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2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid review:

Ford's Prius-beater boasts better handling, power

Voice command is really the way to go when it comes to controlling most of the C-Max Hybrid's infotainment functions. Through Ford's Sync feature, it let me pair an iPhone 5 with the car and make calls by saying a contact's name. Sync also integrates text messaging, but that only works with the handful of phones that implement the Bluetooth Message Access Profile (MAP). This integration makes the car read out incoming text messages, and gives you a list of canned responses as replies.

iOS 6 is supposed to support MAP, but it doesn't seem to work. I could see the functionality on the C-Max Hybrid's phone screen, but when I tried to send one of the canned text messages with my paired iPhone 5, it didn't go through. According to a Ford representative, Apple did not implement MAP according to the specification. Ford is currently looking at making its cars work with Apple's particular Bluetooth implementation for text messages.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

If you have a compatible phone, the C-Max Hybrid can send canned text messages while you drive.

James Martin/CNET

The C-Max Hybrid's stereo supports Bluetooth streaming for audio, and two USB ports in the console allow connection to music libraries on USB drives and iPods. When plugging an iPhone 5 into one of these ports, I had to make sure the Bluetooth pairing was previously engaged, as otherwise no audio would come through the cable. Older-generation iPhones exhibited the same behavior. Ford included satellite radio and HD Radio in this SEL-trim model.

The interface for onboard music sources gets a little deep, so I preferred to use Sync's voice command, which let me request music by artist, album, song, or genre name. However, I like the Similar Music feature on the stereo, which creates a custom mix based on the current track playing.

Navigation frustration
The navigation system, stored on an SD card, comes as an additional option on top of the MyFord Touch interface. I'm familiar with it from previous models, and I find it generally frustrating. As I drove along, the map refreshed slowly, visibly filling in nearby areas in blocks.

Entering a street address through voice command worked well, accurately taking the address string I gave it and finding the location. Route calculation took a bit longer than I would have liked. Much more frustrating was when I tried to find a point of interest through voice command. As the business name I wanted did not seem to be in the car's database, I wanted to start over with street address entry. But after restarting voice command to cancel, it returned me to the list of businesses it had previously found and would not return me to the starting-destination screen. This is the kind of behavior that results in harsh words and a fist through an LCD.

CNET's loaded car also came with the Sony audio system, which I find a worthwhile option. The audio quality isn't exuberant, but music comes through with good clarity, reproducing both delicate and loud sounds clearly. I heard some rattle when playing tracks with heavy bass, but it was minimal.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

With the rear seats down, the C-Max Hybrid's cargo space maxes out.

James Martin/CNET

The C-Max Hybrid brings in a few convenience features that can make life with the car easier. One non-tech item is Ford's capless fuel filler, of which I become more a fan every time I use it. The rear hatch included Ford's new hands-free system, which we first saw in the new Escape. This feature let me wave my foot underneath the rear of the car to activate the power opener.

Ford does not offer its blind-spot monitor for the C-Max Hybrid, instead implementing the low-tech solution of small, wide-view inset mirrors on the side mirrors. However, its rearview camera is very good, showing trajectory lines. And Ford's automatic parallel parking works extremely well.

Using this system, I trolled for a curbside parking space in San Francisco. When the car found one, it notified me on the LCD, with instructions to take my hands off the wheel and reverse slowly. The system neatly put the car in parallel, right next to the curb without scuffing the wheels. I may be an old pro at parallel parking, but the car seemed like it could get it right 100 percent of the time, where I might occasionally fail due to fatigue or stress.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

The automatic parking system steered the C-Max Hybrid into this parallel parking space.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

All-around star
It took a lot of driving to get the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid's fuel gauge to drop significantly, something that economy-minded owners will certainly appreciate. Add to that the car's large passenger area and versatile cargo space, and it would be difficult to come up with a more practical car for the average family.

The Prius gives the C-Max Hybrid real competition when it comes to fuel economy, but I like the driving quality of Ford's hybrid better. I appreciated the extra 48 horsepower when it came to merging onto a freeway or taking off from a light, and I was more than happy to do without Sport or Eco modes when it came to daily driving.

The stereo and phone functions worked very well in the C-Max Hybrid, especially in conjunction with voice command. However, the navigation system continues to engender violent fantasies involving a baseball bat and the touch screen. The cabin technology comes off as overcomplicated, and crippled by underpowered processing.

Tech specs
Model2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid
Power train2-liter gasoline-electric hybrid system, continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy42 mpg city/37 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy45.1 mpg
NavigationOptional flash memory-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone supportStandard with contact list integration
Digital audio sourcesSmartphone apps, onboard hard drive, iPod/iPhone, USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio systemSony 9-speaker system
Driver aidsAutomatic parking, rearview camera
Base price$28,200
Price as tested$31,490

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