New for 2013, the five-passenger, five-door C-Max Hybrid hatchback has a fuel economy rating of 47/47 mpg city/highway that beats the 44/44-mpg rating of the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid and the 44/40-mpg rating of the 2012 Toyota Prius v.
Only the long-running regular Prius, with a government rating of 51/48 mpg, is higher.
Where the Prius’ round-nosed plain styling has not changed appreciably in recent years, however, the C-Max has fresh, modern looks. The car features a comfortably raised driving position for good views out, optional high-grade amenities and smart tech displays and aids to help drivers get the most from every tank of gas.
As an example, the C-Max’s Brake Coach monitors the amount of energy a driver recoups during stops.
Did the car gather 65 percent of the brake energy in that last stop, or did the driver apply the pedal just right so 95 percent of the brake energy could be saved and stored in the battery? Brake Coach knows and tells via a dashboard display at each stop.
The C-Max Hybrid comes to the United States with a starting price that’s just a bit above long-running and smaller hybrid cars such as the Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid. The C-Max starts $1,350 below the Prius v, which, as a vanlike vehicle, is the closest direct competitor to the flexible, people- and cargo-hauling C-Max hatchback.
The starting price, including destination charge, for a base 2013 C-Max Hybrid SE is $25,995.
Every model has a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor and lithium-ion battery for total power output of 188 horsepower.
A driver does not plug in the vehicle, because electric power is generated, stored and then routed out of the battery pack.
A plug-in version of the C-Max, called the C-Max Energi, is slated to debut later in the model year.
Ford Motor Co. was the first U.S.-based automaker to venture into mass-produced gas-electric hybrids years ago with its Escape Hybrid.
Though the Escape Hybrid was a version of the regular gasoline-powered Escape sport utility vehicle, the C-Max is Ford’s first hybrid-only line of vehicles.
Given the vehicle’s attributes, it could prove to be the biggest competitor to the Japan-built Prius line, which is the top-selling gas-electric hybrid.
The C-Max Hybrid looks more compact than it is. At 14.5 feet long, it’s shorter than a regular Prius and is about the same length as a Honda Civic Hybrid sedan.
But with total passenger volume of nearly 100 cubic feet and maximum cargo volume of 52.6 cubic feet with rear seats folded flat, the C-Max Hybrid easily bests the Prius and Civic sedan in interior and cargo volume.
For example, with tall-riding back seats that provide more rear-seat headroom and legroom than the Prius and Civic sedan, the C-Max Hybrid has pleasant passenger room, even for back-seat riders.
The tall ceiling keeps passengers from feeling confined and helps make entry and exit stress-free. The C-Max styling, inside and out, appears to have more attention to high-line details than the Prius v and doesn’t feel like a large, plastic-filled box.
Don’t expect a speedster, though. Like the Prius, the C-Max utilizes a four-cylinder engine with Atkinson cycle, so it’s tuned for fuel economy.
The electric motor provides zip at startups and contributes along the way at other speeds, when needed.
What was most impressive is how seamlessly the gas engine and electric motor worked together, meshing power without a hiccup or hesitation.
The combined power, from C-Max engine and motor, totals 188 horses, and in a car that weighs some 3,600 pounds, this is adequate.
But when filled with people and cargo and going uphill, the test C-Max felt – and sounded – taxed.
A few nits: Tires conveyed road noise and the ride felt rigid on some rough road surfaces. The windshield is so large, the wiper on the passenger side leaves a sizable triangle of glass untouched. The turning circle is bigger than it is in some large cars.
And any aggressive pushing on the gas pedal hurt attempts to get 47 mpg. The test car, in nearly equal city/highway travel, averaged 38 mpg.
Still, it was enough for a travel range of more than 500 miles.