2013 Ford C-Max Review: A Fun, Agile, Smart Little Car

A Girls Guide To Cars | 2013 Ford C-Max Review: A Fun, Agile, Smart Little Car - 13Cmaxhybrid

13CmaxhybridOk, lets get the gorilla in the room out in the open: With customers clamoring for fuel efficiency (and economy) Ford took the challenge to heart and came up with the C-Max: A small, agile, efficient car that, in its first generation, was popular in Europe. With the addition of a hybrid engineand driver feedback designed to make you more aware of how your habits affect efficiency –voila– Ford brought the C-Max to market last fall, promising 47 MPG.

But so far, complaints and critics claim, the C-Max doesn’t come as close to 47 MPG as it should. Most drivers are getting somewhere in the 34-40 MPG range.

Some Insights on Hybrid Engines:
So–here comes my insight: I’m not an expert on cars, but I’ve driven a hybrid for more than 120,000 miles and learned a few things along the way: 
1. Running the heat or the air conditioning reduces your economy because the system is reliant on the engine (old school technology only affects this when you run the AC, but not the heat).
2. Hybrids are less efficient in the winter due to gas formulations and outside temperatures. My experience in my Toyota Highlander is that I get about 19-22 MPG in winter, and as high as 27 MPG in summer. Cold temperatures alone can reduce performance by 10 percent, and wintertime gas supplies result in lower gas mileage. 
3. Hybrid engines take time to ‘tune’ or break in: The first 10,000 miles on my Highlander Hybrid were not as fuel efficient as the next 10,000, which were not as fuel efficient as the next 10,000. The car’s performance evened out after that.
4. Driving conditions differ driver to driver and road to road.The auto manufacturers try to drive like you and I do, but they just don’t get the imperative of getting little Janie to preschool on time (and be ONE  minute late? And cut into my precious two hours of me time by ONE SECOND???) that might just make us a little heavy footed and therefore decrease our gas mileage. 

But, just as we learn to love the baby with warts, who despite having your nose and your husband’s ears, and not the other way around, we come to cherish the fact that he NEVER vomits when he has a fever and NEVER cries in public and learned to use the potty in a day, and so we learn to love those things about him we never thought we could. 

Cmax HatchThe C-Max’s hatch back provides plenty of room for luggageRoad Trip: Comfort, Technology and Fun
I spent 10 days in the C-Max and drove from Connecticut to Detroit and back (taking Moses to the mountain?) for the North American International Auto Show. Aside of the you-know-you-have-two-heads-don’t-you? look that I got from nearly everyone I told I’d driven to the auto show, it was a good trip. Rarely do I get to spend  a whole day in a car without listing to One Direction, Taylor Swift and Justin Beiber in a three song loop for eight hours at a stretch. I got to listen to news! Books on CD! The Alabama Shakes! And no one complained!

Mitzi, The Navigation Goddess

The C-Max ended up being a good comfort to have in this big city that I don’t know well. The hands free voice activated navigation system got me everywhere I needed to go–including quickly back on track when I’d made a wrong turn when trying to navigate on my own.  Cmax Nav ScreenThe turn-by-turn navigation screen is nicely designed to give you both the broad view and the immediate turn view, plus other information such as miles to your destination and the speed limit where you are In fact, I used the navigation so often it felt like I had a travel companion for the whole trip; I named her Mitzi. With a pull of the voice activation lever on the steering wheel, Mitzi comes to my assistance. I quickly learned Mitzi’s shortcuts–pull the lever once, say ‘navigation,’ then quickly pull it again before Mitzi begins to list your options and tell her what you want: address, intersection or point of interest. Mitzi stored my locations so I could find them quickly, and once the route was set, it was neatly displayed on the touch screen so I could see where I was and where I was going. When a turn was coming up, Mitzi demurely gave me a heads up with a quiet prompt.

And, she taught me how to pronounce the names of some of the local roads (she’s a native, you know). For instance, after travling a long for a while on Gratiot Avenue, and wondering just how to pronounce it, finally Mitzi instructed me to continue with a slight left onto “Grash-it Avenue.” It’s so nice to be able to speak like a native!

The C-Max Charm is in the Details
Like the lovable baby, the charm of the C-Max is in all the small details. Guiding me from one destination to another was great; the thoughtfully planned graphics on the map were great. Then, there things such as a capless gas tank, designed to only accept a fuel nozzle and not let fumes escape. Brilliant. Microphones embedded in the ceiling to monitor cabin noise or conversation so it can adjust the radio or phone, making phone conversations or media easy to hear, even at top highway speeds. Extra leg room carved out of the back of the front seats to ensure that backseat passengers are comfortable. 

The C-Max also comes with the MyKey system: you can program up to four keys to set a top speed limit, a limit to the radio’s volume, an earlier low fuel warning and also, you can set it to chime as you hit certain speeds–45 mph, 55 mph and 65 mph. While this is great for teens or first time drivers, I found the top speed setting extremely helpful. With highway speed limits of 70 for most of my trip, I set it at 80, and this kept me aware of when I might be getting slightly out of my speed comfort zone. And, it kept me comfortably in ticket-free happiness.

Then, there is the ever popular hands free lift gate (which was not included on the model we test drove but is available on some models). This means you never need to fumble for your key again. With the key in your pocket or purse, just swipe your foot under the rear bumper and like magic, the lift gate opens (of course, there’s a button on the key fob for this too, in case you want to open it from a short distance away). I could go on, and do, in the list below.

Cmax Range Ahhh… the range monitor: So nice to know how far you can goAnd, that is the C-Max. It’s cute. It’s fun. It’s flexible. It’s still fuel efficient–I got 34 MPG on my 1,500 mile trip. The 13.5 gallon gas tank had a range of more than 400 miles (though not the 457 it estimated when I filled up). It comes loaded with many of Ford’s brilliant, innovative touches. And, it’s zippy-to-outright fast. Which may be why, even if you can get better gas mileage, you might not: it’s just too darn fun to drive.

What We Loved: 
Instrument cluster that displays all driver information right on the dashboard, with toggle controls on the steering wheel
Programmable My Key system
Smart phone fits nicely between the console and the emergency break
Plenty of charge ports including a USB in the console
Three prong plug outlet (on rear of center console)
Hands free lift gate
Capless gas tank
Hands free Navigation with turn by turn directions 
SiriusXM Satellite radio with lots of setting options
Driver feedback that helps you to drive more efficiently
Roomy cabin with plenty of head and leg room
24.5 cubic feet of cargo space–room for luggage for four
Folding rear seats
In floor storage in the back seat
Panoramic sun roof
Great size–easy to park and maneuver
Cute styling–not as rectangular as its predecessors
Cmax Capless Gas TankLook, Ma! No gas cap! What a great step to eliminate
What You Need To Know
Price for the model we tested: $29,185
Gas mileage not as great as advertised
141 horsepower engine
Our model came with cloth seats (not nearly as comfortable as leather)
The extras can add up: heated seats, hands free lift gate and more can take the top price to $35,000+.

Disclosure: Ford provided the C-Max for our test drive; opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss