Ford’s Euro transplant in hybrid form, the 2013 C-MAX Hybrid, hit the ground running when launched at dealers in September 2012.
It immediately assumed the ninth spot that month among hybrid sales, and in case anyone thought that was an anomaly, has risen to the top five, and been doing more than double or triple its first-month 969 unit sales since then.
The car is sized and priced between a regular Toyota Prius Liftback, and the larger wagon-like Prius v. It is more often compared to the latter, though it is actually a competitor for either the regular sized or super-sized Prius variants which share the same powertrain.
Leading up to and now following its launch, Ford very aggressively positioned the C-MAX – along with other new “electrified” cars – to show it is all-the-more serious about establishing a hybrid brand identity that it has seen giving Toyota such success.
Ford’s marketers have said they recognize the iconic shape of hybrid-only Prius as keys to its appeal – not to mention the Prius is exceptionally competent, delivering the mpg promised.
Ford’s advertising has been replete with cross-comparisons with competitors, and is showing it is serious in taking as much of their market share as it can.
The counter strategy by Ford has been to mildly poke fun at the iconic shape while in fact attempting to create its own icon to take its place. The C-MAX is thus exclusively a full hybrid for North America, with no ambiguity in powertrain options such as the diesel and gas variants available in Europe.
Still true of the car is it too is competently made, with much more domestic content, and what it lacks in ultimate mpg, it makes up for in fun-to-drive factor, styling aimed at a more mainstream audience, as well as more solid road handling manners.
The C-MAX Hybid’s 188 horsepower total surpasses the 134 horsepower offered by the Prius Liftback and Prius v by delivering more power from the gas and electric side of the equation.
It uses a 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle inline-four with 141 horsepower and 129 pound-feet torque. The electric motor/generator is good for 118 horsepower and is mated to Ford’s U.S.-built HF35 continuously variable transaxle.Since power peaks do not align, the stated max for teh MAX is 188, and torque, while not listed, may be in excess of 200 pound-feet.
A 1.6-kwh lithium-ion battery back hides under the rear cargo floor. The li-ion tech is more advanced than the nickel-metal hydride packs used in previous Fords and current Toyota non-plug-in hybrids.
It allows a faster discharge rate, and Fords engineers have set the power mix up to let the motor/generator work more often, and at higher road speeds. The system tolerates a bit more lead-footedness than the Prius which takes a gingerly touch to keep in EV mode.
All-electric driving is possible up to 62 mph in the Ford, versus 34 mph in the Prius. Mashing the pedal to the ground will provoke the Ford’s gas engine to kick in as well.
But while the electric motor does have potential to save the fuel more often, a more powerful net output does take its toll on ultimate mpg compared to the slower but less-fuel-consuming Prii siblings.
Ford avoided the too-hybridy look that it sees in the Prius, but really, its C-MAX is a variation on the theme just with a greater tip of the hat to contemporary tastes in what constitutes attractive design language.
Keep in mind, this was not designed from the ground up as a hybrid, but is really a version of non-hybrids with the hybrid powertrain grafted in.
The vehicle has Ford’s front end styling vaguely reminiscent of its influence from Aston Martin’s grille, and a high, curvaceous–for–a-box appearance with somewhat muscular haunches to cover its relatively fat 225/50R17 tires.
It looks kind of like its verging on being a crossover utility vehicle, with cues also from Ford’s Windstar and Focus.
The tall hatch is 173 inches long, about 2.6 inches shorter than the Liftback and 8 inches shorter than the Prius v. It is slightly taller and wider than the v however, thus notching its interior capacity between the two.
Inside the fairly roomy five-seater, higher quality soft-youch plastics are a cut above, at least in the front section of the car, if not on rear doors.
Fabric or leather seats are wide and comfortable, and a power adjustable option is available.
The dash is unique and contemporary, and notably absent are such hybridesque design cues the Prius has established, such as a joystick shifter, funky dash styling, translucent blue buttons, and drive mode buttons.
Instead, anyone could hop into the C-MAX Hybrid, and immediately feel like they’re in familiar territory, not needing to learn a few new things to adapt to their special new hybrid.
A tilt/telescopic wheel adjusts simply, and seating is upright making it all the more like a crossover – and aiding rear passenger seat knee room.
Naturally, infotainment is available to meet the smart phone phenomenon, in this case the now-evolved and intuitive Ford MyTouch system.
Cargo room is a bit larger than the regular Prius, and smaller than the Prius v. The rear seats fold down to allow 24.5 cubic feet in all.
For a hybrid, what are we talking about here when we say “performance?” Is this car about high economy or road handling and acceleration?
With the C-MAX Hybrid you get both – a bit less economy than the Prius Liftback, similar to the Prius v. And sportiness and ride quality are a notch above.
Immediately noticeable is much quicker acceleration to 60 mph – on the order of around 7.2 seconds, and a quarter mile can be reached at around 15.6 seconds at 92 mph.
Compare that to the Prius Liftback’s just over 10 seconds to 60 mph.
Cornering is solid too, with well-balanced suspension tuning and meaty 225-series tires providing more contact patch for the 3,640-pound car over the Prius’ 195s.
Suspension damping is confidence inspiring also, and rough, chewed up roads are taken on with a more solid feel.
But the higher power potential plus mpg-hurting fat Michelin Energy tires – and maybe other reasons yet to be determined while Ford is currently defending itself against accusations – do take their toll on fuel efficiency.
Consumer Reports says it could get but 35 mpg city, 41 highway, and 39 mpg combined. Other reviewers have reported low 40s combined, and mid-40s on the highway, which is on par with Prius v’s 42 combined EPA rating, if not quite so close to the Liftback’s 50 mpg combined EPA rating.
But in exchange, the car feels – and is – upscale in ways the competition does not match, and is definitely more gratifying when one mashes the accelerator, or when heading down a curvy road at a brisk clip. And its looks do not scream “hybrid” if that is important to you. The C-MAX Hybrid thus provides its own compelling proposition even with its ultimate mpg boasting rights now in question.
Pricing is competitive also, starting at $25,200, and with many options boxes checked off, capable of ascending to around $33,000 or more.
Here’s a link to Ford’s tech specs, for those wanting more raw data.
Ford is definitely playing for keeps, and the C-MAX Hybrid is worth looking into further.