I needed to drive from Portland, Oregon, to Tacoma, Washington for work. Why not kill two work-related birds with one work-related stone and get a car to review on the way? So I contacted the car people and asked for a Corvette. There weren’t any to be had. So I asked for a modern muscle car, a Mustang or Challenger, say. No go. They offered a Ford C-MAX. Fine, I said. If I were a teenager, I would have huffed off to my room. Since I am a professional, I sulked in my studio. Because maturity.
They dropped off the C-MAX on a Thursday, and it was like a plain gray bean in my driveway. It had some swoopy bits on the body panels, but they weren’t fooling anyone. This car would be practical, not fun.
That is not my house. I forgot to take a picture of the car myself, so this is Ford’s photo.
Friday morning, I awoke bright and early and poured myself a cup of the fresh-brewed coffee I had for once remembered to set up for myself the night before. I situated myself in the C-MAX and began the trek to Tacoma, a not-so-great town, in this hybrid, a not-so-great car.
As the coffee worked its magic and the sun arose over the Cascades, a funny thing happened. The C-MAX grew on me. It was comfortable. It accelerated like crazy when I wanted to pass. It had a nice, big screen in the console for the navigation. The digital dashboard told me all kinds of cool information, like how much of my braking energy I recaptured and sent to the battery when I slowed down to a stop. I could talk to it via the Sync with MyFord Touch system. By the time I arrived in Tacoma — early for my appointment, mind you — I was flipping through the owner’s manual to find out what else I could do in the car. It turned out I could do lots — I hadn’t even linked my phone. So I did that.
Ford got some shit for overstating the C-MAX’s fuel economy. They said it got 47 mpg combined city-highway. I didn’t get that, but I thought it was because I wasn’t trying to hypermile or drive even at all carefully in a fuel-conscious way. It was all jackrabbit starts and overtaking on the highway for me. But the revised numbers that Ford sent out the day after my C-MAX was ripped from my hands say it will get a combined 43 mpg, which is pretty close to what I got. I was a bit low, since I spent so many of my miles on the freeway, and hybrids suffer a bit in that arena, but well within Ford’s revised range. And Ford did what I think is the right thing here and reimbursed folks who’d already bought a C-MAX hybrid $550 ($325 for lessees) to make up for the numbers snafu.
You probably noticed I used some pretty strong words there when I said they ripped the C-MAX from my hands. That’s because it went from being an ugly gray bean to being an eminently useful car painted a nice shade of Sterling Gray Metallic. When my six-four husband got in and pushed the passenger seat back, he had tons of knee room, and there was still room for someone behind him. The cargo space in the rear held about a thousand pounds of dog food and cat litter with room for the few things the people were allowed to buy themselves on that shopping trip.
So yeah, the C-MAX is not sexy. It comes in an even nerdier — yet more fuel-efficient — plug-in hybrid configuration. No one is every going to whip their head around and push their sunglasses down their nose for a better look as you drive by. But it is so amazingly practical and gets such good mileage without the driver having to try (even with the revised numbers) that I’d say it’s worth the nearly $30k you’ll pay for it. This is the kind of car you keep for a decade.
- 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid
- Base price: $28,200
- Options: $2215 for nav, rear-view camera, power liftgate, hands-free tech
- Price as tested: $31,210