Ford C-Max hybrid excels in affordability, fuel economy

  • Article by: MARK PHELAN , Detroit Free Press
  • Updated: January 4, 2013 - 11:24 PM

If you drive like a regular person and not an auto critic, you'll get great mileage.

hide

The 2013 Ford C-Max hybrid crossover is based on the same architecture as the Ford Focus.

Photo: Ford, Mct - Mct

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Fuel economy is a reason to buy the 2013 Ford C-Max hybrid crossover, but not the only reason. That matters because critics have questioned how close the C-Max's real-world gas mileage comes to its eye-popping EPA rating of 47 mpg in the city, 47 on the highway and 47 in combined driving.

The first thing to remember is that the EPA rating is not a prediction. It's a comparison. It means the C-Max should get better fuel economy than a Toyota Prius V minivan -- 42 mpg combined rating -- but worse than the 50-mpg-rated Prius hatchback. The C-Max also beat the Honda Insight and Volkswagen Jetta hybrids.

The EPA rating is generated in a lab, not on the road. That's why you can compare one vehicle to another: they were all tested under identical conditions. If automakers apply the test honestly -- I'm talking to you, Hyundai-Kia -- it's the best way to compare vehicles' fuel consumption and cost.

We'll get back to fuel economy, and how seriously to take anecdotal complaints, but let's talk about the actual vehicle.

The C-Max is a sleek and roomy compact minivan -- crossover, depending on how much you don't want to admit to liking a minivan. It's based on the same architecture as the Ford Focus.

In Europe, Ford sells the C-Max in two sizes and with a range of gasoline and diesel engines. The U.S. version, built alongside the Focus in Wayne, Mich., comes in one size and with two gasoline-electric hybrid powerplants.

I tested the simple hybrid, for want of a better term. It can travel short distances on electric power alone at up to 62 mph. Prices start at $25,200. It has lithium-ion batteries, 188 horsepower and a continuously variable automatic transmission. The C-Max's base price is higher than the Prius and Insight, but less than the Jetta hybrid and Prius V.

For this review, I tested a well-equipped SE hybrid that stickered at $28,180. All prices exclude destination charges. The other kind of C-Max is the Energi plug-in hybrid, which costs more and has bigger batteries. I expect to evaluate one later.

Despite being 4.9 inches shorter than a Ford Focus compact sedan, the C-Max offers plentiful passenger room. The attractive and space-efficient exterior design packs 99.7 cubic feet into a passenger compartment with a roomy front seat and loads of rear headroom.

The batteries raise the hatchback's load floor a couple of inches above the rear bumper, reducing cargo capacity significantly versus the non-hybrid C-Max Ford sells in Europe. Nonetheless, the C-Max hybrid has more cargo capacity than the Insight, Prius hatchback and Jetta sedan. The big Prius V wagon has more cargo capacity but less passenger space.

Wind and road noise are very noticeable at highway speed, but the interior features attractive, soft-touch materials and handsome gauges. The voice-recognition system works well with navigation commands, but still falters on some basic instructions, like "Call home."

The C-Max's steering is responsive with good feedback. The sporty little crossover accelerates with smooth confidence. The hybrid system functioned flawlessly in my test. The engine shut itself off smoothly when stopped and restarted immediately. The car slipped smoothly into electric drive at highway speed and on surface streets. While some hybrids frequently shift out of electric mode in response to slight moves of the accelerator, I found it easy to keep the C-Max in battery mode.

That's one reason I'm skeptical of complaints about the C-Max's efficiency. The big fuel savings come when the engine's not running. That will never happen if you set the cruise control to 76 mph, as one critic admitted to doing before noting that his fuel economy while intentionally speeding fell short of the EPA estimate.

I'm shocked.

How you drive affects your fuel economy, Ford engineering chief Raj Nair noted recently. Driving at 75 mph knocks 7 mpg off vs. 65 mph, he said. An outside temperature of 40 degrees reduces fuel economy 5 mpg vs. 70 degrees. An engine that's not broken in -- a process that takes 6,000 miles or so -- can fall an additional 5 mpg short.

The EPA fuel economy ratings aren't perfect, but they're the only game in town. If hybrid technology outstrips the current test, the EPA and Department of Energy have plenty of doctorates to fix it. Until that happens, though, the 2013 Ford C-Max stands out for its combination of room, performance, fuel economy and affordability. It's one of the most efficient and appealing vehicles to go on sale in 2012.

  • 2013 FORD C-MAX SE HYBRID

    Front-wheel drive five-passenger compact hybrid van

    Base price: $25,200

    Price as tested: $28,180 (excluding destination charge)

    Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC variable valve timing 16-valve four-cylinder engine; lithium-ion battery, electric motor.

    Power: 188 horsepower combined engine and electric output; 129 pound-feet of torque

    Transmission: Six-speed automatic

    Length: 173.6 inches

    Width: 72.0 inches

    Reasons to buy: Fuel economy, passenger room, value

    Shortcomings: Interior noise, cargo space

    EPA fuel economy (mpg): 47 city, 47 highway

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Houston 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 6:00 PM
Cleveland
New Orleans 6:00 PM
Washington
Milwaukee 6:30 PM
New York
Philadelphia 6:30 PM
Brooklyn
Charlotte 6:30 PM
Atlanta
Sacramento 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Memphis 7:30 PM
Dallas
Tampa Bay 8:30 PM
Edmonton
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Ottawa 6 FINAL
Hamilton 16
Montreal 20 FINAL
Toronto 12
Calgary 33 FINAL
Winnipeg 23
Edmonton 24 FINAL
Saskatchewan 19
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close