Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL at the coast

The Ford C-Max is a new entry to the U.S. five-door compact hatchback market. The C-Max has been sold in Europe since 2003, but never as a hybrid. This bodystyle represents the second generation C-Max, which debuted as a 2010 model in Europe. Although Europe gets both gasoline and diesel versions of the C-Max (as well as a seven passenger option), the U.S. only gets the vehicle with a hybrid powertrain. Because of this and its size and performance, it becomes a direct competitor to Toyota’s “big” Prius v, and will likely get cross-shopped with standard Prius models, too. Our tester was the well-equipped C-Max SEL wearing Sterling Gray Metallic paint.

This fully loaded C-Max has accoutrements such as a premium audio and navigation package, a power rear liftgate with the hands-free “swing your leg below the rear bumper to open it” option, a rear view back-up camera, and Sync with MyFord Touch. Along with power everything, this model has a push button start, remote keyless entry, and dual power mirrors with heat and security approach lamps.

The C-Max’s exterior styling is modern, sleek, and classy. The supplied multi-spoke 17” aluminum wheels are wrapped in 225/50/17 tires and are quite attractive. Being the fringe lunatics we are, we’d love to see a C-Max on 18s or 19s with a lowered stance. And while people aren't slamming, stancing, lowering, or whatevering the C-Max (yet) we think it'd look pretty sweet customized.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL interior

Inside, the vehicle is comfortable and futuristic. It’s roomy: ample storage bins and cages, with a roomy rear cargo area. It’s comfortable: the leather seats are supportive yet cozy, with the driver getting a heated, 10-way power seat. It’s futuristic: the dash displays and central housing unit are very modern. The upper portion of the center stack “hub” or “brain” looks like it was styled after Darth Vader’s helmet. The center stack is rather large, with high-gloss plastic and sidewalls that are a bit obtrusive for free-and-clear digital monitor viewing. My husband Andy likes its looks, but I can see scratches in its near future, along with Darth coming after me if he gets mad.

Ford C-Max shifter
A few things to note about the C-Max’s dash usability: The AC and heat controls are very difficult to operate when the car is in park. The gearshift virtually covers up all its knobs, making it impossible to change controls when parked unless you use the upper touchscreen, which can indeed be used to control the climate. The auto and max AC knobs on either side of the dedicated climate control unit are slick to the touch and low profile, making them hard to grab if you need to adjust them. Maybe some rubber ridges or a deeper knob would help one grab and adjust? Like many other Ford vehicles with the MyFord Touch and Sync systems, this vehicle’s center touch screen unit works well, although it is partially impaired by the center stack’s sidewalls as mentioned. Functionality is good, however, and the sound system is above average.

Ford C-Max Efficiency Leaves
The legible gauges show the speedometer, battery life and fuel, as well as scads of other cool need-to-know specs, such as how the hybrid system is working, range, and other hybrid-exclusive readouts. The gauges are well thought out, easy to read, and concise. One minor item to note, the chrome bezel detail that surrounds the gauges reflects back onto the gauge’s glass—a detail Andy didn't notice, but I did, and I found it a bit distracting. One of the more unique readouts is the “efficiency leaves.” The more leaves on a vine, the more eco-consciously you've driven. Hot-foot it and the leaves drop off the vine. It’s a fun game to see how well you drive and how many leaves you can keep on the vine. Wait, did I just say hot-foot it? Yes, I did say it as that is our next topic—drivability.

The C-Max Hybrid has a 188 horsepower 2.0-liter ATK IVCT engine paired with a CVT transmission, and it’s surprisingly peppy. Yes, I did just say hybrid and peppy in one sentence. Unlike some hybrids out there that seem to have little-to-no personality, the C-Max is fun to drive. It is responsive, has pick-up to pass other vehicles, and yet is still a comfortable cruiser. I had the chance to take this vehicle up HWY 101 along the Oregon coast, and it handled responsively on hills, in passes, and though curves. The steering is tight and quick—surprisingly good—although the car’s hefty 3,640 lb. curb weight makes itself fairly evident when pushed. And did I mention it seats five and is roomy, so you can take a few people along on your journey? Well you can.

One thing to be mindful of: During our week with this vehicle, we topped out at a rather disappointing 39.5 miles a gallon. This was with careful driving, and a good amount of both city and highway traveling. The C-Max has a 47 MPG city and highway fuel economy rating. For us, it appeared that number would be difficult to achieve in real-world conditions. We have read accounts of the mileage improving after several thousand miles have been put on the vehicle, however.
2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid rear shot

Despite the lower-than-expected mileage, the C-Max was a pleasant surprise all around. It is a great car if you are a driving enthusiast but need or want to have a hybrid. Plus, we really like its European styling, classy good looks, and spacious and versatile interior. Coming in at just over $31,000, this is a well-built, fun to drive, and comfortable vehicle. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re looking to buy a roomy hybrid that’s actually fun to drive, too. It isn't quite as efficient as we thought it’d be, but still an enjoyable vehicle nonetheless. And unlike some other hybrids, this one actually has character.

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