The Ford C-Max suffers from a common problem in automotive land. It is placed in a box with another competitor, one that is better known, has been around longer, and is better at its core focus.

The problem the C-Max faces, however, goes deeper. The C-Max shouldn’t be in that box to begin with.

Often touted as Ford’s Prius-fighter, the C-Max has assumed a mantle that is not only inappropriate and unfair, but that distracts from its many qualities. Ford put a lot into this marketing ploy, which is a shame because the C-Max is better than that.

So let’s get question number one out of the way right now: Is the Ford C-Max Hybrid more fuel efficient than a Prius? No. Absolutely not. Not by a long shot. Nor does it need to be.

A more fair question would be – is the C-Max more efficient than a Kia Rondo? What about a Chevy Orlando? And on those fronts, it very much is.

At 1,623 mm the C-Max is 133 mm higher than the Prius. It weighs 256 kg more at 1,636 kg and out-volumes the Prius with 2,823 L of total passenger volume. The Prius V is a slightly closer competitor, with 2,752 L of passenger volume, and a noteworthy advantage in cargo volume and maximum cargo volume. The C-Max is still higher and wider though.

Crucially, the C-Max delivers horsepower and torque of 141 and 129 respectively, enough to deliver the 98 hp/105 lb-ft Prius twins a brutal savaging out in the real world where people actually accelerate from traffic lights and need to merge with fast-flowing, impatient and intolerant traffic after short, poorly designed on ramps. And that’s just the gas engines; combined hybrid power is never more than 134 for the Prius, while the C-Max reaches 188.

I was never left wanting by the C-Max, and while I made a game of hypermiling to amuse myself while being passed in the Prius, I felt like I was driving a real car when I drove the C-Max. It even looks half good.

The CVT is noisy and the engine far from silken but the drivetrain plods away underneath you without reminding you constantly that it’s a fuel miser. For that, you have leaves in the dashboard that appear and disappear with your driving. Stomp your foot, and watch as you kill all the poor leaves on the vine. Gently coast to a stop and watch them all come flitting back. It’s peaceful, and as far as driving aid gimmicks go, pretty engaging, not to mention well-executed.

And how many extra leaves do you have to kill to drive a hybrid that’s a car first, and a hybrid second? Not as many as you might think.

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