When you think hybrid, images of green fields, fluffy white bunnies and the Toyota Prius likely dance in your in head. The Prius has spent most of its life in a category of one, but a decade of success has also made it a sitting duck for companies such as Ford.
But is the new 2013 C-MAX wagon a real Prius fighter where it counts, in terms of fuel consumption? Yes, if you compare it to the largest and least thrifty Prius v, that is. Put head-to-head against the Prius v, it has about the same interior room and also quite a bit more power.
The C-Max arrives this fall as Fords first dedicated hybrid brand, although its based on the automakers compact Focus architecture and has the same distance between the front and rear wheels and overall length as that model. However the C-Max is more than four inches wider and six inches taller, making it ideal for hauling people and their gear.
Visually, the C-Max shares a definite kinship with the Focus, including a similar grille, headlight pods and windshield angle. But from there, both vehicles diverge. For example the windshield on Fords new hybrid is massive and provides quite a view for both front- and rear-seat passengers. And the tall roofline also creates generously proportioned side and liftgate windows. In back, the level of cargo space in the C-MAX is About equal to that of the Toyota Prius v, but offers nearly one-third more room than its chief rival with the rear seat folded flat.
As you would also expect from its shape, the interior offers adult-sized head, knee and legroom. But what will really impact buyers is the flight-deck-style dashboard and control panel that would even look at home in the Starship Enterprise.
The center stack houses the standard eight-inch touch-screen display for climate, audio, hands-free phone and navigation controls, and also doubles as a screen for the standard backup camera. Meanwhile, the gauge pod provides real-time fuel economy readouts and driving efficiency as indicated by the number of green leaves displayed on an adjacent screen. In addition, theres a Brake Coach that helps drivers maximize the regenerative braking system to help keep the lithium-ion batteries topped up for maximum driving range.
Driving efficiency is a virtual certainty with the C-Max and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid powertrains, both of which will also be available in the 2013 Ford Fusion sedan.
The gasoline component is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 141 horsepower. It works in tandem with a 106-horsepower (estimated) electric motor. Ford projects a net system output of 188 horsepower, which is 54 horsepower 40 percent more than the competing Prius v.
Power is directed to the front wheels by a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Even with the extra power, the C-Max is rated at 47 mpg city and 44 highway, better than the rating of 44 city and 40 highway for the Prius v. As with the Fusion Hybrid, the C-Max should achieve short spikes of up to 60 mph on electric power only before the gas engine kicks in.
Theres no word yet on the C-Max Energis numbers, but Ford claims that it will top the Prius Plug-ins 95-mpg equivalency number when operating on electric power only. The Energi is just like a regular C-MAX, but a more robust battery pack means less reliance on the gasoline engine. The batteries can be recharged by either a standard 120-volt outlet, or with a special 240-volt charging station (charging times have yet to be revealed). Both versions will tout their (up to) 500-mile ranges as key selling features. Note that the Energis more massive power system reduces overall cargo volume by about 20 percent.
At $26,000, including destination charges (which is slightly less than the Prius Vs base starting price) the base C-MAX SE comes with dual-zone climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels and a total of seven airbags. The SEL adds leather seats (heated in front), 10-way power drivers seat, rain-sensing wipers and satellite radio. On the option list is a hands-free back-up parking assist and a power liftgate that opens and closes by shaking your foot beneath the bumper. The Energi plug-in should list for about $32,000, but feature a lengthier assortment of standard equipment.
Whichever your choice, there should be no shortage of converts to the C-Max Hybrids way of life, with its easy-on-the-eyes appearance, practical nature and easy-on-the-wallet fueling intervals.