Ford's C-Max Hybrid
Ford's C-Max Hybrid

Ford has issued a hybrid throw down to Toyota.

A lot of effort went into besting the maker of the world’s top selling hybrids. Specifically, the U.S. car maker is going after Toyota’s family hybrid, the 2012 Prius V. Ford’s 2013 C-Max, will be replacing the popular hybrid Escape in the company’s line up.

Having driven the Prius V , I was interested in seeing the difference between the two cars. The C-Max is cheaper ($25,995, starting price) than the Prius V and it has more fuel economy (with an EPA rating of 47 city/hwy). Also, Ford’s C-Max Hybrid is faster than the Prius V and even though it doesn’t take off like my all electric Leaf, it has more kick than the Prius.

The Battle Of The Hybrids

I had a chance to test drive the 2013 C-Max recently and, honestly, I like it better than the Prius. Maybe driving the higher trim level SEL had something to do with it ($5,000 more than base).

The C-Max has more head room and more passenger space. This is partly due to the fact that Toyota has, in my opinion, gone overboard on its aerodynamic roof shape. Still, Toyota has improved in one area of its roof line and that is its rear window design. The Prius V is much easier to see out of than previous models and Ford’s C-Max has a decent size rear window, as well.

Did i mention the lift gate on the C-Max? If your hands are full, you can just kick under the back of the car, the hatch back opens and lets you load your things. On a weekend trip up to Calistoga I was able to throw my road bike in (with the front wheel off). While Toyota wins on cargo space behind the front seats, I found the C-Max wagon had plenty of room for me and the overall inside volume is bigger than the Prius V.

Cargo space for Ford's C-Max
Cargo space for Ford's C-Max

There is plenty of high tech in the new C-Max. There are two bright LCD displays next to the mileage indicator, one of them measures how green you are driving by displaying “efficiency leaves.” I found these glossy leaves much nicer to look at than the Nissan Leaf’s clunky Christmas trees. The dashboard is also much more attractive than the Prius V. The C-Max has Ford’s infotainment system, MyFord Touch, which can be accessed from buttons on the steering wheel, on the dashboard or by voice command. I must admit I don’t know how difficult it is to pair the phone as I had the Ford rep sync mine for the trip. The steering wheel felt a little too busy to me and it takes a while to get the hang of the MyFord Touch system.

C-Max vs. Prius V
Ford's C-Max vs.Toyota's Prius V. Photo:

Compared to the Prius V, the C-Max is cheaper, faster and more fuel efficient (I averaged about 41mpg on my drive). It also has more technology and more room. You can’t argue with that. But there is a lot to be said about the power of the Prius name recognition. The battle will soon heat up when Ford releases the C-Max Energi Hybrid plug-in. That model has Toyota’s new Prius Hybrid Plug-in in its cross hairs and is expected to be out by years end.


Andrea Kissack

Andrea Kissack (@andreakissack) is KQED's Senior Science Editor. Andrea was born in Los Angeles and discovered radio news through listening to her college radio station. With a curious mind and a love for telling stories, she set off for Tampa where she landed her first job as a reporter for Florida Public Radio. After three years reporting in an unbearably humid climate and a brief stint as a miscast opera reporter, Andrea returned to L.A. to work for public radio, then for television news and finally as a reporter for CBS radio. Andrea has been at KQED for over twelve years, working first as a producer for Forum, and then as the senior producer for The California Report. She is now KQED's Senior Science and Environment Editor and narrates the QUEST television program. Andrea says she feels lucky to cover emerging science and environmental trends in a place where geek is chic.

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