2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid first drive
Prius for goalposts
West Hollywood, Calif. — No matter where you are in California, the Toyota Prius is there. Whether it's the new subcompact Prius c hatchback, the bigger wagon-ish v, or just the standard issue fastback, it lives on every street corner and occupies every third parking spot. Heck, it probably makes up a good 25 per cent of California's aneurism-inducing traffic. But the Prius is more than just another car. To any automaker on the outside looking in, it is rolling proof that hybrids can have big potential.
But Toyota isn't alone. It may be the mogul of the industry, even licensing its technology to others and hoarding a serious slice of the hybrid pie, but it's far from a monopoly. Perhaps the biggest threat comes not from Honda or General Motors, but from Ford. The blue-oval brand has put serious R&D into its hybrid and electrification programs, and is preparing to roll out a new generation of hybrids spearheaded with the 2013 C-Max. We've come to Southern California to test Ford's next-gen hybrid on the very roads dominated by the Prius.
Built on Ford's C-segment architecture, which is shared with the Focus and Escape, the C-Max originally started out life as a European people mover, similar to the Mazda5 or the Chevrolet Orlando. When we first heard about it, Ford planned to offer it in two forms for North America — one with standard doors and seating for five, and one with sliding doors and seating for seven, but halfway through the naturalization process, it nixed the bigger variant and opted to offer it exclusively as a hybrid. There is still choice, though, as buyers can choose between a standard hybrid and a plug-in model, making this Ford's own Prius.
Given the similarity in layout, comparisons between the C-Max and the wagon-like Prius v are inevitable. While the two fall into the same category, it's the Toyota that's notably longer by some 20 cm, though the C-Max is significantly taller and wider. The overall result is a shape that's not exactly sexy but neither is it boring. We'd say it looks exactly like what it is, a cross-breed of the Escape and a Focus Electric, drawing from the former's chunky stance and stature, but sporting the same sort of cool detailing that wouldn't look out of place on an Aston Martin like a chrome satin grille. Also standard are multi-spoke 17-inch wheels.
Despite the smaller dimensions, the C-Max offers more passenger space than the Prius. All that height gives the cabin a sense of airiness and spaciousness that initially catches you off guard. Step in and there's plenty of headroom for adults in both rows, and more rear legroom for passengers than your average compact crossover despite not having a sliding or reclining rear bench.
Considering its parsimonious nature and its advanced technology, the C-Max looks and feels positively normal from the driver's seat. The dash and seating layout is nearly identical to that of the new Escape, which means lots of soft-touch plastics and plenty of buttons, but it may nevertheless appeal to those who find the Prius' layout too weird.
The only area in which the C-Max really comes up short is in its cargo bay — pretty much all its competitors best it. The tailgate may have a low opening, and the same kick-to-open sensor as the Escape, but there's actually a sizable step up from the bumper due to the placement of the battery pack. Flush-folding 60/40 split rear seats, hidden cubbies and cargo nets help maximize the space, but at the end of the day, it's still small.