2013 Ford C-MAX SEL Hybrid Review

MPG-o-Matic 2013 Ford C-MAX SEL Hybrid Review Summary: While it falls short of the mark in cold weather and high speed fuel-efficiency, the Ford C-MAX dominates on every other front. Controversy aside, the C-MAX rolls a respectable level of performance, a solid ride, plenty of comfort, ample technology, and a remarkably roomy interior in a compelling package. Ford touts that the C-MAX is “the fastest-selling hybrid ever at launch, with 8,030 sales in its first two full months on the market in October and November.”

The 2013 Ford C-Max is powered by a hybrid drive train with a 2.0 liter Atkinson-Cycle inline four cylinder engine and permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motor that produces a total of 188 horsepower (HP). The C-Max rides on the global front-wheel-drive (FWD) Focus platform and is fitted with an Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (e-CVT).

The official fuel economy estimates for the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid are 47 city / 47 highway miles per gallon (MPG).

We rolled up over 900 miles in an extended two-week-long test with a Blue Candy SEL review unit, and fell short of the official mileage estimates, scoring an average of 43.1 MPG on the Interstate highway and 41 MPG combined with temperatures ranging from the twenties through the low fifties. Our tests illustrate that the C-MAX, like all hybrids, is most fuel-efficient when operating in warmer temperatures. (See detailed C-MAX gas mileage testing notes.)

While cold weather, winter fuel, and short trips are likely culprits for the lower fuel efficiency, it’s clear that the EPA testing procedures are ripe for an update. Although the media has yet to pick up on the facts, the motivation behind the elimination of city and highway MPG range listings (in fine print) on the 2013 Monroney (window sticker) is a story yet to be told.

Interstate Highway Gas Mileage Testing

  • Cruise control set to 68 MPH, HVAC off, windows up: 42.4 MPG
  • Cruise control off, target speed 60-72 MPH, HVAC off, windows up: 43.8 MPG
  • Cruise control set to 60 MPH, HVAC off, windows up: 46.4 MPG

Interstate highway testing temperatures were in the low fifties. Our test vehicle was equipped with the standard 17-inch alloy wheels, clad with P225/50R17 Michelin Energy Saver A/S All-Season tires, and was delivered with just over 4000 miles on the odometer.

Highway driving range is excellent when driven conservatively. The 2013 C-Max Hybrid is fitted with a 13.5 gallon fuel tank and is designed to run on regular unleaded gasoline. The Lithium-ion battery pack is rated at 1.4kWh, while the Coefficient of Drag is rated at 0.30. It’s worth noting that the Ford Fusion Hybrid uses the same hybrid drive train as the C-MAX and is rated at the same 47/47/47 MPG, yet it has a significantly lower Cd at 0.27. This would clearly seem to point out a deficiency in the EPA’s highway testing procedure. It stands to reason that a ten percent difference in drag would be seen in highway speed fuel efficiency.

The four-wheel-disc regenerative ABS braking system uses 13.1-inch vented rotors on the front and 12.2-inch vented rotors at the rear. The C-MAX hybrid tips the scales at 3,607 pounds.

Straight line acceleration is excellent for a hybrid at this price and efficiency level, with sub-eight second 0-60 mile per hour (MPH) runs.

2013_Ford CMAX_interior
C-MAX trumps the competition when it comes to performance, ride, handling, and comfort. Quite simply, it’s a joy to drive. There’s plenty of oomph when needed and the transition between electric and gasoline propulsion is smooth. The steering wheel has a certain Ford heft.

The C-MAX’s hybrid system is at its best in the city, on the back roads and below 62 MPH. Don’t expect 47 MPG at 75 MPH. The system wasn’t designed to deliver that.

The cabin is roomy and the tech is well done. While some folks may have qualms with the MyFordTouch interface, it gave us no reasons to grumble, although it doesn’t seem to respond well to curse words.

While our tester was equipped with the optional nine-speaker Sony system, a six-speaker audio system with Microsoft Sync voice control, Sirius/XM satellite radio and Bluetooth support is standard.

The C-MAX SEL is packed with power outlets and media integration. A 110 outlet can be found at the back of the center console, with 12-volt outlets located in the cargo area, at the base of the dash, and inside the center console … where you’ll also find the audio input jack, a pair of USB jacks, and a pair of digital media card slots.

Leather upholstery, and five-level heated front bucket seats with ten way power adjustment and two-way power lumbar support are standard in the SEL model. The passenger front bucket seat has four-way manual adjustment.

The rear seats are rather spacious for a small vehicle, with a generous 39.4 inches of headroom and 36.5 inches of legroom. The center armrest is standard. A hidden compartment can be found just behind the driver’s seat.

The cargo area is quite accommodating, with 24.5 cubic feet of cargo area behind the split 60/40 second row seats and 52.6 cubic feet of storage with the second row seats folded completely flat.

The automatic tail gate is sure to be a hit with folks that struggle finding their keys in the parking lot of the big box store. With the proximity key within range, a wave of the foot under the back bumper opens the rear hatch like magic. While mom might fall in love with this feature, we found the hatch to be occasionally sticky.

All-in-all, the C-MAX hybrid delivers a solid ride and gutsy performance that’s simply not found in its chief competitor, the Prius V. While it may fall short on winter fuel efficiency (and at higher highway speeds), that’s par for the course with hybrids. Spend a bit of time behind the wheel, and it’s easy to see why the mighty little C-MAX is such a big hit.

In the second part of the video review, we dive into the different modes of the C-MAX’s Smart Gauge and show a typical morning drive, beginning with a cold start.

2013_Ford CMAX_side-profile

Assembly Location
Michigan Assembly Plant
Wayne, Michigan

Warranty Information:
Bumper-to-Bumper – 3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain – 5 years/60,000 miles
Safety Restraint System – 5 years/60,000 miles
Rust Perforation – 5 years/unlimited miles
Roadside Assistance – 5 years/60,000 miles
Hybrid battery/component – 8 years/100,000 miles (10 years/150,000 miles in CA and other CA Emissions states)

2013 Ford C-MAX SEL Hybrid Review

Daniel Gray

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19 thoughts on “2013 Ford C-MAX SEL Hybrid Review”

  1. Thanks for the great review Daniel. Minus all your technical knowledge, your findings seem to mirror mine. I’m learning more every day about my new car. Drove it in the snow yesterday for the first time. Coming from 10 years in a 4 WD Jeep Liberty, I was a little nervous, but the C-Max handled well on the snowy Michigan roads, and I still got 47.9 MPG on my ride home!


  2. Many thanks, Adair! There’s definitely a bit of a learning curve, but it all clicks soon enough. Great to hear about the performance in the snow.

  3. Thanks for the fine review. Nice to see such an informed honest review for this vehicle. Some seem like ads and some came not to praise but to kill. I’ve owned my 2013 C-Max SE Hybrid since Nov. 6. I traded in my 2009 Honda Fit Sport on it and while I really liked the Honda, this is a much nicer vehicle in every way. This is also my first American car in 40 or 50 years and I’m proud of the way it looks, rides, and yes, handles. I’m getting around 39 m.p.g. but that doesn’t really bother me (mountains of western, NC – highest elevations east of the Mississippi) as the vehicle is so nice in all other areas and 39 isn’t too shabby. I owned a Honda Insight a while ago and while I generally like Hondas, I couldn’t get rid of the Insight fast enough. Rode poorly, not great mileage, and the entire shook at red lights and stop signs!

  4. Dan,

    First time visitor and a new CMax owner and to be honest, I would not have known about your website until I heard about it on the various CMax forums.

    I must say this is super top and honest review of the C-Max. Also I liked the way you handled the “controversial” issue about the MPG whether you knew it or not. Unlike other websites, yours does not cry about the lack of MPG or hint that Ford cheated with the EPA figures but instead – and your website gets EXTRA KUDOS for this – you illustrate how the MPG would vary with the different driving speeds and driver choice of manual/eco-cruise and speed. That to me, was mind blowing and the 3 runs above the 40MPG at various highway speeds.

    This just shows the thoughtfulness and the extra length you go to in order to understand the vehicles you are testing and earn your website much respect.

    It just astounds me how many other so called professional car reviews or consumer sites continue to tout that this is a low or mid 30s MPG car, when you’ve just videoed “hey, here’s 3 runs and they vary between 43 and 46 mpg”. Egg on their face?

    If anybody wants to see what the CMax can do, they do not need to look any further here. As a new owner of a CMax I certainly learnt from you especially the tip about double tapping to kick it into EV in eco-cruise.

    Keep it up. This is my first time visiting your website and trust me when I say, it’s creating a lot of buzz out there in the various CMax forums about what you are doing.

    Got your website book marked and looking forward to more informative and honest reviews of upcoming vehicles.

    PS I only wish you had time to spend to see what difference a regular gas vs 91RON gas would have made to the MPGs, especially in these winter conditions.

  5. As part of my research into buying my first hybrid, I’ve read several reviews on other sites, most of them being positive about the C-MAX. That said, a lot of owners are claming poor mileage – usually in the mid 30 MPG range. Clearly, you’ve proven these people don’t understand how to to get the most out of their hybrid vehicles.

    You’ve made it clear that, with some smart driving, 47MPG in a C-MAX is possible. I haven’t decided between the C-MAX and Prius V yet, but I’m leaning toward the Ford. Kudos for your reviews! Keep them coming.

  6. 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

  7. @Ron – How did your Prius and Insight score in the winter months, compared to the winter months? Colder temperatures appear to have a significant effect on the C-MAX’s fuel efficiency, as do short trips. The combination of both is a double-whammy. That said, it takes a very light foot and careful attention to the drive train status to get the numbers.

  8. I use cruise control as often as possible, coast as often as possible and don’t accelerate quickly and only got into the mid-forties on the second tank of gas. I have owned my C-max for only a month and already took it on a long highway drive from Phoenix to Austin and averaged a miserable 30 mpg. I really like the car for its style, handling, comfort & features. The mpg was not the most important selling feature but I will admit I was hoping to get some incredible highway scores. The Ford dealer provided a class on using Sync & MyFord Touch. They should offer lessons on hybrid driving.

  9. @Nadya – Mid-forties on the second tank of gas is good! Highway speeds are a huge factor with MPGs in all cars and even more so with the C-MAX. It won’t get anywhere near its rating at 75 MPH, unfortunately. It might have scored that in the government tests – in the laboratory – but it doesn’t do it on the open road at speed.

    Dealer classes in hybrid driving is an excellent idea. I’d be glad to help develop the curriculum and present the classes.

  10. Do you think the fact that I bought the car in May and have been running the A/C almost every time I drive is keeping the mpg lower? Living in Phoenix, it will be Oct before I can drive without the A/C.

  11. @Nadya – Yep! A/C use always has an effect on fuel economy in every vehicle, to varying degrees. Starting a car and running the A/C for five minutes to cool it down (before driving) can have a significant impact, even more so when the driving distances are short (idle for five minutes, drive for ten).

  12. We’ve owned our C-Max for about 3.5 weeks and couldn’t be more satisfied. On our third tank of gas averaging 47.9 over 241.6 miles with the AC on. The major part of our driving is my wife’s commute which is a 40 mile round trip. The speeds are between 25 and 65 on very hilly terrain here in the Hudson valley with about 30% being city driving no Interstate highways. I accelerate to speed and up hills then just use enough gas to keep speed, no granny driving. It’s been quite easy to get that mileage with the C-Max certainly no harder than with a Honda Civic Hybrid which was our last car.
    We had a hard time choosing between the Prius 3 and the C-Max but went with the C-Max. For the combination of factors that make the C-Max a better hybrid driving experience it’s worth the 6 or 7 more miles per gallon of the Prius. One poster wrote that driving a Prius is like driving an appliance while driving the C-Max is driving a car. My wife especially hated that view out the rear window of the Prius, all the buttons and the cluttered dash. The simplicity of the C-Max dashboard, the solid feeling of the car and now that we have found the C-Max does indeed meet the EPA numbers makes it the better car.

  13. Just bought one this labor day weekend. Got the base sel model with none of the option packages. I would have liked a rear camera but the way ford packages everything forces you to buy options you don’t want or need. Sticker was $29555 and I paid$24000 plus tax and tags. Very pleased with deal.I got the red color with dark gray interior. I have to tell you that your reviews of it were the best I could find on you tube. I plan on re watching so I can learn on how to do some of the controls. Thanks!! Jim

  14. It won’t run out, Jamie. the base C-MAX is not a plug-in hybrid (like the C-MAX Energi). The system regenerates electricity when the brakes are applied.

  15. Love this video review on the Ford C-max. It is so informative, showing how to get the most gas mileage out of the Ford C-max Hybrid. I also think Ford needs to give a class on how to use the Smart Gauges to help get the best gas mileage. I attended the Ford Sync Class offered by Ford. That was an excellent class! I have had my C-Max for a month now and still learning how to drive it! My C-Max is a 2014 slate gray SEL model, loaded. I am really pleased with it. Learning how to drive a hybrid to get the best MPG is very important to me. The Smart Gauges are a real help to guide you and show how to keep the car in the EV Mode as much as possible. When the car is in EV Mode it uses the battery much of the time which helps the MPG. The car handles like a dream. So far I am very glad I chose the Ford C-Max Hybrid. Thanks for a great video!!

  16. I’ve had my 2013 C-Max sel for 3 weeks and I’m very happy with the performance, comfort, handling and overall ride. We just returned from a trip starting near Niagara Falls to South NJ and back.
    Set the trip meter to zero. We averaged 40.8 mpg for the entire 950 miles. It included Interstate speeds of 72 mph (in a 65 stretch) on cruise control, rolling hills in NY state and Pennsylvania, about 50 miles each way on 2 lane county roads at speeds of 45 to 60 mph, city driving in Philly. So, we gave it a good variety of driving terrain and conditions.
    Our only negative was the inaccurate navigation system. We were frustrated when it could not recognize much of what we were trying to find and especially wrong directions. For an expensive option, my $100, 5 year old Garmin is much simpler to use and way more accurate and user friendly.
    I hope Ford figures a way to re-program the My Sync system for cars already on the road.

  17. It won’t run out, Jamie. the base C-MAX is not a plug-in hybrid (like the C-MAX Energi). The system regenerates electricity when the brakes are applied.

    Will the bttery die out on the C Max Energy if it is not plug in charged, or does it keep on recharging itself irregardless, like a plain old hybrid does ? Thought the Plug-In Option was just like an extra added bonus that could be used or not used, but the vehicle would operate strictly Hybrid if the Plug-in-Feature is just left dormant, not used at all. Even the sales people seem to not know for certain. Really confused.

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