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Ford boldly decided it was going after one of the industry’s iconic vehicles – the Toyota Prius – a hybrid that seemingly runs forever on a tank of gas and proudly gets 50 mpg.

Props to the Ford braintrust, which decided it could also design a hybrid with similar gas-saving capabilities. The 2013 C-Max hybrid arrived prematurely last September and everyone quickly took notice because it was advertised as getting 47 mpg.

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Frankly, it was a proud moment for many Americans, who now had this highly acclaimed four-door hatchback to brag about. Car buyers immediately liked it. There were 969 C-Max models sold in the first month, a new benchmark among all Ford hybrids.

So how come after such a notable debut, nine months later the C-Max is emerged in controversy? It’s because this genuinely likable hybrid may not be getting the advertised gas mileage. And the 47 mpg doesn’t just fall short – it’s way off by some estimates!

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

  • Performance: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 188 horsepower (combined)
  • Mileage estimate range: 47 mpg
  • Price: $25,200 to $28,365
  • Warranty: 3years/36,000 miles; drivetrain 5years/60,000 miles; roadside assistance 5 years/60,000

On behalf of a disgruntled C-Max owner, a California law firm filed a class-action suit against Ford, claiming the vehicle isn’t nearly so fuel efficient. The C-Max owner claimed he was getting 37 mpg.

A review of the C-Max by the esteemed Consumer Report group says its testers also averaged just 37 mpg during 2,000 miles of testing. Note that the Prius V wagon gets 45 mpg.

Not enough mileage was driven here for an accurate measurement, but the advertised mileage for the C-Max is definitely in question among many owners.

Despite all the mileage controversy, there is plenty to really admire about the C-Max. It provides a refined, quiet ride with very good handling and sight lines. The C-Max is a tall, roomy wagon, especially for front-seat occupants, and the interior is made of first-rate materials. There’s nothing cheap about the C-Max, which comes in two trims (SE and SEL) and includes a plug-in hybrid version, called Energi.

The front-wheel C-Max has the identical platform of the Ford Focus compact and the Escape SUV. The C-Max is 6.2 inches higher than the Focus and 2.4 inches shorter than the Escape. The C-Max is both taller and wider than the Prius models.

Paired with an electric motor and its lithium-ion battery pack, the C-Max is a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder that has an impressive 188 combined horsepower, 121 pound-feet of torque, and features a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The C-Max goes 0-60 mph in 8.1 seconds, which is very quick among the hybrid crowd.

This Ford hybrid offers a firm ride and very responsive steering, which is not the norm among its competitors. Its quiet ride is another quality that rivals will envy.

While the interior is appealing to the eye and constructed quite well, there are some definite issues. The biggest is the optional MyFord Touch interface. C-Max owners almost universally complain how it’s an unintuitive infotainment system that is frustrating to master and becomes an unnecessary driving distraction.

The other main complain with the C-Max interior is the smallish cargo space, which is caused by the hybrid’s battery pack being located beneath the floor of the cargo area. There’s only 24.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats.

However, lowering the rear seats increases cargo space to 52.6 cubic feet. But that’s still 15 cubic feet smaller than the Prius hatchback.

There’s no doubt that the C-Max has many fine qualities, including its fun factor, a rarity among small hybrids. But solving the mileage problem better be addressed quickly or Ford’s first-year hit could become an overall bust.

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