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2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Ford C-Max
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL

Bill Crittenden
14 April 2016


This car just makes my inner Trek nerd as happy as a new episode every time I drive it.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL
Nearly a month ago we traded in our 2010 Mazda CX-7 iSport for a car that we really had fallen in love with since its release.

The Ford C-Max came used with 38,000 miles, but was otherwise the exact car we had been looking for. It's a hybrid that gets 39-42 miles per gallon for us, an improvement of about 15-20 over the Mazda we traded in.

I come into this a bit biased towards loving this car because of my physical needs. There are only a handful of actual cars on the market that we can consider because of my size. I'm six-foot-two, but my body is disproportionate compared to other people my height. Compared to a normal six-foot-two person, I've got a long torso with relatively short legs and arms. That means that I need to lean the seat back for my head to fit under the roof, but then my short arms can't reach the wheel comfortably. That restricts me to minivans, SUVs, the C-Max, Mazda5, and similar narrow-track/tall roof wagons. Since my teen years my cars have been a succession of Chevy S-10, Chevy Blazer, Chevy Venture, Pontiac Vibe, and the Mazda CX-7. Aside from the C-Max, I still have the Vibe. Our son is expected to be over six feet tall when he's done growing, so rear seat room was just as important as front.

The C-Max is based on the "normally proportioned" Focus, which isn't as comfortable to get into and drive for me, but was still an impressive little car when I drove one. My much shorter mother-in-law has one, and that's what got me interested in the C-Max in the first place. The C-Max is essentially a Focus done in the European style of the mini-MPV, sort of a mini-minivan with regular swing rear doors. It's been produced in Spain and sold in Europe since 2005, with the U.S. version coming later in 2012 with the second generation and the beginning of production of the hybrid version in Wayne, Michigan.

Not only am I able to sit up straight and proper in the driver's seat of the C-Max, but I'm comfortable enough in the back seat, too. The power driver's seat has plenty of adjustments to make it just right, including a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. The seat curves snugly around me, its leather warmed by an adjustable heater that burns my butt at 5, a setting that will come in handy when our winters hit ten below zero. On a chilly day, 2 or 3 is adequate, the adjustment being a big upgrade over the the simple on/off we were used to in our previous vehicle.

The first thing you might notice as you drive it is that it's quite a bit heavy, especially for a vehicle of its size. While that means you can't chuck it around tight corners, that weight makes it feel solid and stable at highway speed. It's a highway cruiser, which is really the best environment to appreciate just how much the car offers in technology. As we drive, there's a screen to the left of the speedometer that gives us a real-time view of power output from both the gas and electric motors, and a battery gauge next to the gas gauge. To the right of the speedometer is usually set to the Efficiency Leaves, which shows a growing vine of leaves as a gauge of how efficiently you're driving. Lean on the accelerator, and leaves fall off the vine. Come to a stop, and the left-side screen shows you how much energy you're regenerating with the Braking Coach.

This doesn't even count the big, center-mounted touchscreen. It includes satellite navigation, dual zone climate controls, telephone controls, and the entertainment system. A very thoughtful touch is the C-Max's ability to connect to two phones at the same time via Bluetooth, and we usually have it so I can control the music from my phone while my wife can answer calls on hers. There's also a USB port for music on a flash drive, or connecting a phone while charging it. The only drawback I've found is the inability to change playlists from the touchscreen while connected via Bluetooth.

The proximity key is pretty cool, all I have to do is walk up to the car and pull the handle, get in, and push the button on the dashboard to start. Or I could start it remotely on my way to the car with a separate key fob. I don't know why but the remote start button is on a separate fob, which seems weird for a factory option. Personally, I love not having to even take my keys out of my pocket, but Heidi doesn't always wear pants with pockets. Whatever you do, don't get used to dumping your keys in the cup holder when you get in and hit the door lock when you get out, or you may eventually need to be rescued with the second key.

As if the car didn't already feel like a shuttle from Star Trek because of the dashboard (and overall wagon shape of the car), I've noticed that at night the helpful little lights that illuminate the ground outside the front doors at night also light up a good section of the door like the running lights on the Enterprise. The left-side instrument screen has different configurations with different names, and my favorite is coincidentally named "Engage." Then there's the big glass roof on the top-of-the-line SEL as well as the color-changing interior LED courtesy lights. This car just makes my inner Trekkie as happy as a new episode every time I drive it.

Not to get too sidetracked but one quick custom car idea...I'm not a huge fan of silver cars, but on a C-Max I could have painted on the dual red side stripes like the Enterprise-A has as pinstripes and install blue LEDs behind the bumper for a blue glow through the lower grille (reminiscent of the blue nav deflector) and I'd have the perfect Trekkie car.

The only thing it seems to really be missing technologically is a rear view camera, which would be a neat little tech toy with the way Ford has guidelines that move with the steering wheel when backing up. An odd omission considering the rest of the package. Apple CarPlay would be nice for future versions of the car but is just being rolled out now on a few models, and personally I think all cars should have a built-in dashcam, but I can't think of a single one that does.

One "big" drawback is cargo space. The trunk isn't deep at all, in fact the floor is two inches above the bumper because of the hybrid battery. We used to have two big laundry baskets side-by-side in the back of the Mazda and now one barely fits. The space is adequate for shopping, and the rear seats fold down, but gone are the days of furniture shopping on a whim like we did when we had our minivan. Buying large items takes advance planning. You'll have to travel light if you've got four adults going out for a weekend, but all four adults should be completely comfortable for the ride. If you're more serious about family road trips and you've got the money for the vehicle and the gas, the Flex would be better.

Buying books while riding around in the C-Max should be just fine at any time, though. Being a used car color wasn't a choice, but I really wanted the white so that I could paint the wheels green and have my Crittenden Automotive Library "company car." Our plan is to save up the money to buy another C-Max for my wife so I can have this white one. We love the car that much.

The other drawback is that it doesn't look like it would be great in deep snow. There's not much clearance between the wheels and the fenders, which is pretty nice in the summer because it already looks lowered compared to other stock compacts but makes me doubt if it can push through unplowed roads. The heavy weight needs to be kept in mind any time traction isn't optimal, as well. This is fine for us, as we still have an AWD Pontiac Vibe to get us through the really bad days. If this is an issue for you I've driven the Ford Escape and it's very similar in a lot of ways except that they don't make a hybrid anymore.

As with every car I've tested, the limitations and drawbacks can be summed up as "no car can be all things to all people." So what does the C-Max do best? It transports up to four full-height adults at about 40 miles per gallon. It's a wonderful highway cruiser for a small family who can pack light. It can be an awesome company car, especially if you want to show off some environmental awareness. It's only real competitor is the higher-priced Toyota Prius V.

I honestly don't know why more people don't drive these cars. One reason might be that a lot of people have a bit of a blank stare when I tell them what we bought. I had to take Heidi to the dealership to show her what it was for the first time, because they're not common enough to point out in normal conversations sitting in traffic. I can't remember a single ad I've ever seen for it. Perhaps "Focus MPV" would have been a better name for the car, bundling the C-Max's marketing in with the much more popular Focus.

My father-in-law called his Flex "Ford's best-kept secret." Now he drives a Transit Connect, another vehicle on the market that I've never seen an ad for. Maybe it's time to tell the marketing department that Ford makes more than Mustangs and trucks? Just a thought.

In fact, the dealer seemed eager to get this one off their hands as it had been stored so long that it needed a jump start, reminding me of a couple quirks about cars of storing cars with this much tech on them: because there's always a circuit powered up and waiting for your key to come into range or the remote start button to signal it, it's always using a tiny bit of power. Eventually even a big hybrid battery runs out of juice to keep it going. Also, we've discovered that as cars use less rear brake than front, and hybrids use less brake all around, that you really have to work to get the surface rust off of the rear discs if the car's been sitting in the rain for a while. Just a few things to keep in mind if you're going to leave a new hybrid outside at the airport for a couple of weeks, but now that we have our C-Max, I'd rather take the road trip.

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