SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Our first glimpse of the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid occurs along the palm-fringed Ocean Avenue overlooking blue Pacific waves in Santa Monica Bay.
The new hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) for the compact class looks sleek in an aero package that slants hood and windshield into a racked-back plane which resembles a rakish coupe while vertical flanks carry four doors of a practical sedan as the roof arches over a 5-place cabin to a lopped-off tail housing a hatchback-style rear cargo door.
Ford developed C-Max to supplant the Escape Hybrid 5-door crossover utility vehicle with the convenience and practicality of a 4-door hatchback wagon plus exceptional EPA fuel consumption scores which climb to 47 miles per gallon (mpg) city/highway.
Ford labels C-Max as a multi-activity vehicle (MAV) and actually offers two versions:
* C-Max Hybrid is a conventional HEV stocking a fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engine that sips gasoline plus a battery-powered electric traction motor of permanent-magnet design, a lithium-ion battery pack and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
* C-Max Energi is a plug-in hybrid variation with a 500-mile driving range. It can run up to 85 miles per hour (mph) solely on battery power and achieves fuel economy numbers up to 108 mpg city and 92 mpg highway.
This review focuses on C-Max Hybrid, which Ford splits into the two trims labeled SE and SEL.
We slip into the driver's seat of a C-Max Hybrid SEL top-trim edition and discover a stylish cabin featuring soft leather upholstery and an extensive array of high-tech gadgets plus a bold but clean design of the dash marked by a dazzling new electronic instrument cluster and electronic finish panels.
Then we drive away, merging into morning traffic on Ocean Avenue.
We turn onto the California Grade which leads downhill to the multi-lane Pacific Coast Highway heading west toward Malibu for some drive tests on the wiggly shore road.
Right away, our C-Max surprises us with its get-up-and-go acceleration, which seems far quicker than other hybrids in our experience.
It also feels rock-solid tight with the precise manners of a pricy European touring sedan, despite a relatively modest powertrain and compact-class stature.
A strong unibody structure for C-Max is based on Ford's new global C-segment platform.
The suspension design produces responsive handling and a refined ride quality. Ford installs independent MacPherson struts in front with tuned front shock absorbers and a 25.5-mm front stabilizer bar. Then there's a Control Blade multilink arrangement in back with tuned rear shocks and a 22-mm stabilizer bar.
Brakes consist of a disc at every wheel with linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS), Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control (ESC) device with roll stability control (RSC), and a regenerative braking system.
Ford applies additional dynamic safety devices to C-Max such as Torque Vectoring Control, which adds a touch of braking to the outward front wheel when powering through a corner, and Curve Control, which automatically slows the car when onboard motion sensors detect that a driver is proceeding too quickly into a curve.
The powertrain for C-Max Hybrid includes:
* Gasoline-fired 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams (DOHC) and intake variable cam timing (i-VCT) plus modifications for fuel-efficient combustion under the Atkinson-cycle concept, with output of 141 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque.
* AC synchronous electric motor/generator producing 118 hp (88 kW) and 117 lb-ft of torque.
* Lithium-ion battery pack (1.4 kW).
* HF35 eCVT hybrid powersplit transaxle.
Combined output of the HEV power system is estimated to be 188 hp and creates a top vehicle speed of 115 mph, or 62 mph when running in electric-only mode.
C-Max Hybrid SE edition stocks dual-zone automatic climate controls, power windows and door locks, leather-bound tilting/telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable driver seat, integrated blind-spot mirrors, cruise control, Ford's SmartGauge with EcoGuide, the Microsoft-powered Sync voice-activated controller for communication and entertainment systems, and a 6-speaker audio kit with CD deck, audio jack and iPod/USB interface.
C-Max Hybrid SEL adds front foglamps, heated exterior mirrors, automatic windshield wipers, a keyless entry and ignition system, leather seat upholstery, 8-way power for driver seat, heated front seats, MyFord Touch electronics interface and a Rear Park Aid.
Optional packages cluster more gear aboard.
The Premium Audio and Navigation Package installs a navigation system and nine-speaker Sony audio system; the Hands-Free Technology Package brings a rearview camera and power liftgate that opens when you move your foot below the rear bumper, and the Parking Technology Package adds front parking sensors plus automatic parallel parking equipment.
Ford sets MSRP figures for C-Max 2013 at low levels beginning at $25,200 for C-Max Hybrid SE.