Fuel economy is a reason to buy the 2013 Ford C-Max hybrid crossover, but not the only reason. That matters because critics have questioned how close the C-Max's real-world gas mileage comes to its eye-popping EPA rating of 47 miles per gallon in the city, 47 on the highway and 47 in combined driving.
The C-Max is a sleek and roomy compact minivan -- crossover, depending on how much you don't want to admit to liking a minivan. It's based on the same architecture as the Ford Focus. The U.S. version, built alongside the Focus in Wayne, Mich., comes in one size and with two gasoline-electric hybrid powerplants.
I tested the simple hybrid, for want of a better term. It can travel short distances on electric power alone at up to 62 mph. Prices start at $25,200. It has lithium-ion batteries, 188 horsepower and a continuously variable automatic transmission.
Despite being 4.9 inches shorter than a Ford Focus compact sedan, the C-Max offers plentiful passenger room. The attractive and space-efficient exterior design packs 99.7 cubic feet into a passenger compartment with a roomy front seat and loads of rear headroom.
Wind and road noise are very noticeable at highway speed, but the interior features attractive, soft-touch materials and handsome gauges. The voice-recognition system works well with navigation commands but still falters on some basic instructions, like "Call home."
The C-Max's steering is responsive with good feedback. The sporty little crossover accelerates with smooth confidence. The hybrid system functioned flawlessly in my test. The engine shut itself off smoothly when stopped and restarted immediately.
The car slipped smoothly into electric drive at highway speed and on surface streets. While some hybrids frequently shift out of electric mode in response to slight moves of the accelerator, I found it easy to keep the C-Max in battery mode.
How you drive affects your fuel economy. Driving at 75 mph knocks 7 mpg off vs. 65 mph. An outside temperature of 40 degrees reduces fuel economy 5 mpg vs. 70 degrees. An engine that's not broken in -- a process that takes 6,000 miles or so -- can fall an additional 5 mpg short.
The 2013 Ford C-Max stands out for its combination of room, performance, fuel economy and affordability. It's one of the most efficient and appealing vehicles to go on sale in 2012.
2013 FORD C-MAX
BASE PRICE: $25,000
PRICE AS TESTED: $28,180
EPA FUEL ECONOMY: 47 mpg city; 47 mpg highway
ENGINE: 2.0-liter DOHC variable-valve-timing 16-valve four-cylinder engine; lithium-ion battery, electric motor.
POWER: 188 horsepower
WHEELBASE: 104.3 inches
LENGTH: 173.6 inches
WIDTH: 72.0 inches
HEIGHT: 63.9 inches
CURB WEIGHT: 3,640 pounds
BOTTOM LINE: Roomy hybrid excels in fuel economy