Is the Ford C-MAX hybrid a Toyota Prius killer?

Ford is looking to jump into the American dedicated hybrid market – currently dominated by the Toyota Prius – with the announcement recently of its C-MAX Hybrid.

The 2013 vehicle, which will be available this fall for a starting price of around $26,000, has been under development for the last few years as part of a global green car strategy by the auto manufacturer.

The C-MAX Hybrid, whose base price is around $500 less than the comparable Prius V, is lacking at the moment specific details on its official gas mileage information. 

We do know though, based upon a report we did on this vehicle at last year’s Detroit Auto Show, that Ford said it expects the vehicle to perform better than the 41 mpg Ford Fusion Hybrid by operating in fuel-saving electric mode beyond 47 mph.

Given that the 2012 Toyota Prius V has a 42 MPG combined, this shouldn’t be too hard for Ford to achieve. Its plan, which “blends fuel economy with performance,” reportedly will install in the C-MAX Hybrid a best-in class horsepower and torque through the combination of a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine and a battery-driven electric motor powered by a li-ion battery system.

This hybrid will make use of what Ford says is its powersplit architecture, which “allows the electric motor and gasoline-powered engine to work together or separately to maximize efficiency.” The vehicle, in low-speed, low-load conditions, can operate with the electric motor alone for a as yet to be mentioned distance.

The battery system can be recharged when the gasoline engine is in operation, it was noted, as well as via a regenerative braking system said to recapture “more than 95 percent of the braking energy that would otherwise be lost.”

As we mentioned earlier, the C-MAX Hybrid is not a new design for Ford. The company is building it off of its global C-segment platform, which has already seen more than 156,000 units of the gasoline version sold in Europe since its 2010 launch. This has helped the auto maker to put a lot of thought into how this vehicle is developed, with perhaps some additional tweaks for American market specifics.

Ford has thrown in a bunch of interesting technology into the C-MAX Hybrid, including hands-free liftgate, active park assist for easier parallel parking and what it calls its “next-generation SmartGauge with EcoGuide” to help eek out better fuel economy while driving. 

It also comes equipped with the MyFord Touch infotainment system, which offers ways for customers to “manage and control their phone, navigation, entertainment and climate functions through voice commands [and] menus accessed through controls on the steering wheel, touch screens, buttons or knobs.”

C-MAX Hybrid dimensions are pretty decent for most bigger people, as the vehicle has a high roofline at 63.9 inches and headroom in both the front and rear seats of 41/39.4 inches. It also offers 99.7 cubic feet of passenger space, which is slightly larger than the Prius v. Cargo space behind the 60/40 split-fold rear seats that fold flat offers 54.3 cubic feet of space behind the first row and 24.5 cubic feet behind the second row.

As part of its domestic green car strategy, this hybrid is one one of five electrified vehicles Ford plans to produce in North American in 2012.  The others include the Focus Electric, Fusion Hybrid and Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, as well as the C-MAX Energi, which is another plug-in hybrid offering set for debut later this year. It reportedly will have what is said to be “better electric-mode fuel economy and overall driving range than the Prius plug-in hybrid.”

Nino Marchetti, EarthTechling