For so many people today the car has become an appliance with the sole job of getting from A to B effectively and efficiently. This point is made clearest when you consider that Toyota has sold over one million Priuses. The Prius is a horrible car in all respects except one – fuel economy. The base interior is a strange and nasty expanse of plastic and velour with a digital dashboard that seems to have been pulled from an early eighties Nissan 280ZX – not good! The driving experience is best described as disconnected. Prius ownership is a compromising experience in the name of ultimate fuel economy. No wonder Prius owners are so smug! As diehard Autofiends, if we had to spend hours a week commuting in a Prius we’d end up committing Hari Kiri on that silly mid-dash gear selector knob.
Until now we’d have gone the diesel route and picked a VW Jetta TDI for guilt free commuting, as there’s really been no decent hybrid powered alternative in our humble opinion. Enter the 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid. The Ford team had the Prius, specifically the Prius V firmly in their sites when putting the C-MAX together. And they’ve blown it out of the water in all respects. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The C-MAX Hybrid is the latest result of the One Ford product plan. Based on the same platform as the hot selling Focus (currently on its way to becoming the number one selling car in the world!), the C-MAX top hat is from a European MPV of the same name but for trans-atlantic duty it has been mated to a third generation gas-electric hybrid drivetrain that was engineered Stateside. The Focus family resemblance is clear but while the chiseled CUV Escape is a Focus on P90X, the tall rounded C-MAX went off diet and is best described as Rubenesque by comparison. The tall greenhouse means light and airy inside- especially with the optional glass moonroof. Plus its surprisingly spacious for its size seating five in relative comfort if necessary. The dash and center stack echoes the high quality of the Focus and Escape both in layout and materials. The gauge cluster features Smartguide and Ecogauge to keep you informed of and aid your Eco progress. Even the base cloth seating of the SE version gives off a feeling of quality in a way the Toyota only dreams of. The interior experience is frankly on a different planet to the targeted Prius V even if it gives some on the cargo capacity.
Where the C-MAX most importantly trumps the Prius is on fuel economy. Ford quotes an EPA certified 47 mpg on all three cycles (City/Highway/Combined)- 7mpg better than the Prius V on highway! We saw 47 mpg going across town during LA morning traffic without trying too hard and 38 mpg on highway admittedly cruising at 80+mph – with some discipline I’m sure Ford’s numbers are easily matched. And these numbers are attainable without the compromises most hybrids force. There’s plenty of pull from the 2.0 liter Atkinson cycle engine and electric motor – the 188 net horsepower feels strong hauling its 3600 odd pounds. A sub eight second zero to sixty is more than respectable and a couple of seconds quicker than the Toyota. The switch from electric to gas propulsion is seamless and the C-MAX will hit 62 mph on pure electric if you tickle the responsive throttle the right way. The slightly grabby regenerative brakes are the only hybrid related flaw we experienced, but after more than a couple of hours at the wheel we’d get over that. Finally the hybrid drive experience feels naturally similar to that of a regular gas model –again very un-Priuslike.
There is also little compromise with handling and ride quality. The suspension soaked up the worst of L.A.’s freeways and surface streets. And on those same freeways we commented on how surprisingly quietly it drove. While no hot-hatch, damping is on the preferably firmer side and steering feel and turn in is comparatively sporty—the Focus’s genes shine through despite the added height and weight. All this in stark contrast to the all-floaty numbness we experienced in a Prius V that Ford provided for a back to back comparison. You’re not going to wake up at 6am for a Sunday morning canyon run in the C-MAX but you can actually have a little fun tossing it around on the right road.
So with fifty more horsepower, a two second advantage from zero to sixty, a slightly peppy powertrain, significantly better fuel economy, almost sporty-ish handling, plus practical interior packaging and a quality fit and finish that Ford is now becoming known for, the 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid has the Toyota Prius V beaten to a pulp on all fronts. Oh, did we mention that the base price is $1500 LESS than the Prius V – though to keep that advantage you need to get selective with the option sheet. Not only is this C-MAX a better hybrid than a Prius but it’s actually all around a darn good car albeit with stellar fuel economy. If the car is becoming an appliance then this is the stainless steel Kenmore of the bunch—and we mean that in a good way. We have a feeling you’re going to be seeing a lot of these on the road in the near future.