CNET On Cars: 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid: Prius Killer?
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CNET On Cars: 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid: Prius Killer?

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Can the Ford C-Max knock the Prius off its lofty perch? And the Top 5 car technologies you won't regret paying for.

-Is this the first car that can put the Prius in its place? The one-eyed cyclops cars of the pack reborn today. And top 5 car technologies you won't regret paying for. We see cars differently. We love 'em on the road and under the hood, but also check the tech and are known for telling it like it is. The good, the bad, the bottom line. This is CNET on Cars. -Welcome to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley. This is the show all about high tech cars and modern driving. And when you have those 2 things in your mission, you've got to be here at the 2012 L.A. Auto Show. One of the coolest cars introduced here is this guy, the Fiat 500E, E for electric, all battery powered. We also saw the new Chevy Spark EV. Electric cars get a lot of buzz. Hybrid cars right now get a lot of sales. And #1 on that list, as you know, is the Toyota Prius to which Ford says, "How come?" And they've got the C-MAX now as the most direct competitor to the King of the Heap in Hybrids. We were just dying to take it for a ride and see if it really has a chance to take the King's crown. This car is pissed off because the Toyota Prius, which it hates, has outsold every other hybrid in the world combined. Ford thinks that they've got the antidote. Let's drive the 2013 C-MAX SEL Hybrid and check the tech. Now, the first thing anybody asks me about the C-MAX is what is it? They hear it's a Prius killer. Ford has kinda been positioning it that way. Well, it sits somewhere between a Prius and the bigger Prius V in a number of different metrics. To begin with, this car can be had as a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid like the Prius. We had the standard hybrid today by the way. It delivers MPG smacking between a Prius and a V. It costs about $900 more from the cheapest Prius. It's shorter than that car, but has more passenger volume than the big Prius V. it also has more front and rear leg room than either Prius or Prius V. It's the tallest by the way. You could spot that already. It's also the heaviest by at least 333 pounds. Now, inside the C-MAX, first thing you notice is nice head room. Because it's so damn tall, you get the benefits inside. We've got the panoramic roof over my head. It's optional by the way ala carte. Dashboard is very filthy. I've told you before I have an issue with the Darth Vader mask up here because all these eyebrows and cheek things here get in the way of me touching the screen. Now, we have all the bells and whistles in this guy because we have a high trimmed car and pretty much all the tech options. As a result, communications, navigation. If I poked the lower left corner down here if I can get my hand in there, you see our media choices. They are many in this car. Obviously, you've got am/fm. We have HD radio as part of an optional trim up. The USB jack, there's 2 of those. And you could use those of course for sticks or iPods. Here's my droid phone on bluetooth streaming and of course audio video inputs. Meta tag information is shown nice and big, good use of the real estate. That's very important for bluetooth streaming 'coz you wanna know where you are and what you're playing. Unfortunately, it doesn't pull the tags all the time, but it's got lots of real estate when it says unknown. Now, because this car is a hybrid, we've got some fairly advanced efficiency gauges here on the left to show not just the usual fuel economy, but all kinds of things about charge assist, regeneration, charge level, things you'd expect, which Toyota tends to make much more front and center; kinda all is up on that big centered display. But in this car, they're tucked away and you can really reduce them down. And everything else in here looks like a Ford, not some different line of car, other indicators. And unlike a Prius, there's no EV mode button or B selector on the shifter, nothing to make you doubt you know how to drive it. Instead, you just put the thing and drive and drive it. Now, you do have a rocker switch here on the side of the shifter, which would typically be an overdrive lockout. In this car, it turns on this little icon that shows descent. And what that really makes you think is that's gonna go for the kind of a descending grade gear, but that's not really what it's doing. It's going into the higher regeneration mode like Toyota's B position, but it's masquerading it as something that most drivers will understand. Now, we have packaged 303A. Cryptic, yes. But remember that number 'coz that brings in all the toys without any screwing around, which means the navigation with voice, and traffic, and weather. Sony sound instead of base audio. HD radio with iTunes tagging. You might like the former. You'll never use the latter. A power lift gate with a hands-free technology. Waggle your foot and the gate comes up. Rear camera, front sensors, and self parking which you enable with this button right here. Just turn that guy on. follow the prompts. Let it do the steering and you're gonna be parking like an ace. People will think you know how to drive. The power tray on the C-MAX Hybrid starts off with a 2-liter Atkinson cycle learn burn gas engine that all Hybrid begin. Sit side saddle. Drives with front wheels only through a 1 choice only CVT gearbox. Now, 141 horsepower by itself, but it doesn't run by itself. It's got the electric motor attached to it. That gets the horses up to 188 and it can measure at bump and torque as well. We're also looking at a car that weighs 3,600 pounds here folks, hundred more than a Prius or Prius V. Therefore, the 0 to 60 of 8.1, it's fine. The MPG is a little lower than a Prius. 4747 on the C-MAX. We're also talking about a car here that's going to have perhaps better crash worthiness because it's got more weight. There've been studies lately that indicate the additional weight of Hybrids has made them safer certainly in terms of serious accidents, fatalities, and injuries. And this car may have a little more of an edge that way. Consider that anecdotal more than documented, but it's an interesting trend we're watching. Also, this car uses lithium ion batteries. The Prius line still uses the somewhat older nickel metal hydride formulation. Let's go for a ride. Okay, let's drive our little blue friend, which I notice is the same color as one of those blue Slurpies. What flavor is that blue? Anyway, the car is-- It's actually very Prius like in its feel in terms of how heavy it feels, how springy it feels, how responsive, things of that nature. You're always aware of the great degree of space in this car. Much like a Prius V, it feels very airy and roomy. It feels like a people mover to me more than a car. These cars began in Europe by the way. The C-MAX started selling in Europe in 2003 where they go in for more kind of practical compact utility vehicles more than we do or at least earlier than we do and that's why this car has the DNA it has. Now, this car is reporting almost 39 MPG over most of our testing. Remember the targets are 47 according to EPA. We're doing our testing here in San Francisco where you don't go anywhere without encountering a hill for the most part. So, I'm gonna spot a few miles per gallon. That means it's doing pretty well. Pretty close to estimates. The last thing I'll say is this CVT transmission, your only choice, it feels like a CVT. It's got a degree of kind of vagueness and wandering to it. It feels a little disconnected. Nothing wrong with it. It's just the way CVTs tend to be and this one is among those that tends to be that way as much as any other. That means that the performance is what? It's modulated as opposed to really giving you a kick when you step on it, which is a little bit disappointing because Hybrids have the ability to have really great snap because electric torque can come in. This one mutes that out in favor, I'm sure, of efficiency. Okay. Let's price the C-MAX Hybrid SEL CNET style. Starts off a tick below 29 grand delivered then go right to the top and just check off package 303A. It rolls in pretty much all the tech toys I showed you. It's a good value for what you're getting and all the technologies work well then optionally 1,195 for that glass moon roof, also a pretty good value. All in, this car is about 32,700 out the door with a lot of tech toys and a lot of efficiency. This is the new Acura RLX and I'm pretty sure you're never gonna mistake it for any other car if only because of these headlights. Acura calls this Jewel Eyes. What you're seeing here are 8 separate LED headlight elements, another 8 on the other side of course. LEDs used to be such an extravagance. They're really coming into a lot of relatively affordable cars now. A lot of cars never turn their front lights out. Those are called daytime running lights and there's also a running debate over whether or not they do any good. And that's of great interest to the smarter driver. DRLs or daytime running lights are not the same as having your headlights on. They're usually a lower level of light and can come from the low beams, high beams, or ancillary LEDs. They're not meant for you to see, but for you to be seen. Contrary to common belief, they're not mandated anywhere in the U.S., but they are allowed and often confused with state laws that require you to turn your headlights on in bad weather. Different subject. The most important subject is do they help? A federal study of 6 years of data, 1995 to 2001, found 5% fewer head-on crashes between vehicles with DRLs installed and 12% fewer fatal impacts with pedestrians and cyclists, but a newer federal study completed in 2008 found DRLs made no meaningful difference in either crash type. GM has been a big backer of DRLs and they've led the call to make them required. But so far, the federal government hasn't gone that far. Doubtful of their effectiveness and concerned that they might make turn signals less conspicuous. State Farm points out they offer discounts on their auto policies for cars that have a basket of the latest safety technologies, which can include DRLs. Coming up: We'll explain the car technology that puts eyes behind your head as CNET on Cars continues. Welcome back to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley here at the 2012 Los Angeles International Auto Show. You know, I'm not sure what's worse in driving; being the person who gets cut off by someone who drifts into your lane or being the dumb ass who does it. Luckily, both the rage and/or the mortification can be addressed by an increasingly common new technology: Blind spot warning devices. And there are car tech 101. First, let's describe and define what the blind spot problem is. It's sort of a dead zone between 2 places where you do have coverage. First of all, when you're driving, your peripheral vision, even if you move your head just a little bit, is pretty much perpendicular out from your B pillar. That's covered by your eyes. And your side view mirror is kind of the opposite of that. It looks back, which peripheral doesn't. And it's real narrow, which peripheral isn't. The difference between those 2 is your blind spot. So, car makers mount radar emitters and receives in the corner of the car. That's not expensive tech anymore. It's looking out in that whole area where the mirror and your peripheral just don't work. In the mirror housings or the car's A pillars, you'll find LED lights that come on when a car is traveling in the blind spot. Note that these systems don't start warning you of that until you're going a certain speed, let's say, 25 miles an hour because in stop and go traffic there's typically always someone back there and the warning would be meaningless. Now, if you ignore or don't see that car in the blind spot and engage your turn signal that direction, the car will flash the blind spot lights more urgently and may sound a beep warning as well. Now, blind spot systems come in 2 flavors, passive and active. The passive just give you little lights that blink, maybe a beep, and tell you there's a car in the blind spot. The active ones can actually nudge the car with light steering away from the car and your blind spot. They do that one of two ways. Some cars will apply the brakes only on the side opposite the blind spot to yaw you away a little bit. Others will use their electric power steering to actually turn the wheels that way. In both cases, you can steer through it. So, you're never gonna be overridden by the car. So, do these blind spot systems work? Yes, they do work technically though I find that some manufacturers calibrate the blind spot differently than the others. Some, it's over there. Some, it's back here more. It's kind of like a difference in sensitivity. Now, do they help? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has done a lot of research into this sort of thing. And so far, they say the jury is out. Blind spot tech whether it's active or passive neither increases nor decreases the likelihood of an accident. We're surrounded by technologies in our cars these days and certainly here at the L.A. Auto Show, but how many of them are gonna be relevant in 5 years? That's a good question and it's also our top 5. Coming up when CNET on Cars continues. Welcome back to CNET on Cars from the L.A. Auto Show. I'm Brian Cooley. You know, the key of commercials in my opinion are classics for the ages. I mean, come on, Amsterdam Avenue, but the technology in your car, that can get stale really fast. That's why it's important to order the right cabin tech for your vehicle to be more or less future proof and that is our top 5. We're gonna rank these by their must haveness and give you a caveat or two for each one. Here we go. Number 5, USB hotspot support. This is a little odd, but your passengers do expect to have their tablets and laptops online these days when riding in your car studiously ignoring you. Make it easy on them with the car that supports USB wireless modems. This is mostly a Ford thing at this point. And increasingly, your passenger's devices have their own connectivity, but I like the general idea of at least 1 USB port that can work with and understand a wireless adaptor for whatever comes next. Number 4, SD card navigation. When your car's nav system is based on an SD card instead of one of those dorky old DVDs or a hard to update hard driv, you can download and install updates without a trip to the dealer. Even add factory navigation after you bought the car by just popping in one of these cards. This idea is spreading, but so far mostly a Nissan and Ford thing. Number 3 is the aux jack. Yeah, it's hardly tech at this point, but the lowly aux jack is still a thing of simple beauty. It works with every portable ever made, requires no fancy cable or setup and typically sounds great. The downside is it's dumb as a post. It doesn't know when to mute. Doesn't charge your device and doesn't show anything on the screen. Number 2 is USB ports for your media. Like on your computer, USB is becoming the god connector in cars. Plug in a thumb drive, or your smartphone, or an iPad and reveal its musical guts while also charging it and even controlling it from the car. The downside is that sometimes the erratic interface and file and CODEC support depending on what your car maker chooses to recognize, it's a little wild out there. Before I get you to the #1 future proof tech out there right now for your car, let me give you a glimpse of what could trump these all. Something called mirror link. It's coming on the market in 2013 and it turns your phone into the brains and the media for your entire car from navigation, to calling, to music, to whatever apps you have on there that are approved. The screen on the dash just becomes a dumb display. Everything is powered by the phone. And since the phone does so many things so well, perhaps better than your car, this idea makes sense. Here's the caveat: Car makers are still a little bit wary of it because it means one less area where they can make their car unique, but it's worth watching. Okay. Our #1 technology to future proof your car is bluetooth in 2 flavors, calling and streaming. Calling is quickly becoming more important than radio. Bluetooth handsfree is almost universal in cars today with the exception of a couple of really cheap cars that don't include it and a couple of really pricey German cars that have the gull to charge extra for it. Fast behind bluetooth calling is bluetooth streaming, which doesn't care if you have an android, iPhone, or Blackberry device. The music just plays in stereo. No cables. The downside of all bluetooth tech is that being wireless you won't be charging while you drive and some streaming systems don't show you any information about what's being played, just some dumb splash screen, which is infuriating. Thanks for watching CNET on Cars here from the L.A. Auto Show. By the way, if you'd followed me on Twitter, you'll be getting a lot of cool updates from the show floor. So, go ahead and do that. Head over to cnetoncars.com. You'll find the link to follow me right there. While you're there, do me a favor. I'd love to hear your suggestions for Car Tech 101 segments. I got a great hopper of 'em, but I wanna know what you're really interested in right off the bat. Head over to CNET on Cars to find the e-mail link or just e-mail me oncars@cnet.com. Thanks for watching. I'll see you next time when we check the tech.
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