Equipment Group 202A ($455), while 203A bundles both of those packages along with navigation for a total of $1,995.
Opt for the SEL model, starting at $28,200, and you'll get the SE's features along with Sync/MyFord Touch, satellite radio and leather seats. Other convenience options include a pleasant panoramic roof, a hands-free activated liftgate that operates with a swipe of the foot, a rearview camera and active park assist, not to mention heated seats and remote start.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Ford C-MAX is powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that runs on the Atkinson cycle, which produces more efficient operation. The 141-horsepower gas burning powerplant works in conjunction with an electric motor running on lithium-ion batteries to produce a total of 188 hp--54 more hp than its nearest competitor, the Prius v.
Requiring only regular unleaded gas, the C-MAX achieves an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating of 47-mpg city and highway, which squeezes an estimated cruising range of 570 miles from its diminutive 13.5-gallon fuel tank.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not published crash test results for the Ford C-MAX Hybrid, but its standard list of safety features suggests it should go a long way toward protecting occupants in the event of a collision. Standard safety features include stability and roll stability control, as well as seven airbags, one situated at the driver's knees.
Climb inside the C-MAX's cabin and you'll likely be struck by how high the seat sits relative to the floor. This feels like a mini-SUV, which can be a good thing for those who appreciate heightened visibility, or a not-so-good thing for drivers accustomed to sportier, lower-slung sedans. At least the arched roof creates ample headroom, all but eradicating claustrophobia in the cabin, while an acoustic laminate windshield creates an exceptionally quiet ride.
Our tester was equipped with leather seating, navigation/rearview camera, keyless entry and a power liftgate; its MSRP rang in at $31,085, and the interior felt every bit as premium as its price suggests. It's easy to pull the shifter into the "L" position unintentionally, which keeps the continuously variable transmission in a relatively short ratio for quick acceleration, increases engine braking and yields greater brake regeneration to more aggressively charge the batteries. Acceleration is surprisingly strong for a hybrid, with enough torque passing through the front wheels to spin the low-rolling resistance tires when the accelerator pedal is mashed from a standstill. While Ford claims EV-only propulsion is possible at speeds up to 62 mph, we weren't so lucky in our real world test. With the air conditioning running and an itchy right foot, we only coaxed about 30 mph of electric power before the internal combustion engine kicked in. At least the transition was smooth and almost imperceptible, which suggests that Ford engineers have done their homework in developing a well-engineered hybrid powertrain.
Other Cars to Consider
Lexus CT 200h: A more upscale option, this $31,850 5-door offers a less functional, sportier take on the hybrid paradigm with typical Lexus touches like a surprisingly smooth ride and well-insulated cabin.
Mazda5: Because few competitors can be found in this fledgling segment, we're including the Mazda5 as an option, mostly for its similarly laid-out, wagon-like configuration. Starting at $19,625, the Mazda is considerably cheaper, and its 21/28-mpg fuel economy rating means it will take quite a few miles of driving to close the gap to its hybrid-powered alternatives.
Toyota Prius v: This competitor is more than eight inches longer than the C-MAX but nearly two inches lower, offering a slightly less airy feeling within the cabin; however, the more pertinent point here is the issue of fuel economy and pricing, two areas where the C-MAX barely edges out the Prius.
This new kid on the block is a welcome alternative to the usual hybrid suspects, and Ford has done an admirable job of building a 5-door with surprising utility, respectable performance and impressive fuel economy. Toyota has reason for concern with Ford's new C-MAX. It makes a compelling case for the Blue Oval not only because it's a fresh face in a segment that's been traditionally dominated by the Japanese manufacturer but also because it combines both practicality and driving satisfaction in an efficient, well-finished package.