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Auto Corner: Ford's New C-Max Contends for Hybrid Crown

18 May 2013  
Move Over Prius, You've Got Company

It's one thing to design a car that gets great gas mileage. It's another to design a car that is fun to drive, handles with pleasing responsiveness and also gets great mileage. Ford has done just that, with its new C-Max, the first hybrid to seriously challenge the long-reigning Toyota Prius as the most comfortable and practical hybrid money can buy.

To combine an exciting driving experience with hybrid efficiency is a difficult engineering feat--just ask the folks behind the Prius V. While Toyota's Prius remains the undefeated gold standard among high-mileage hybrids, Ford's new C-Max offers competing mileage with a much more rewarding driving experience.

The C-Max hybrid, which started life as a European economy car, has crossed the pond, rescuing us from the loud road noise, soft steering, and squishy suspension on Honda and Toyota hybrids. While the C-Max provides slightly fewer miles per gallon (47 combined mpg vs. the Prius' 49 combined), it provides a more rewarding and exciting driving experience.

I'm a long-time fan of Toyota's Prius, but I found myself preferring the braking, handling and steering of the C-Max during a two-hour drive that included mountain passes, stretches of highway and city commuting.

Much like the Prius and other hybrids, Fords' C-Max's pairs a 4 cylinder engine with two electric motors. The gas and electric engines combine for a total output of 188 horsepower. Dearborn engineers opted to forgo the normal Ni-Cad battery system in favor of an air-cooled lithium-ion pack rated at 1.6-kWh. The entire battery system is mounted underneath the cargo space at the rear of the car.

Despite the batteries, the C-Max's hatchback offers plenty of room for packing. Its high roofline and fold-down rear seats offer surprising space for solo trips to Home Depot or family trips to the grocery store.

Inside, the C-Max feels a bit more like a sport-compact hatchback than a typical hybrid. The steering feel is tight and responsive, as are the brake and accelerator pedals. While the C-Max is certainly not a sports car, its overall handling inspires confidence and delivers a rewarding, predictable and enjoyable drive. The blue oval engineers have successfully packed European style handling and a pothole absorbing suspension into this five-person gas sipper. Acceleration around town is remarkable, thanks to the near instantaneous torque of the electric motor.

Quality stitching and components craft a pleasant cabin for drivers and passengers alike.
A "Smart Gauge" on the instrument cluster coaches drivers to earn peak miles per gallon. Ford's MyFord Touch infotainment system, complete with navigation, iPod hookup and many more features, is both enjoyable and practical.

Spacious, fun to drive, and easy on the gas pump, the C-Max hybrid is a welcome addition to any garage. Blurring the lines between hybrid and European compact, Ford hit the nail on the head with this new challenger to the Prius V.

© 2013 John Dickerson and John Kehlenbeck, Horsepower Auto Reviews

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