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Published: 09/17/2012 - by Kelly Toepke, News Editor
"My ex says I should look at the Volt to replace my Prius," reads the text message from Danielle.
"Uh, because that's what he wants. How bout a 2013 Ford C-Max?" we type back.
We bear no ill will toward the Chevy Volt, whose sharp bodywork and innovative drivetrain undoubtedly appeal to our friend's 40-something ex-husband. But having owned one for a year, this plug-in hybrid wouldn't be our top recommendation to a single mom like Danielle.
See, what she really wants is an updated version of what she already has — a comfortable, practical car that gets great gas mileage. Oh, and she wouldn't mind a little more room for her annual summer road trips with friends. Enter the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid.
Focus on a Taller Hybrid
On sale this month, the 2013 Ford C-Max is new to the U.S. market. It may sound exotic, but it's actually just a taller, hatchback-wagon variation on the latest Ford Focus. It's front-wheel drive and built on the same 104.3-inch platform, but unlike the Focus, the C-Max will come to the States as a hybrid only.
The roomy C-Max is a natural competitor to the Toyota Prius V, but at 173.6 inches long, the C-Max is nearly a foot shorter than the Toyota. What it lacks in length it makes up for in width and height, as it offers greater passenger volume and a more spacious feel than the Prius. Heck, Danielle could date a Stetson-wearing cowboy without asking him to remove his hat.
With the base C-Max Hybrid SE priced at $25,995, Ford already has a slight price advantage over the base Prius V, which starts at $27,310. But our SEL model adds an extra $3,000 before options.
We Want Our MPG
Rated at 47 mpg for both city and highway, the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid looks like it has a fuel mileage advantage over the Prius V, which has EPA ratings of 44 city/40 highway/42 combined.
But after nearly 400 miles in the C-Max, our real-world mpg hovers in the mid-30s. Meanwhile, the Prius V averaged 40.1 mpg during our testing.
Until we have an opportunity for more extensive fuel economy testing, it's hard to tell just how close these two hybrids are in this department.
Like many shoppers, Danielle doesn't care much about the "techie deets," as she calls them. She wants to know the basics so she can discuss her car intelligently with the dealership service writer and that's about it.
So the fact that the C-Max Hybrid is equipped with a 141-horsepower, Atkinson-cycle, 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder mated to a planetary-type continuously variable transmission (CVT) is probably not a topic she'll broach at a cocktail party, unless she's feeling particularly sassy.
Factor in the contributions of the C-Max's electric drive motor, which receives 35 kW (44 hp) from the Li-ion battery pack, and total system power jumps to 188 hp — a conspicuous 54-hp boost over the Prius V's net power rating. If you have a really light foot, those batteries can get the C-Max to 62 mph before the gas engine kicks in — a bit of trivia Danielle takes care to remember.
The gas engine alone delivers 129 pound-feet of torque. Ford has not released a combined torque rating, but the C-Max Hybrid provides solid midrange response on the highway. It's not particularly strong from a stop, though, a trait our test drivers observed at the track: "Pretty pokey off the line, but once under way, the C-Max gets with the program with a seamless blending of engine/electric motor power."
The C-Max delivers a 0-60-mph time of 8.1 seconds (7.7 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip). Now, Danielle doesn't know if that's good or bad, but once we're on the freeway, she definitely notices that the C-Max is about 2 seconds quicker to 60 mph than the Prius V and her aging 2004 Prius.
Stop Me if...
There's no doubt the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid's disc brakes feel a little touchy when you first hit the pedal. The transition between the car's conventional friction brakes and the hybrid system's regenerative braking, first discussed in our Ford C-Max Hybrid First Drive, isn't optimal. But after a few stops in the neighborhood, you learn to modulate the pedal, and things feel much smoother.
Braking distances matter, too, of course. However, Danielle isn't that bothered when we tell her the C-Max Hybrid takes 134 feet to stop from 60 mph — 3 feet longer than the last Prius V we tested — because we're able to assure her that the Ford stops straight under duress while its brakes do a fair job of resisting fade.
Although the C-Max's steering feels normal and not artificially electric as in some hybrids, the car feels like it has an exceptionally wide turning radius. We find ourselves doing multipoint turns just to get into the Starbucks drive-thru. When we look up the actual turning circle reported by Ford, we're genuinely surprised to see it's just 35.8 feet, a typical number for a car this size.
Otherwise, the C-Max offers a pleasant, if uneventful drive. Handling is steady around turns, but Ford has sized up potential customers like Danielle and decided they won't care if the stability control system doesn't turn off, limiting the hybrid wagon to a modest 0.75g on the skid pad and 62.6 mph through the slalom. Notably, though, the C-Max Hybrid is still more than 3 mph quicker through the cones than the Prius V.
Everyone Feels at Home
Smooth and quiet describes the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid's ride. Even the CVT is unobtrusive as it makes continual adjustments to blend the C-Max's gasoline and electric power sources.
Adding to our sense of well-being is the tall hybrid's airy, spacious cabin. Whereas the Focus feels like a conventional small hatchback, the C-Max offers a massive amount of headroom and an almost eerie level of visibility out the front. The driving position is exceptionally comfortable, too — an upgrade from the slightly awkward perch in the Prius.
The sheer height of the C-Max's windshield makes Danielle feel as if she's hurtling down a roller coaster, with a clear view of both the clouds and the road ahead. It doesn't take her long to settle into the 10-way power driver seat, and she's a fan of the dark gray leather interior with its white contrasting stitching. Later, she verifies that her preferred liter-size bottle of water fits in the C-Max Hybrid's small center console.
Her 12-year-old daughter notices the dual-zone automatic climate control (standard on all C-Max Hybrids), which subsequently prevents a mother-daughter argument over cabin temperature — apparently an almost daily occurrence in their Prius, which offers only a single zone. The tween also sniffs out not one, but two USB ports in the console, as well as two 110-volt power outlets.
Danielle takes a shine to our test car's voice-activated navigation system with integrated traffic updates and Sirius/XM Travel Link, but then she sees the $2,215 price tag (it drops to $1,695 after a package discount) on the 302A Rapid Spec option package, which also includes a Sony audio system with HD radio and nine speakers, a hands-free power liftgate, rearview camera and keyless start. She decides the base SEL package might be enough technology for their needs.
Will the Table Fit?
Since Danielle is "Table Mom" for her daughter's volleyball team, she's also looking to fit a 6-foot table that folds in half into the C-Max's rear hatch. No problem.
Even though the C-Max doesn't offer as much cargo capacity as the Prius V (52.6 cubic feet versus 67.3 with the 60/40-split rear seats folded down), there's still plenty of room to load the table, plus a sack of practice volleyballs, a large ice chest and two adult-size folding chairs. For day-to-day use, the 24.5 cubic feet behind the C-Max's backseat is a nice step up from her second-gen Prius hatch's 14.4 cubes.
Dollars and Sense
There's no denying that Danielle prefers the added space of the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid over her old Prius hatchback. And for slightly less money than a comparably equipped Toyota Prius V, she could have a C-Max Hybrid that offers pretty much everything she wants — great fuel mileage, good acceleration, a comfortable cabin and enough utility to take on light-duty hauling jobs.
Although she's slightly put off by the C-Max's lack of maneuverability at her favorite coffee place and suspects she might not get its EPA-rated 47 mpg very often, neither shortcoming is enough to dissuade her from liking the Ford.
It's the C-Max Hybrid's all-around package that makes it such a compelling alternative to the Prius, Prius V and yes, even the Volt, all of which are more narrowly focused on maximizing efficiency. Driving a 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid doesn't make quite the same image statement, but if your priorities are anything like Danielle's, it might be the most practical hybrid out there.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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