Watch out, Toyota Prius--the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid is your first real competition. And in many ways, it's the hybrid hatchback we'd prefer to drive every day.
Built in Michigan--not sourced locally from California, or even Japan--the C-Max is a tall hatchback that eventually will come in two flavors. Right now, it's a gas-electric hybrid, with a small four-cylinder engine paired to an electric motor and lithium-ion batteries. Later in the year, Ford will offer a plug-in version called the Energi. As with the Prius, there will be no gas-only version of the C-Max (though at one time, Ford touted a seven-passenger, gas-powered, C-Max minivan for the U.S.).
The C-Max doesn't quite say "hybrid" as strongly as the spacey Prius, at least from the outside. It's more in line with the "kinetic design" look of Ford's Focus family than anything else, which is logical, since it's a part of that broad-ranging lineup of cars. Inside, the C-Max gets the better of the Prius, though, with a stylish dash and a richer look that fits more high-end options than you'll find in the Prius.It doesn't quite reach the 50-mpg heights of the Prius lineup, but the 47-mpg EPA rating earned by the 2013 C-Max applies across the board--city, highway, and combined, which betters the Prius V wagon. And on the road, the compromise on fuel economy pays off, clearly: the C-Max's performance is plainly better than the Prius, in acceleration and in cornering. With a net 54 hp more than the Prius, the C-Max is less stressed under full acceleration, and while it's still no Focus, the C-Max turns in more crisply and feels more eager to drive than any Prius ever has--and that's despite its 3,600-pound curb weight and tall, tall roofline.
The roofline also pays its own dividends. There's more interior space than in the Prius hatchback, if a little less than in the Prius V. There's also a bevy of practical features that will make it a useful vehicle for carrying around families of four of five and their gear.
Ford expects the hybrid C-Max to achieve top safety ratings, though it has not yet been crash-tested by either the NHTSA or the IIHS.
At $25,995 including delivery, the base Ford C-Max Hybrid stickers below the Prius V wagon and about $1,200 more than the base Prius Liftback. We think the standard Prius will keep its crown as the hybrid sales leader, but the C-Max's people and cargo space and its fuel economy--not to mention its better dynamics and more relaxed powertrain--will be more than appealing to shoppers interested in either of the larger Prii.