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Manufacturer’s Websites
Ford Canada, Volkswagen Canada

Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

Photo Galleries:
2013 Ford C-Max vs VW Golf Wagon TDI
2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI
2013 Ford C-Max

As some of our readers have noted in our forum, comparing a diesel to an equivalent car with a conventional internal combustion engine isn’t a level playing field. Modern clean diesel engines incorporate a range of costly technologies, so a more appropriate comparison would be to a hybrid. Well, we had the same thought several weeks ago and secured the new Ford C-Max to see how the newest hybrid hatchback compares to the long-term Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI then in our possession.

Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
2013 Ford C-Max and 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI

We consider the Golf TDI to be the standard for fun, efficient, practical compacts at a reasonable price, so the C-Max would have to deliver its claimed efficiency, excellent packaging for a family of four, features and value that keep it competitive in the market, and a driving experience that will satisfy contented commuters or the occasional spirited drive.

Efficiency

The first question on everybody’s minds is probably efficiency. Although it is not the stuff of childhood dreams, it dominates the realm of commercials, billboards, and other marketing hype that gets stuffed down our throats. For those of you that don’t care, well, lucky you, but we pinch every penny, and with cars like these, the benefit of reduced consumption and emissions can be a key purchase factor.

Although they come at the problem from different ends, both aim for a goal of efficiency and practicality in a compact package. We even tried to match them up against the original hybrid, the Prius, though in its V wagon configuration, but one was not available, and frankly, it would have been at a significant power disadvantage to these two; if I were to guess (or estimate based on previous experience), it would have also been significantly more efficient.

Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
Top: 2013 Ford C-Max. Bottom: 2013 VW Golf. Click image to enlarge.

Well, the results are in, and the TDI edged out the C-Max during our week of commuting and going about our daily routine. Both cars were driven from our home on the outskirts of the GTA to the office in Etobicoke during similar traffic conditions. There may have been some variance in route, but I split duty with my carpooling buddy in both to create as equal a playing field as possible, although I must confess that I spent more time in the C-Max, babying it as much as possible by driving it as efficiently as I could. Both also suffered the cold weather and occasional periods of idling to warm up the car for my infant son.

The Ford C-Max Fuel consumption was as low as 5.2 L/100 km on one clean commute, but finished my week at 7.2. For the life of the vehicle, trip computer was showing 7.1 with over 4,000 km clocked. Transport Canada estimates are 4.0/4.1 in city/highway driving, while the US EPA suggests 5.0 for city, highway and combined. The US EPA estimates from 63 owners is showing an average of 6.0 (with claimed high of 8.4 and low of 4.2).

The Golf Wagon TDI managed 6.6 L/100 km, and I recorded one highway drive at 4.6, while we managed 6.9 overall during the life of my long-term test, which exceeded 7,000 km at the hands of mostly the same drivers, with a lot of rush-hour commuting and no long-distance road trips to boost the numbers. Official estimates are 7.0/4.9 city/highway as per our Canadian guidelines, or 8.1/6.0/7.1 city/highway/combined according to the once-again more accurate US EPA estimates. Only two owner estimates have been posted on the US EPA, both of them under the 6.0 L/100 km highway estimate.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s a double win for the Golf Wagon TDI, achieving better performance without any particular effort on the part of the driver, and actually living up to tested and advertised consumption figures. The TDI is not a car designed to game the system and deliver its efficiency only at the regimented tests’ cruising speeds and unrealistic acceleration methods.

Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
Top: 2013 Ford C-Max. Bottom: 2013 VW Golf. Click image to enlarge.

Interior Packaging

Regular readers may not want to hear anymore about how well suited the Golf Wagon is for my family, but humour me. It’s just right, front seat space is generous, and rear seat legroom is sufficient to set up our son’s rear-facing infant seat with just enough room for my wife to be comfortable. The seats themselves are excellent in the European fashion, firm, supportive but contoured to provide comfort for more average bodies.

The rear seatbacks can be folded down to turn the large, wide 929 L trunk into 1,897 L of hauling space, although I wouldn’t call the floor perfectly flat. With seatbacks in place and child seats set up, that cargo space was perfectly judged to accommodate my monstrous hockey bag and the full length of our stroller easily fit the width of the trunk, with room for extra bags without impinging on rearward visibility; it was one of my favourite features of the Golf Wagon. Not the nav system (which I almost never used), not the panoramic sunroof (okay, that was pretty nice), and not the climate control (I’m doing just fine without that in our CR-V).

While I prefer the hard cargo cover of the C-Max, it is inevitable that such a long space use a roll-out cover. The last notable feature of the Golf Wagon’s trunk is the trick floor that folds up to reduce the floor surface area (at two different sizes) so that groceries or other packages can be packed in more securely, leaving you free to drive like a maniac home from the supermarket.

Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
Top: 2013 Ford C-Max. Bottom: 2013 VW Golf. Click image to enlarge.

The C-Max is notably shorter (4,409 mm to the Golf’s 4,556), but manages to make up for it in wheelbase (2,649 to the Golf’s 2,578) and height. While front and rear legroom offer better measurements (40 and 20 mm, respectively), it’s not noticeable, and somehow the relationship between front and rear seats means there is less knee-room for a front passenger in front of our son’s reverse-facing infant seat – I spent one entire trip home with my legs literally crushed against the glovebox, though my wife, at about five feet, didn’t find it excessively cramped. The seats themselves were comfortable, but not quite as much as the Golf’s.

However, one bright spot in the C-Max was child seat installation: I liked that the LATCH anchors were close to the surface, as opposed to the deepset Golf anchors. Also, the little bit of extra height made wrestling my daughter into her seat easier.

Cargo space was not great on its own, the shallow depth of the 698-L trunk forcing me to pack the stroller above the hockey bag in the “Canadian Dad cargo test.” Also worth noting was the difficulty in getting our long stroller in as it exceeded the width of the door opening and had to be stuffed into the recessed alcove for the rear quarter window in order to fit. But who doesn’t like a power tailgate, even if it wasn’t the hokey-pokey foot-operated tailgate on top-trim models. And despite the hybrid’s batteries forcing the cargo floor up a few inches (which does make loading easier), the rear seats split 60/40 and fold completely flat for a maximum cargo volume of 1,490 L.

Despite that, it’s not enough to better the Volkswagen’s generous cargo space and right-sized passenger space.

Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
Top: 2013 Ford C-Max. Bottom: 2013 VW Golf. Click image to enlarge.

Features and Value

Both the Golf Wagon TDI and Ford C-Max are available from a remarkably similar $27K (as is the Prius V, for that matter), and can be optioned into the mid-30s pricewise, with features and quality that reflect their brands’ priorities and value propositions.

The C-Max is a rolling demonstrator of advanced, high-tech features. Hybrid electric powertrain powered by lithium-ion battery, available options like navigation, touchscreen, hands-free power tailgate, proximity keyless entry with push-button start, it even parks itself when all the option boxes are ticked. A fully loaded C-Max Hybrid SEL with Parking, Hands-Free and Premium Audio and Navigation Packages is still cheaper than our Highline TDI, which can only match the C-Max on navigation and touchscreen.

Then again, even the $27,199 SE model with $2,200 Equipment Group 203A (power liftgate, backup sensors, MyFord Touch, Sync voice command, SiriusXM, and navigation) matched most of the Highline’s features. With other minor add-ons and freight, the C-Max totaled $31,599 to the Golf Wagon’s $35,280. About the only significant features that the Volkswagen brought to the table were leather seats and a massive panoramic sunroof, and part of that price is for the slick DSG transmission, a $1,400 option, whereas the C-Max’s efficiency-oriented CVT is standard fare.

Even on the quality front, the once vaunted Volkswagen interior was only shades better than the Ford. However, some might find the C-Max’s Battlestar Galactica interior a bit overwhelming on the visual senses, while others might find the Golf’s interior dreary and plain, though defenders will argue for its conventional and straightforward control as a comfortable backdrop for the business of driving. I personally like the excitement of the C-Max interior with its two-tone grey fabric seats and sharp, crisp screen and gauge graphics, but our side-by-side photos should help you form your own opinion and preference.

But as far as overall features and value for money, no question in my mind that the Ford is well ahead of the pricey Volkswagen, most of whose value is in its powertrain and chassis.

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.

Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
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.

Conclusion

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.

Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
Comparison Test: 2013 Ford C Max Hybrid vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI volkswagen hybrids ford diesel car comparisons
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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