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2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL Road Test

The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL goes tire-to-tire with the Toyota Prius V, but does it come out on top?

What It Is
A hybrid hatchback that offers a comfortable and quiet drive, whether you're on the city streets or highway.
Best Thing
It's a comfortable, roomy hybrid, even if the interior is too cluttered.
Worst Thing
Getting the estimated fuel economy, even while following its driving suggestions, was difficult.
Snap Judgment
Not as fuel efficient at the Toyota Prius, but it's definitely a better drive.


Raised around Toyota vehicles and gaining favoritism for the brand, I've never been a huge fan of Ford. In spite of this, I was pleasantly surprised when I first got behind the wheel of the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid. I hadn't driven the car before it came in, aside from a commercial which I ignored. The vehicle has plenty of room for passengers, a black leather interior, and although it had a cluttered dash, the overall feeling was one of comfort. It was even a decent drive. On the freeway, the C-Max had plenty of power to reach highway speeds, and when just driving around the city, it was quiet and comfortable.

The C-Max is one of Ford's entries into the hybrid segment, and comparing it to the Toyota Prius, The C-Max has a much more comfortable and quiet drive. You don't feel all the bumps and dips in the road like you do in the Prius, but the C-Max doesn't get as good fuel economy. The C-Max is the Prius' first real competitor, and although Honda attempted to break into this segment with its Insight, it wasn't a pure hybrid and failed to become a major competitor. So did the C-Max manage to claim the title of best hybrid from the Prius? We got behind the wheel of a 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL for a week to find out.

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What We Drove

We drove the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL, with a base price of $28,200, not including the $795 destination charge. Standard features included the regenerative braking system, SYNC with MyFord Touch, AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control, and seven airbags including a driver's knee airbag. Leather seating and ambient lighting also came at no extra charge on our SEL model, along with blind spot detection.

Our C-Max added on a $2,215 option package that included MyFord Touch premium audio, navigation, and hands-free technology; a power liftgate you can operate by waving your foot underneath the rear bumper; a rearview camera; and keyless entry. Throw the Ruby Red Metallic exterior color on top of that and you have to add an additional $395. The total came to $31,605, but thanks to a built-in discount, the price as-tested ended up being $31,085.

Safety features included much of what you would expect on any vehicle right now; the airbags, and stability control, as well as a perimeter alarm, SOS post-crash alert system, reverse sensing system, and security anti-theft engine immobilizer.

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The Commute

I drove the Ford C-Max Hybrid from El Segundo to Huntington Beach, with the rear seats folded down and a dog the size of a small horse in the back. I like my cars to be able to accommodate him, and the C-Max had no problem. Although the battery pack raises the floor just a little bit, he could still stand to his full height--with his head ducked--and move around, even with his crate and all my other weekend necessities in the back.

The Ford C-Max Hybrid has a lot of interior space, and it's easy to get swallowed up in all of it. The door armrests are too far away from your body if you're a smaller person, but there's something to be said of a small hatchback that can easily fit a person taller than six feet. The seats were very comfortable, and the car was pretty quiet when on the city streets. When on the freeway, the noise picked up a bit, but not so much that it was bothersome. The C-Max, with its 188 horsepower, had plenty of power to reach highway speeds quickly, and it never felt like it struggled to keep pace. Like the Focus on which it's based, the C-Max has good steering, and feels more agile that you'd expect from a hybrid.

The main issue with the hybrid is the bad dash layout, which it shares with other Focus-based Fords, like the Escape crossover. There is just too much going on inside that can distract you from the road ahead. For example, since the C-Max is a hybrid, Ford thought it would be a nice touch to show you how "green" you drive by putting in an efficiency monitor to the right of the speedometer. Depending on how you drive, the Efficiency Leaves will appear or disappear. At first, I didn't know what this was, just random green things flying in my line of sight distracting me, but as I continued to drive it, my like for this feature grew with my garden of leaves.

Then there was fuel economy. It was a struggle to reach the EPA-estimated 47 mpg, and no matter what we did--even following the C-Max's "braking coach" to recapture more energy for the battery, the best we could do was 38.2 mpg. While driving the Prius V last year, we couldn't get lower than 41 mpg, no matter how we drove it.

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The Grocery Run

The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid has a lot of cargo room for its size. Although the trunk itself isn’t very big, even for a hatchback, it still managed to fit 12 grocery bags; when combined with a stroller, seven bags still fit. With the rear seats folded down, the amount of space becomes rather impressive, able to hold twice as much, but we don't think many who would buy the C-Max will be folding the seats down just for groceries.

The second row seats are surprisingly roomy, able to accommodate persons over six feet tall with ease. When taking the C-Max out for lunch, there was plenty of legroom for the second row passengers, even with those in the front seat scooting back their seats to accommodate their taller frames. Thanks to the backup camera, navigating a parking lot is easy, and the visibility overall in the car is great. With the leather interior, families with young kids or those with dogs don't have to worry about dirty footprints or handprints, as it wipes clean and is easy to maintain.

Young children will have no trouble getting in and out of the back seat, and for those who still need car seats, there's plenty of room to have them and not hit the back of the front seats. The C-Max is fairly family-friendly, with LATCH points easy to get to, and when extra space is needed, it's possible to split the back row seats and put one side or the other down as needed for strollers, extra groceries, toys, or any other need.

The hands-free liftgate, however, was a hassle. One minute we'd wave a foot under the bumper and it would open without a problem. The next time, we'd stand behind the car, kicking in every direction trying to get it to work. Ford says you can use the same movement to close the liftgate, but nobody told our C-Max test car. Even when trying the more common buttons on the key fob, the dash, and the hatch door itself produced spotty results. What was supposed to be a fun day at the beach with my dog turned into a hassle trying to get him in and out of the back, with people staring at me like I was crazy, and my dog sitting by my side, patiently waiting for the door to open so he could take a nap on the ride home. We were tempted to dismiss this as a quirk of our particular test car, but a similar experience with another Ford model with the same mechanism leads us to believe there may be a problem with all of Ford's foot-operated liftgates.

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The Weekend Fun

Whether on the city streets or cruising down Pacific Coast Highway, the Ford C-Max is quiet, comfortable, and a great daily driver. The cargo space was easy to fill up and expand, it's comfortable and quiet on the road, and it's nice inside, despite the cluttered dash and steering wheel.

Driving from El Segundo to Huntington Beach proved to be a nice trip in the C-Max. I was worried that I wouldn't have enough power to enter the freeway at highway speeds, but it had no problem kicking out the power I needed, and then some. It maintained highway speeds easily and was a great cruiser going down the 405. It had great brake response, and although there weren't winding roads on my route, the steering felt like it would have been more than capable.

Unlike the Prius--which is notoriously noisy at highway speeds--this would be a great car to have on a road trip. It saves you so much money on the fact that it's a hybrid, and on top of that, you could take your dog with you, or a back seat full of passengers, if you prefer. There's plenty of room for luggage, food, and other miscellaneous road trip accessories, and since you don't have to fold down both back seats to accommodate larger dogs, there's room for three on the trip.

Summary

If you're looking at the Ford C-Max and Toyota Prius side by side, it boils down to what you're looking for. If fuel economy is all you want, and you don't care about how the car drives, a Prius may very well be the car for you. However, if you're looking for a hybrid that is comfortable to drive, and has plenty of room for whatever your needs may be, and gets decent gas mileage, the Ford C-Max Hybrid is a good choice. Although it's hard to get the gas mileage up to the EPA estimates, even by following its braking coach, it's still far above other cars out there. This hybrid hatchback offers plenty of room for all passengers, and is surprisingly large enough inside to accommodate whatever you might carry, be it large packages or large dogs. If you can live with the Ford Focus-derived ergonomic issues, the Ford C-Max is a solid car.

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Spec Box

Price-as-tested:
$31,085.00 Fuel Economy
EPA City: 47 mpg
EPA Highway: 47 mpg
EPA Combined: 47 mpg
Cargo Space: 12 grocery bags/7 with stroller
Second row LATCH: Good
Estimated Combined Range: 635 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Above Average

Notebook Quotes

"It's quieter on the highway by far, roomier in front and back, and it's just a better package overall, I think. But Ford needs to step it up on the fuel economy." -Keith Buglewicz, News Director
"I hate Ford's ergonomic issues of being a lot of car with less usable space. Just give me a damn armrest that works...either one. But would I recommend against it? No." -Jacob Brown, Associate Editor

2 comments
Mitchell Reisner
Mitchell Reisner

Just bought one.  Thought I wanted a Prius until we sat in the C-Max.  Bigger and more comfortable than the Prius, for sure.  And I thought I wanted a Prius for years now.  It could be a little more quiet on the highway.  My only real beef I've got is that one of the key reasons we purchased this car was for its alleged 45 miles per gallon, as it said exactly that on the sticker.  Well try as I might, I could not get better than 37 mpg, which I suppose is good, but it's 8 miles per gallon short of what I was led to believe I was purchasing.   And at $3.50 a gallon, that begins to add up.

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