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2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Road Test and Review

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
January 25, 2013
8 min. Reading Time

What do you do if you're an American car company and you've got a compact people mover sitting in your European lineup that is just begging for a U.S. introduction?  If you're Ford, you take advantage of the latest surge of interest in high efficiency automobiles by stuffing a hybrid drivetrain inside of it and bringing it across the Atlantic to compete head-to-head with the Toyota Prius.

The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid is somewhat of a tweener, a small hatchback that fits in somewhere between the entry-level Prius hatch and the larger Prius V from a practicality standpoint.  More importantly, the vehicle represents Ford's very first foray into the dedicated hybrid segment, as it's not possible to purchase a gas-only versions of the C-Max.  It also illustrates the fact that it's possible to design a practical and affordable hybrid car that isn't completely devoid of personality.

The C-Max Hybrid is up against extremely stiff - and we mean that in terms of both competence and fun factor (specifically, lack thereof) - competition in the form of the Prius and Prius V.  Does the small Ford have what it takes to wring the starch-collared neck of the market's most popular family of hybrid cars?  Even more important: will eco-conscious drivers give it the chance it deserves to prove itself against Toyota's hybrid hegemony?

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Review: Models and Prices

The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid is offered in two different models.  The entry-level SE edition, which features dual automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, power windows and door locks, and the Sync system, starts at an MSRP of $25,200.  The higher-spec C-Max Hybrid SEL, which served as our week-long test vehicle, is priced at $28,365 but comes with nice-to-have equipment such as the MyFord Touch interface, heated leather seats, and heated and folding sideview mirrors.

That's not all the gear that was loaded into the tester that Ford lent to us.  Our SEL edition C-Max was also outfitted with an optional navigation system, a power and hands-free liftgate, a rearview camera, a panoramic sunroof, forward parking sensors, and an automated parking system.  All told, the final sticker on the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL that we reviewed came to $32,340.


2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Review: Design

What’s New:

  • The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid is an all-new model

The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid is a compact hatchback that demands to be seen even if the quiet whine of its electric motor can't quite be heard.  The C-Max Hybrid provides a certain amount of panache that contrasts well against the function-first looks of the Prius family, making excellent use of the large front grille and well-defined fender swells and creases that have made their way across the entire Ford lineup.  Despite its small dimensions the C-Max manages to project a stronger personality than one might expect, which makes it an appealing choice for younger buyers who value style in a way that is sometimes ignored by the aerodynamic engineering of hybrid automobiles.

The tour-de-force continues inside the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, where the company has gone to great lengths to make the compact people mover feel like it's worth ever dollar of its $30k-plus asking price.  Almost everywhere you look - and touch - Ford has installed soft fabrics and plastics, and the overall design of the entire interior is one that reaches above and beyond the entry-level segment.  A glaring exception to this highly polished effort, unfortunately, can be found on the steering wheel, where the entertainment system and MyFord Touch controls come across as flimsy and cheap.  This parts-bin oversight is unexpected given the care taken in the rest of the C-Max's cabin to disguise its humble Euro-van origins.


2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Review: Comfort and Cargo

What’s New:

  • The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid is an all-new model

One of the most surprising aspects of the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid's passenger compartment is just how roomy the vehicle feels in every single seating position.  Naturally, those riding up front enjoy the best view of the road ahead and the most comfortable pair of thrones, but the second row of seating in the five-passenger Ford is certainly no consolation prize.  A pair of adults will happily co-exist out back in the C-Max, with plenty of leg and headroom to spare.  We were also enamored of the way the vehicle's enormous panoramic sunroof allowed light to pour into the automobile without introducing additional glare, increasing the spacious character of the cabin.

Total cargo room in the Ford C-Max Hybrid checks in at 52.6 cubic feet, a figure which is respectable but smaller than that of the bigger-bodied Prius V.  Cutting into the ability of the C-Max to haul the goods is a raised bump in the load floor that represents the top of the vehicle's energy storage battery, an affectation that is immediately obvious once the hatch is opened.  We were able to put the 24.5 cubic feet of space between the liftgate and the rear seatback to good use on a grocery run or two, but be aware that the C-Max Hybrid's luggage capacity with the second row of accommodations in place is roughly equivalent to that of a standard hatchback.

Our time with the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid coincided with brutally cold weather, and this had a significant impact on several of the vehicle's features.  Notably, we found ourselves fighting the presumably dead motor inside the power liftgate, which refused to either open or close on command about halfway through the week.  Not only that, but what we assume was slush or salt obscured the sensor under the bumper that controlled the 'hands-free' operation of the liftgate that has been touted by Ford as one of the C-Max's killer apps - a feature that we were able to get working precisely once.  We also experienced regular reluctance on the part of the keyless 'touch handle button to unlock' feature for the driver's door.

The cold also seemed to defeat the C-Max's automatic climate control, which was never quite able to reach a comfortable temperature inside the vehicle and which forced us to rely on the hatchback's five-stage seat heaters to remain toasty.  This is not an uncommon characteristic of hybrid heating systems, which makes us wonder if engineers are tweaking their programming too far into the fuel-saving side of the equation.


2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Review: Features and Controls

What’s New:

  • The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid offers the best current implementation of MyFord Touch

The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid presents a sparkling advantage over any version of the Toyota Prius that it might be cross-shopped against: it operates exactly like any other standard car on the market.  What this means is that unlike the Prius, which forces drivers to engage its stubby, dash-mounted transmission lever, figure out what buttons to push to get it moving, and puzzle over what shifting into 'B' might do, the C-Max uses a basic push-button start and a traditional console-mounted gear selector.  We vastly preferred this method of operation compared to the too-cute Prius' reinvention of the wheel.

Another strong point for the C-Max Hybrid is that the compact hatchback feels like the first vehicle from the Blue Oval that was designed specifically with the MyFord Touch system in mind.  The two LCD screens on the dashboard integrate perfectly with the standard speedometer, while the larger touchscreen that sits on top of the center stack and which hosts a myriad of vehicle functions within its various menus fit perfectly in with the design flow of the C-Max.  Yes, the chintzy buttons on the steering wheel at times made it frustrating to navigate the menus on the small screens directly in front of the driver, but Ford has managed to dramatically improve the functionality of MyFord Touch with its latest revision of the software.  We were also very happy with how Sync simply and reliably linked up with our Android mobile devices.

Part of the reason why MyFord Touch seems like such a natural extension of the C-Max has to do with the additional functionality that the Hybrid adds to the feature.  In addition to providing data fed to it by the navigation and entertainment system, the right-most MyFord screen can be set to display animated leaves that either grown on the vine or whither and die based on the perceived 'eco-friendliness' of one's driving style.  On the left-side screen, drivers can cycle through a number of Hybrid-specific screens that display information such as the amount of energy recaptured by the regenerative braking system and whether the vehicle is in EV mode, accompanied by puzzling buzzword-like titles such as 'Enlighten' and 'Engage.'


2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Review: Safety and Ratings

What’s New:

  • The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid is an all-new model.

The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid comes standard with a driver's knee airbag, dual forward airbags, side impact airbags for those riding up front, and side curtain airbags that deploy along the entire length of the passenger compartment.  Electronic stability control and traction control are also included free of charge with the C-Max Hybrid, and parents can make use of the MyKey feature to keep the hatchback under a certain speed when lending it out to new teenage drivers.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Crash-Test Ratings:  No crash test data is available for the C-Max Hybrid at this time.


2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Review: Engines and Fuel Economy

What’s New:

  • The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid is an all-new model.

The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid makes use of essentially the same drivetrain as the mid-size Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan, consisting of a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine with a single battery-powered electric motor that together generate 188 total horsepower.  A continuously-variable automatic transmission sends that output to the vehicle's front wheels.

The Ford C-Max Hybrid was in the news recently alongside the Fusion Hybrid due to reports that achieving its 47-mpg city / 47-mpg highway fuel efficiency rating was impossible in real-world driving.  We put the C-Max Hybrid through a series of short-duration city trips during incredibly cold weather, and didn't even come close to 47-mpg during the week we spent with the car.  Is it possible that the frigid temperatures affected the hybrid system to the point where we achieved less than half of its advertised EPA rating?  We aren't engineers, but to say that we were disappointed with the C-Max Hybrid's performance in the harsh weather would be an understatement, and the vehicle's performance stands in direct opposition to the results we achieved the first time we drove the hatchback this past summer in a more favorable California climate.


2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Review: Driving Impressions

Putting its lack of cold weather fuel efficiency behind us, there are a lot of other things to like about the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid's driving experience.  The C-Max shares its platform with several other small cars in the Ford stable - most of them powered by traditional gasoline engines - which means that when it comes to handling the compact hatchback is head and shoulders above the absolutely un-engaging Toyota Prius v and is in fact on par with a number of non-hybrid competitors.  The C-Max felt downright nimble when we hustled it as hard as we could along slippery Montreal streets, and the front-puller was even amenable to the use of its handbrake to help it pivot around corners without causing its stability control system to panic and shut down the fun.  This is simply astonishing for an inexpensive hybrid car, which is usually paired with a push-to-operate electric e-brake and about as much chassis tuning as a wet noodle.

The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid didn't sacrifice any comfort in the pursuit of its dynamic excellent either, as it had drivers and passengers complimenting its smooth ride and its composure at highway speeds.  The transition between battery-only operation (rare during our time behind the wheel) and full hybrid modes was transparent and instantaneous, and the 188 horses under the hood of the C-Max gave it acceleration and throttle response that were far livelier than any of the hybrids in the Toyota stable.  The Ford hatch is clearly an honest-to-goodness car - not a lifestyle accessory for the green set - which is a distinction that many will appreciate when test driving it back-to-back against its competitors.


2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Review: Final Thoughts

The 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid is the most fun-to-drive hybrid hatchback outside of the premium segment.  Not only does the C-Max Hybrid blow away the Toyota Prius and Prius V when it comes to power, handling, and braking, but it also presents a more upscale interior along with an unfussy presentation that doesn't require a black arts initiation in order to operate the vehicle's basic controls.  From a practicality standpoint, the C-Max is on par with its two biggest rivals, but it does give up total cargo cubes to the Prius V, which will be an important consideration for utility-minded shoppers.

It's obvious that what we were most taken aback by the C-Max's admittedly terrible performance at the fuel pump.  Cold temperatures are a fact of life for millions of potential hybrid shoppers, and one should not have to halve their efficiency expectations during the winter months.  With the specter of even fair weather fuel mileage exaggeration hanging over the Ford C-Max Hybrid, we can't wholeheartedly endorse the hatchback's many redeeming qualities without stressing its mpg failure.


2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Review: Pros and Cons


  • Great interior in terms of styling and passenger room.
  • Excellent handling and strong acceleration.
  • Best-yet implementation of the MyFord Touch system.


  • Cold weather fuel mileage nowhere near advertised sticker rating.
  • Automated liftgate feature also incapable of handling low temperatures.
  • Somewhat drafty cabin.

Ford of Canada supplied the vehicle for this review



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