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Circumnavigating Colorado in Ford's fun and efficient C-Max hybrid

Posted: February 20, 2013 - 7:59PM
Author: Don Bain
It was a bright sunny day this week as Colorado Auto Dealers Association President Tim Jackson drove me to Phil Long Ford in Littleton to pick up a 2013 C-Max Hybrid SEL, for the first leg of the 2013 Colorado Green Car Convoy.


We were about to drive the new C-Max and the CADA Honda Odyssey, wrapped in a Clean the Air Foundation graphic, to Gunnison and Montrose CO, where Jackson was presenting a PowerPoint enhanced talk on the history and future of the auto industry with local Rotary Clubs there. This is how CADA promotes the Denver Auto Show and evangelizes upon the considerable benefits of owning a new car.

Having driven a multitude of hybrid vehicles over the past several years, the Ford C-Max started to stand out from the rest as soon as highway speeds kicked in and we began to ascend the Colorado Foothills.

It’s not that all hybrids make you think limp-wristed acceleration, but some of them drive sensibly even when that’s not your intention. As it turns out, the Ford C-Max is not one of those, as the 2.0-liter Atkinson-style IVCT engine combines with the electric motors to evoke serious power for a commuter car getting an EPA rating of 47-mpg.

The truly fun part of driving from Denver to Montrose comes in three separate parts. The first of these begins a few miles south of Fairplay and continues to where Highway 285 intersects Highway 24, near Buena Vista. Here the roadway twists and turns like erratically corrugated cardboard, undulating over ridge and valley with the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Princeton and Mt. Antero as a backdrop.

Driving through this area is a joy in any car with the power and handling to glibly navigate the serpentine ups and downs and the C-Max was a sheer delight.

Once turning onto highway 50, we had only a few miles to go before beginning to ascend to the 11,317-foot summit of Monarch Pass. Despite melting snow and icepack on this warm winter day, the 2013 Ford C-Max climbed the mountain undaunted, losing its footing for only a split second on one particularly slippery spot.

The front wheel drive vehicle with a continuously variable transmission performed as well on the snowy mountain pass as many all-wheel-drive vehicles we’ve driven.

One interesting part of the SYNC MyTouch hybrid info display comes whenever you brake to a stop. A message appears stating “96 percent energy returned,” touting the efficiency of the regenerative braking.

When you first enter the hybrid, a green leaf crosses the right side of the instrument panel as if blown by the wind coming through the door. When you turn the car off with the start/stop button, a message appears stating, “Thank you for driving a hybrid.” Isn’t that special!

Once you pass Gunnison, Highway 50 crosses through the Curecanti National Recreation Area, a long mountain reservoir the highway snakes around. Further along the highway you pass beside the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, now a National Park.

The Gunnison River is descending at a terrific rate in this area equal to 34 feet per mile, the fifth steepest mountain descent in North America. Winding through the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, the highway descends along sweeping curves at a similar if not steeper rate of decline.

Not all cars like to descend like this, but most hybrids do, soaking up the kinetic energy as they go – driving this portion of Highway 50 in the 2014 Ford C-Max was as much fun as any roller coaster ever made.

Not everyone enjoys driving through mountains where sometimes you have a mountain on one side of you and thin air on the other. For some others, the S-curve signs on the side of the road mean Spectacular!

Racking up 600 miles in two days by crossing Kenosha, Monarch and Vail passes, plus climbing up Loveland pass to the Eisenhower Tunnel, we averaged 36-mpg in the C-Max without pampering it, generally driving at highway speeds that defeat the car’s aerodynamics.

The phone paired easily and the cruise control worked smartly, but we could have used a little more preflight time to acclimate to the newly redesigned articulated steering wheel.

The extremely raked windshield creates an open and roomy feel in the front seat and full-size adult passengers in the back seat found nothing to complain about.

The 2013 Ford C-Max SEL has a base price of $28,200, to which a technology package was added for $3,080. This provided navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, rearview camera, power liftgate, smart key and even a self parking system we didn’t get a chance to try out.

The grand total came to $32,075 with destination charges of $795 included. According to the EPA estimate of 47-mpg, if you drive 15,000 miles in a year paying $3.55 a gallon for gas, your annual fuel expenditure should be $1,150. That’s a savings of $5,850 compared to a 23-mpg vehicle with all else remaining the same.

When we divided our actual mileage by the EPA rating and multiplied that by the five-year savings, it still came out to about $4,481. So that means any extra cost the hybrid technology added will be returned within those five years if gas doesn’t go up. If the price of petrol does rise, the return will be much quicker.

In conclusion, we have driven more powerful and luxurious hybrids, but they cost more than double what the 2014 Ford C-Max does. It provides good mileage, power and safety, seating for up to five and more cargo capacity than the Prius V at a price point considerably less. Add to that, it’s actually great fun to drive.

We think Ford may have hit a homer with the C-Max. So did the sales manager at Phil Long Ford, stating everyone that takes one for a test drive comes back smiling.

We were still smiling after driving it more than 600 miles in two days.


AnonymousBOB (not verified)    February 24, 2013 - 5:08AM

In reply to by Aaron Turpen

From week one my prius v has giving me 54 to 56 mpg around city driving. And 47 to 49 mpg I 95 driving. Ford c max is not as big inside or out as my prius v.Ford wishes they could be as good as Toyota.I have owned my prius v for 14 month. Same mpg every week. Ford is going to court for their lieing about mpg.

Roger (not verified)    February 26, 2013 - 2:09PM

I don't understand the comment in the review which states " seating for up to five and more cargo capacity than the Prius V." All the specs I have read for these two vehicles say the "V" has a greater cargo capacity. The V is longer overall and has a longer wheelbase, which would seem to support the Prius V as the larger hauler.

Roger (not verified)    February 26, 2013 - 2:46PM

Ok, I need to follow up on my previous comment regarding Prius V being a bigger hauler. I do remember now the C Max has a larger overall interior measurement, total cubic feet/wise. However the Prius V has more cubic feet behind the second row and also more c.ft. with the 2nd row folded down. So it still appears the V has more usable space for cargo.

RonaldKramer (not verified)    March 19, 2013 - 1:03PM

Open letter to Ford:

I thought my 2013 C-MAX would be a Prius Killer? NOT! As a returning Ford buyer I feel deceived. I want to support US companies and US jobs. What was Ford thinking when they published 47/ 47/47 estimates? Based on the advertised EPA estimates, I would have been ok with low 40's but 28-33 mpg is not even in the ballpark. This is not an issue about EPA testing standards, but rather an issue about setting false customer expectations in order to promote sales. Ford's "47MPG" marketing campaign tarnished what should have been the roll out of a truly remarkable vehicle, the CMAX. Real world MPG estimates should have been promoted in the mid-30's. No one would have questioned those numbers and the CMAX would have received the accolades it deserves. How these MPG estimates made it through Ford corporate is beyond me! Maybe it was the rush to go to market? I have been accused of not knowing how to drive hybrid. For the record, during the last three years I have leased both a 2010 Prius and 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid, and consider myself an experienced hyper-miler. My mileage in the Prius is 50 plus, the Insight is 40 plus. The C-MAX is a well-built car, with extremely inflated EPA estimates. I respectfully request that this matter be investigated as soon as possible. My efforts to deal with this locally and through Ford customer service have frustrated me to no end. The constant response? "You need to learn to how to drive hybrid type of vehicle ". Is there a difference how I drive Prius Hybrid vs. the CMAX hybrid? I think we all know the answer to that. I need someone at Ford to reach out to me and assist in a proactive manner so we can put this matter to rest.

Ronald Kramer Yankee Ford Customer
South Portland, Maine

Eddie Mikell (not verified)    March 12, 2020 - 7:05AM

I late to the ballgame with my comment here.

I have owned a Prius. It was fun and like the gas mileage. But the god awful seats took a toll on my back - it got to the point that I dreaded getting into the car. My wife hated it, so I got rid of it.

I recently purchased a lightly used Ford C-max energi. All I can say is wow. Probably one of the best cars I have owned in decades.

The seats are divine. Plenty of head room, easy to see out. It is far quieter than the tin box Prius, and certainly a lot more fun to drive.

I plug my in when I get home - regular 120V. I have about a 32 mile commute to work each way, but my company, and most places I stop have no problem with me plugging in for a top up.

Even without plugging in, I average at least 49 - and regularly get 55+.

My only issue has nothing to do with the car. It is with the dealer, and with Ford's policy of not being upfront with the pricing on the warranty. Yes, I did buy one, as the dealer told me the electronics were so unreliable I would be sorry if I didn't. Thanks a lot Ford for that comment concerning your reliability.

The warranties are at least half price if you purchase from a Ford dealer online. Ted Britt Ford in Fairfax was my dealer, and they are scam artist. Never go there.

So far, I'm pleased, and I am glad I did not buy the Prius V.