On this edition of  Drivetime, we look at the Ford attempt at meeting the Toyota Prius head on… the C-Max Hybrid. The crossover, which slips into the void left by the old boxy Escape, is roomy on passenger space and very comfortable while handling better than just about any crossover hybrid out there.

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From the outside the C-Max is a bit quirky looking…built on the Focus platform it is tall with a lot of glass. From the front the C-Max gets the Aston Martin-esque grille treatment that puts it right in line with the rest of the Ford family. The expansive side sheet metal is broken up by softly integrated wheel wells front and back. On the SEL model I drove the foot under the bumper to open the tailgate option became a favorite toy buy also a very useful option with my arms full.

Inside,  the C-Max is plenty roomy for passengers with ample front and rear seat room. The  comfortable front seats also sit up high giving you a commanding driving view. All of that glass I talked about also means the C-Max has excellent visibility but if by some chance you can’t see, Fords BLIS system that identifies vehicles in your blind spot is a big help. Materials in the interior are top notch with plenty of soft plastics. One of the groovier things in a car these days is the C-Max dashboard that gives you a ton of information about your environmentally conscious driving.

C-Max Economy Coach Photo by Vinnie Richichi

C-Max Economy Coach Photo by Vinnie Richichi

Not only that but it also has a driving coach which educates you on how to get the most out of your hybrid driving experience and then scores you on how good you have done each trip by the number of leaves on the screen. It’s almost like driving a video game. The one place the C-Max falls a bit short is in cargo room. It is smaller in the cargo area than its competition by about 15 cubic feet which could be a problem if you carry a lot of stuff.

The C-Max may be the best driving experience of all of the hybrids in its class. Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder good for 141 horsepower and 121 pound-feet of torque married up to an electric motor fed by a lithium-ion battery pack. Together, they produce 188 hp. Power is sent to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Worked properly  the C-Max can get up to over 50 mph on electric power only.

While the C-Max is quick for a hybrid from a dead stop, hit the passing gear on the freeway and the hybrid flies. Zero to 60 times were in the 8 second range. Braking has a solid feel although different than one might expect due to its tie to the energy system.

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The C-Max also handled at the top of its class with a solid driver connection to the road, good personality through the curves even with a full load of people and a ride tuned to be soft but not disconnected.

Two trim levels are available and several option packages that can run the price from  $25,200 for the SE without a lot of options to the $31,085 that our fully loaded  test SEL trim car stickered at. There is a plug-in hybrid Energi version available as well.

The EPA-estimated fuel economy,  47 mpg in the city and highway as well as combined driving .  In a week of mostly urban driving around Pittsburgh the C-Max had consistent mileage numbers in the 40-42 mpg range. The C-Max gets an overall 4 star crash rating in Federal tests and a 5 star rating in the side impact portion of those tests.

It is no secret that Ford is going after the Prius with the C-Max. It’s also no secret that they have done a pretty nice job here. If you don’t need the cargo room of the Prius V which is voluminous the C- Max is a solid choice that represents the future of the American family vehicle with flying colors!

For more information: http://www.ford.com/cars/cmax/

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Reviews, news about cars and the people who drive them, interviews and tips on how to get more out of your driving experience all on Drivetime with Vinnie Richichi and Rob Pratte Saturday mornings 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Newsradio 1020 KDKA. Also listen to Vinnie on The Vinnie and Cook Show Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan.