2013 Ford C-MAX Road Test Review
By Tim Healey
Ford's 2013 C-MAX Hybrid has flown sort of under the radar--we'd almost forgotten about the vehicle until we received our invitation to drive it at the company's press preview--but after spending a day driving it in Southern California, we think it might soon be getting a wee bit more press.
Built to compete with the Toyota Prius V, the C-MAX is basically a cross between a Focus and an Escape with a hybrid powertrain (a plug-in hybrid, dubbed the C-MAX Energi, is planned for the near future).
Ford invited us to Los Angeles and its surrounding environs to test out the C-MAX among the glitterati and paparazzi, and we found that this new player in the hybrid game presents some intriguing questions to hybrid buyers.
Powered by a 2.0-liter gas engine paired with an electric motor (lithium-ion batteries supply the charge, marking the first time Ford has used them in a hybrid), the C-MAX is a four-door, five-seat compact crossover that won't be available with a non-hybrid powertrain.
Available in two trims, SE and SEL, C-MAX offers features such as: Ford's MyFordTouch and Sync infotainment systems, a hands-free power liftgate, in-floor storage, dual-zone climate control, a USB port, Bluetooth, a capless fuel-filler, keyless entry, Ford's MyKey security key, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, 17-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, an EcoGuide that tells the driver how efficiently he/she is driving, satellite radio, a reverse-sensing system, ambient interior lighting, a push-button start, and a park-assist system.
Prices start at $25,500 for the SE and $28,200 for the SEL. The SE we tested, which included MyFordTouch, the power liftgate, and a reverse-sensing system, cost $27,990, including the $795 destination fee.
On the Road
The C-MAX's hybrid powertrain puts out 141 horsepower from the gas engine (that power uses a continuously-variable automatic transmission, or CVT, to get to the ground), and 188 total when combined with the electric motor. Total system torque is listed at 129 lb-ft. That's enough to move the C-MAX smartly around town, but it's only adequate for blasting from corner to corner on the back roads. The C-MAX also seems to run out of breath when accelerating at higher speeds, like one might need to do when passing on the highway.
Where the C-MAX shines is in ride and handling. The ride is sporty but never overly stiff, and the C-MAX offers nicely weighted steering with a precision accuracy rarely found in this class. The brakes also do a nice job slowing the proceedings, but they do get a bit spongy in initial pedal travel. Overall, this front-driver is pretty sprightly in the corners.
Wind and road noise is generally subdued, although some does trickle through, especially at highway speed.
The interior will be familiar to anyone who's spent time in the Focus or Escape. It's handsome for the class, and for once, MyFordTouch worked seamlessly. The high seating position lends an SUV air to the C-MAX, and headroom and legroom up front were adequate if not extraordinary. We liked the panoramic sunroof on the SEL trim we drove, and the underfloor storage in the cargo area is nice, even if the load floor is flat.
The hands-free tailgate is handy, but one must have the key fob in his or her pocket to make it work, and it's hard to find the right spot to "kick" at the bumper to activate the sensor. Yes, that's right, waving your foot under the rear bumper activates the hands-free tailgate.
We found the design to be a bit of a plainer version of the Escape, but we still liked it, especially when parked next to a Prius. It's not a head turner, but drivers won't be ashamed to be seen, either.
Fuel Economy & Safety
The C-MAX has the standard complement of airbags plus a driver's knee airbag to go along with traction control, stability control, roll stability control, and a brake-assist system.
The C-MAX is rated at 47 mpg (city and highway). We saw 35.6 during the first part of our drive, no doubt due to lead feet, but some journalists on our launch were reporting numbers in the 60s.
The C-MAX isn't particularly striking to non-hybrid buyers (we'd love to drive this thing with an EcoBoost gas engine, but we'll have to settle for the Escape instead) but it does present a fun-to-drive alternative to the Prius V. If we had to go hybrid, this one would be high on the list.
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