Driving Experience

Let me just get this out of the way, since there is likely little suspense about this category. The Golf wins easily; it’s not even close.

At both ends of the spectrum, comfort and handling, the Golf Wagon serves up an impressively accommodating and yet fulfilling drive. The C-Max is reasonably comfortable, but at 1,636 kg (3,606 lb.) and a tall, ungainly shape that maximizes the packaging efficiency, it is both rougher riding and less stable in corners. The comparatively svelte Golf Wagon TDI weighs in at 1,511 kg (3,331 lb.), its centre of gravity clearly lower (as measured by the seat of my pants and visual estimate) and its suspension has less weight and tipsiness to deal with, so it absorbs impacts and keeps it well planted through turns.

2013 Ford C-Max
2013 VW Golf
Top: 2013 Ford C-Max. Bottom: 2013 VW Golf. Click image to enlarge.

On the power side, the C-Max may claim net 188 hp from a 141-hp/129 lb-ft 2.0L four-cylinder and 35-kW electric motor, but its indeterminate combined torque is no match for the Golf’s 2.0L turbocharged diesel’s 236 lb-ft of torque, though with only a meagre 140 hp. The C-Max’s CVT is decent enough to not warrant more than a cursory mention, while the choice of either a six-speed manual transmission or six-speed DSG automatic mean you have the choice between two very nice gearboxes at any trim level in the Golf Wagon TDI. The Golf is a bit sluggish when getting started, but its prodigious torque pulls through at any speeds once underway.

The C-Max seems a bit wheezy at higher speeds, but it can power around a parking lot and up to speed slowly on silent battery power – on one trip I managed over 20 percent in EV mode, and out of 4239 km total when I returned it, 870 km were in pure EV mode and recaptured enough braking energy to power 183 km – at least I think that’s what the “Regen km” measure in the lifetime trip summary meant. However, the price you pay for those regen km are the grabbiest brakes I have encountered in recent memory – a sturdy helmet or padded steering wheel wrap are recommended for first-time hybrid drivers. I experienced some sudden, abrupt stops before getting used to it.

If there’s one area where the C-Max excels, it is parking; between the reasonable visibility and back-up sensors, it is easier to park than many subcompacts. The Volkswagen, while easy enough to park thanks to super-light steering, seems behind the times without even the option for a back-up camera. And as steering goes, The Golf offers relatively slow steering compared to the C-Max’s sharp, almost twitchy responsiveness, but the Golf still seems more natural and connected to the road.


Mind you, this test was never about steering feel or driving dynamics. If anything, that was the least significant aspect of our evaluating criteria. This comparison was simply to see which was the most efficient, practical, and overall good car for a good price and once again pitting hybrid technology against the popular European choice of diesel.

2013 Ford C-Max
2013 VW Golf
Top: 2013 Ford C-Max. Bottom: 2013 VW Golf. Click image to enlarge.

While the Ford C-Max is an interesting new option and offers good value and some great gadgets, its failure to live up to (or even get close to) advertised consumption ratings and strangely limited interior space leave us a little disappointed.

In this head-to-head comparison, the Golf Wagon TDI wins because of its superior real-world efficiency, more spacious interior accommodations, and the fact that its drivability didn’t detract from those qualities.

Pricing: 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid SE
Base Price: $27,199
Options: $2,750 (Equipment group 203A $2,200; Winter Package $350; Engine block heater $100)
Freight & PDI: $1,550
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $31,599

Pricing: 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon Highline TDI Clean Diesel
Base Price: $31,495
Options: $2,290 (DSG $1,400; RNS 315 Navigation System $890)
Freight & PDI: $1,395
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $35,280

Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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