“So, finished with the fancy schmancy cars?”
A friend made the comment after spotting the familiar Ford badge in my parking spot instead of the upscale logos of the Teutonic testers that had recently been parked there.
“Oh, it’s fancy enough,” I replied.
Maybe not as head-scratchingly complex as the over-engineered German vehicles I had just finished with, but the 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, despite its diminutive dimensions and rather plain-Jane wrappings, has been loaded with enough electronics and technology to make things interesting indeed.
The C-MAX’s origins are simple enough. It was a Euro-designed five-passenger, front-wheel-drive vehicle, powered by a choice of small gasoline or diesel engines and designed for a variety of international markets.
A second-generation upgrade allowed for a North American version and, rather than have it compete with their new Escape lineup, Ford designated the C-MAX as a hybrid-only product for the U.S. and Canada, aiming it squarely at Toyota’s stable of Prius models. It is usually compared most closely to the similar-sized Prius V.
The 2013 C-MAX Hybrid lineup is Ford’s first lineup dedicated solely to hybrid technology. The C-MAX Hybrid harnesses the same mix of gasoline engine power and the torque of a battery-driven electric motor as its Fusion Hybrid cousin.
A 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine makes 141 hp at 6000 rpm and 129 lb/ft of torque at 4000 rpm and it is one of the most advanced and fuel-efficient non-turbocharged four-cylinder powertrains ever offered by Ford. An 88kW electric motor blends its power into the mix via a CVT transmission for an accumulated net power rating of 188 hp.
The electric motor gets its juice from a 1.4 kWh lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack that is nearly 30 per cent smaller and 50 percent lighter than the nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries used in earlier hybrid vehicles.
Ford’s next-generation powersplit controller divides the chores, allowing the electric motor and gasoline-powered engine to work together or separately. Under light load conditions, the car can drive in EV (electric only) mode at faster speeds than any other hybrid.
That EV range usually lasts for only a few kilometers before the battery needs to be recharged by the gasoline-engine. Regenerative braking also re-captures more than 95 per cent of the braking energy that would normally be lost. And, the usual hybrid traits of automatic engine shut-off on deceleration and stopping can make city driving even more economical than highway runs.
With hundreds of patents on what they clearly feel is a superior technology, Ford execs have not exactly been shrinking violets when it came to predicting fuel-efficient supremacy over Toyota’s best efforts. Transport Canada rated the C-MAX Hybrid at 4.0/4.1L/100km (city/hwy).
But, in the U.S., even the EPA’s less-optimistic results of 5.0L/100km have been challenged by Consumer Reports and other testing publications.
It’s one thing to run bench tests in a lab, quite another to put up with urban traffic, changing temperatures and variable road conditions, not to mention quasi-legal highway speeds of between 100-120 km/h. My real world results were less dramatic, coming in at 7.1L/100km (comb).
The powertrain package won’t disappoint when it comes to performance. Although I drove moderately for the most part, the combined powertrain has more than enough oomph for on-ramps and passing maneuvers.
The C-MAX Hybrid may be a compact but its tall wagon architecture provides upright seating, plenty of headroom and a spacious feel to the cabin.
It provides 705 litres (24.9 cubic feet) of cargo space behind the second row, expanding to 1,538 litres (54.3 cubic feet) with the 60/40 rear seat folded flat.
Up front there is delight in the details of a well-constructed and sophisticated instrument layout. Some of the technology mentioned earlier includes the newest version of SYNC with MyFord Touch with multiple ways to control phone, navigation, entertainment and climate functions through voice commands, steering wheel controls, touch screens and buttons.
But I’d still kill for a tuning knob on the radio.
The SmartGauge with EcoGuide system uses a cluster to the left of the single gauge speedo to display fuel economy and a Brake Coach to hint at ways of improving your regenerative braking style. A cluster to the right shows Ford’s creeping ivy of green leaves, a visual demonstration of your overall driving efficiency.
Other available C-MAX Hybrid technologies include push-button start, active park assist, an upgraded AM/FM/CD/MP3 Sony Audio system, a voice-activated Navigation System, and a kind of funny but innovative hands-free liftgate that opens when your arms are full of groceries and you make a “gentle kicking motion” under the rear bumper.
All these technologies are bundled in a well-finished package that offers a surprising amount of versatile space and sophistication.
The C-MAX Hybrid handles itself well.
It has a wider turning circle than expected from a Euro-inspired design but the overall ride is pleasingly smooth and tautly controlled.
The C-MAX Hybrid SE starts at $27,199 and includes AdvanceTrac with RSC (Roll Stability Control) and Curve Control, a 6-way manual driver’s seat and 4-way manual front-passenger seat, dual-zone automatic A/C, tilt/telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise, audio and MyFord controls, 110-volt AC outlet, 17-inch aluminum wheels and a whole lot more.
A step up the trim ladder to the C-MAX Hybrid SEL ($30,199) adds more goodies that can be supplemented with stand-alone options or packages.
And, I didn’t want to confuse the issue, but a plug-in model—the C-MAX Energi ($36,999)—offers extended EV range (32+ km) and even better fuel economy along with all the SEL goodies. We’ll explore that version some other day.
With the 2013 C-MAX Hybrid lineup, Ford has provided consumers with a new alternative in the hybrid market, blending gasoline power, electric power and a wealth of technologies into a package that offers a new kind of power – as they put it, “the power of choice”.
Ford C-MAX Hybrid 2013
Body Style: five-door, five passenger MAV.
Drive Method: hybrid powertrain with front gasoline engine and electric motor, front wheel drive.
Engine: 2.0-litre 141 hp DOHC Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine (141 hp, 129 lb/ft) combined with 88kW electric motor (118 hp, 117 lb/ft) for combined 188 hp.
Cargo Volume: 705 litres (24.9 cubic feet) behind the second row, 1,538 litres (54.3 cubic feet) behind first row
Price: 2013 C-MAX SE $27,199. As tested $29,979 includes among other taxes and charges – Equipment Group 203A with power liftgate, reverse sensing, rear park aid, ambient lighting, MyFord Touch, Navigation and Sirius XM package ($2,200), Winter Package with power heated mirrors and heated seats ($350)