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2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL Review By Carey Russ

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2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL

Did it get the advertised "EPA 47 mpg"? No. As the saying goes, "your mileage may vary", and nowhere as much as with a hybrid like Ford's C-Max.

For what it's worth, I got a fraction over 36 mpg during my week with a 2013 C-Max SEL. Which is not bad at all for a five-passenger "multi-activity vehicle" (MAV) hybrid with surprisingly good acceleration when needed, a quiet, comfort-oriented driving experience, and a spacious and upscale interior. Which was driven like a regular car, by a driver not trying to squeeze the last hundredth of a mile out of each gallon of gas, and who is opposed to blocking traffic by attempting hyper-mileing at all times.

If I'd gamed the system by encouraging the C-Max's electric motor to operate more -- easily done, by the way -- and accelerated as slowly as possible to stay in EV mode as much as possible, I likely could easily have gotten another ten miles per gallon. But I took too much pleasure in the turbo-like kick the electric motor gives when it comes online. This is a hybrid that can get out of its own way -- and hold four or five people and their belongings in as much space as a midsize sedan in a smaller, more easily maneuverable and parkable footprint. Its mileage compared well with the real mileage of midsize hybrid sedans I've driven.

Ford has an interesting plan for the C-Max: all-hybrid. The regular C-Max comes in SE and SEL trim levels, while the plug-in C-Max Energi is mostly equivalent in content to the SEL, and uses the same 2.0-liter, 141-horsepower Atkinson cycle engine and 118-hp permanent magnet synchronous AC electric motor joined through an electronically-managed CVT but replaces the regular C-Max's 1.4 kWh lithium-ion battery with a 7.6 kWh Li-ion battery that can be recharged from a 120 or 240VAC connection. Plug-in power and 21 miles of EV range will cost, with the Energi having an MSRP about $4500 more than the SEL.

Although it looks like a crossover, Ford lists the C-Max as a car. It's a close relative of the Focus, with the same wheelbase and basic architecture and suspension, suitably modified for the hybrid system and battery. Between the Focus hatchback and sedan in length, think of the C-Max as a high five-door hatchback. Or mini-crossover if you don't like hatchbacks. The SE is well-equipped dual-zone climate control, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with jack and USB inputs, a 60/40 split folding second row plus multiple interior storage spaces, an illuminated glove box, trip computer, multi-configurable instrument display, remote keyless entry and more standard. The SEL adds leather upholstery, a 10-way power driver's seat, heated front seats and outside mirrors, ambient lighting, and standard Sync and SiriusXM satellite radio plus various available options and packages including navigation, hands-free communications technology, and a power liftgate operated by moving your foot under the rear of the car.

My test car for the past week was a C-Max SEL with most of the options. As such, it was a well-equipped upper-middle class car with good interior space in a relatively small exterior package. That, plus good economy and a driving experience much better than expected from a hybrid make it an attractive vehicle for anyone needing space and interior versatility while wanting to spend as little as possible on fuel.

APPEARANCE: Build up, not out! The C-Max's European roots show, and good for Ford bringing in something like this. Larger than a Focus and smaller than an Escape, the C-Max embodies nearly all of Ford's current exterior design cues. It's almost a "one-box" shape, with a short hood in front of a large, highly-raked windshield and long, tall, arched passenger cabin, although "box" really isn't its curved lines. The new Ford grille is displayed prominently at the front, with a small upper grille seemingly an afterthought between cat's-eye headlights. Character lines in the hood sweep back into the windshield A-pillars, an interesting effect that works well. Noticeable wheel arches and character lines on the sides offset the curves well, and short front and rear overhangs maximize interior space and reduce the potential for curb or steep driveway damage. Huge taillights dominate the rear, and there is no visible exhaust.

COMFORT: Plenty of style, plenty of function. In SEL trim, seating is leather, with the driver's seat power-adjustable and both front buckets heated with rheostat controls. Front seat comfort is very good, as is visibility, which is deficient only to the rear quarters (head turned) -- and that is easily compensated for by the outside mirrors, which have convex "blind-spot" inserts. As in other Ford hybrids, the C-Max instrumentation gets the "glass cockpit" treatment, with a bright electroluminescent speedometer at the center of the instrument cluster flanked by reconfigurable information displays. To the left in power and fuel consumption information; to the right entertainment, phone, and navigation -- plus the EcoGuide® display that rewards more efficient driving with more leaves. There is a similar "Brake Coach" to the left to help the driver get maximum benefit from regenerative braking. "Online" help is available, and since the engine may not start when the start button is pressed, look for the glowing green car on the dash.

Ford's Sync and MyFordTouch interfaces have gotten more than their share of criticism. To me, the interface is logical, and does allow display of a multitude of data. Is it all necessary? Probably not, but as with consumer electronics there is a race among manufacturers to see who has the most features’ and cars are increasingly mobile electronic devices.

Useful storage in the nooks and crannies is as expected, with a little extra hidden storage under the rear floor mats. A flat floor makes the rear seat practical for three people, if they are small to medium in size. As in most cars, two are better. The rear seatback folds 60/40, with flaps over the crevice between the seatback and cargo area with the seat down keeping things from getting too lost. Don't look for a spare tire, with both a fuel tank and a hybrid battery space is at a premium so there is a sealant kit under the front passenger seat.

SAFETY: All C-Max models have Ford's Personal Safety Systems; AdvanceTrac® with Roll Stability Control , all-speed traction control, dual-stage front airbags, front seat side-impact airbags, Safety Canopy® side-curtain airbags, a driver's knee airbag, Brake Assist, and SOS Post-Crash Alert.

RIDE AND HANDLING : It looks European and it feels European. The C-Max's fully-independent MacPherson strut / Control Blade multilink suspension is tuned moderately softly, but with good damping so road irregularities are dealt with and forgotten. The electrically-assisted steering is, as is common with such systems, a bit numb but requires little effort. On the road, the C-Max is quiet and comfortable, and surprisingly stable in strong winds. Regenerative braking helps the already good four-wheel discs.

PERFORMANCE: Ford's hybrid system is full series/parallel, with the vehicle powered by the internal combustion engine alone, the electric motor alone, or both, linked through a computer-controlled continuously-variable transmission (CVT). Here, the engine is a modification of Ford's 2.0-liter four-cylinder, using a modified Atkinson cycle for improved efficiency and making maximum 141 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque. The electric motor makes a maximum of 118 horsepower (at 6000 rpm), with 177 lb-ft of torque as soon as it starts to rotate. Maximum system horsepower is 188.

Which means that when power is needed, for acceleration when merging or passing for instance, it's there. Now. The torque from the motor gives the feeling of a low-boost turbocharger, and acceleration unexpected in a hybrid designed for fuel economy.

CONCLUSIONS: The Ford C-Max combines space, style, and fuel efficiency with a small footprint.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL

Base Price			$ 28,200
Price As Tested			$ 31,085
Engine Type			DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy Atkinson
				 Cycle inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			141 @ n/a rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			129 @ n/a rpm
Electric Motor			permanent magnet AC synchronous
Horsepower			118 @ 6000 rpm
Torque				177 lb-ft @ 0 rpm
Transmission			electronic CVT
Maximum System Horsepower	188
Hybrid Battery			1.4 kWh Lithium-Ion
Wheelbase / Length		104.3 in. / 173.6 in.
Curb Weight			3640 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.36
Fuel Capacity			13.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P225/50R17 93V Michelin GreenX
				 Energy Saver A/S
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, ESC, HLA, regenerative braking
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				independent Control Bladeā„¢ multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine and motor, 
				  front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		47 / 47 / 36
0 to 60 mph				8.8  sec

Equipment Group 302A - includes:
  Premium Audio & Navigation Package,
  Hands-Free Technology Package,
  Power Liftgate, Rearview Camera,
  Keyless Entry/Start/Tailgate			$ 2,215
Ruby Red Metallic Tinted paint			$   395
Equipment Group Savings				-($ 520)
Destination Charge				$   795