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Review: 2013 Ford Escape vs. 2013 Ford C-MAX

Cars, Reviews  /   /  By Alex Kramer

Ford has been quite good at staying ahead of the curve when it comes to automotive buying trends. Just when the SUV craze started to wane, Ford revamped its small and mid-size car offerings, with the new Focus, Fiesta, and Fusion earning strong praise. When higher gas prices became the new norm, Ford was quick to respond with turbocharged EcoBoost engines across the lineup. And now that the market for hybrids, compact SUVs, wagons, and other more practical and efficient vehicles seems here to stay, Ford is responding with a completely revised Escape compact SUV, and the brand new C-MAX Hybrid compact wagon.

As the current owner of a 2009 Escape Hybrid, I was very curious to drive these new models and see how they compare. Both cars are based on the compact Focus platform, but offer increased practicality and more sophisticated powertrains when compared to your average small car. The new Escape gets the EcoBoost treatment, with two available turbocharged engines, while the C-MAX is all hybrid, offering both standard and plug-in versions.

We had a chance to drive both cars back to back, over hundreds of miles and in a variety of driving conditions. Although each model occupies a separate niche, they compare quite well in price, practicality, and performance. Ford even promises a high fun-to-drive factor for both of these models, which is largely missing from the competition. Which would prove more compelling, the hybrid compact wagon or the turbocharged small SUV? Our conclusion just might surprise you.

2013 ford escape and ford c-max hybrid

2013 Ford C-MAX HYBRID

  • New exterior design ditches old boxy SUV look
  • Class leading handling makes for a sporty small crossover
  • 2.0L turbocharged engine produces a healthy 240hp and 270 lb-ft of torque
  • Lots of available high-tech options, including active park assist, BLIS with cross-traffic alert

  • 3rd generation hybrid powertrain is even more seamless and refined
  • Impressive fuel efficiency, so long as you drive carefully
  • Solid handling and performance, although calling it sporty would be a stretch
  • Also available with a host of options, including a nifty automatic lift gate that you can activate by waving your foot

  • Acceleration is less peppy than you’d expect given the horsepower rating
  • Fuel efficiency also disappoints, with mileage hovering in the low 20s
  • Price with options easily vaults over $30,000

  • Achieving the 47 mpg combined EPA rating requires a careful right foot
  • A hefty curb weight dampens the fun-factor, especially when cornering
  • Disappointingly small cargo area limits practicality

2013 Ford Escape EcoBoost AWD

The 2013 Escape is a complete departure from the popular outgoing model. Gone is the traditional boxy SUV shape, and in its place we have a more modern, rounded design that looks like a larger version of the Focus hatchback on which it is based. The interior is also new and much more modern, borrowing heavily from the Focus once again.

The changes continue under the hood, where you won’t find the V6 and hybrid options previously available. Instead, pair of small turbocharged engines are the more upscale choices, while a 168 horsepower 2.5L 4-cylinder engine carries over as the base engine. Our Titanium test car came equipped with the larger of the two turbo engines, a 2.0L motor that produces an impressive 240 hp and 170 lb-ft torque. Power is routed to the wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission and Ford’s Intelligent 4WD system.

2013 Ford Escape

For daily driving there is more than adequate pep, but the Escape never felt as fast as the engine’s numbers would suggest. One of our reviewers even called it “lackluster,” which might be a bit harsh, but there definitely wasn’t the kind of acceleration that you’d expect from such a high output engine. A likely culprit is a hefty curb weight of close to 3,800 pounds, which is substantially more than a small sedan, and enough to act as an anchor on what is really a spitfire of an engine.

Given the somewhat disappointing performance, we had high hopes for the fuel efficiency that the EcoBoost engine would provide. With a 28 mpg highway rating, would this small engine be less thirsty than a typical V6? Unfortunately, our testing showed this to be a very optimistic figure. Even including a road trip from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles and back, we still only averaged a bit over 22 mpg, hardly much better than a more conventional V6. MPG conscious buyers can opt for the smaller 1.6L EcoBoost engine, which earns a 33 mpg highway rating from the EPA, but given our experience with the 2.0L engine, we’re doubtful that drivers will see that kind of mileage in real world driving.

2013 Ford Escape interior

Handling, on the other hand, is quite good. Steering feedback is excellent, especially for an crossover/SUV, and you always feel firmly in control. In tighter corners the Escape does feel a little tipsy, which isn’t surprising given that it sits higher off the ground, but the 19-inch low profile tires provide plenty of grip, enough to make this one of the sportier small crossovers on the market.

Ford has added a bunch of attractive options to the Escape to entice buyers, including technology like automatic parallel parking, an automatic liftgate that you can activate with a swipe of your foot, and Ford’s MyTouch system for infotainment and connectivity. Such options do cause the price to swell quite dramatically, but they offer a touch of sophistication and class often missing in this segment.

2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid

2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid

Although the Escape Hybrid has sadly been discontinued (at least for now), Ford is counting on the C-MAX to fill the niche for more practical hybrid transportation. The C-MAX has been on sale for number of years in Europe, and Ford is hoping its popularity will translate to the U.S. with this new hybrid-only version.

Under the hood of the C-MAX you’ll find the 3rd generation of Ford’s hybrid technology, now based on a 2.0L Atkinson Cycle 4-cylinder engine. Combined system power is a rather healthy 188 hp, which is considerably more than the comparable Prius V, as Ford has been proudly advertising. Acceleration is decent, but like in the Escape, a portly curb weight prevents the C-MAX from being anything close to sporty.

5-piece drum kit + hardware fits inside the Ford C-MAX C-MAX 2nd row seats fold flat

Electric only propulsion is now available for speeds up to 62 mph, and the C-MAX definitely spends more time cruising in EV mode than the old Escape Hybrid. A plug-in Energi model is even available for folks looking to really minimize trips to the pump, although the considerable extra price makes it a somewhat questionable value. The hybrid system is also even more refined than before; when the motor kicks on and off you truly hardly notice it.

The main benefits of spending so much time with the engine off is improved fuel efficiency, and the C-MAX earns a very impressive 47mpg combined EPA rating. During our testing we found this difficult to achieve, as we averaged closer to 40 mpg during normal use. More cautious drivers should be able to squeeze out those last few mpg without too much trouble, as we did average 46.5 mpg during one 50 mile trip.

Out on the road, the C-MAX handles itself quite well. The car feels very planted and sits low to the ground, and the suspension is on the firmer side, but still quite balanced. Low rolling resistance tires and hefty curb weight means that understeer sets in quickly when you really push it, but overall this is one of the growing number of hybrids that doesn’t embarrass itself trying to navigate a turn.

2013 Ford C-MAX cargo capacity example

On the inside, the C-MAX closely resembles the Focus and Escape, from the dash to the seats to the available options. Unfortunately, trunk space is more limited than the larger Escape. Anyone looking for something larger and more practical than a hatchback will be a bit disappointed with the C-MAX.

So far, C-MAX sales have been very successful, although some controversy has erupted regarding the lofty MPG ratings. Disappointed with real world mileage in the 35-40 mpg range, some owners have even filed a class-action lawsuit. Ford has responded that mileage depends greatly on how the car is driven, and our experience with the C-MAX shows that 47mpg is achievable, but definitely challenging.

Compact SUV or Wagon?

Two small practical cars, neither of which is a plain boring sedan, and both of which provide new technology that claims to increase efficiency and performance. And both have a blue oval on the hood. Is this an example of unnecessary duplication, or clever market segmentation?

In the case of the new Escape and C-MAX, perhaps a bit of both. By only offering the C-MAX as a hybrid, Ford is hoping to mimic the success of the Prius by creating its own hybrid only platform. Yet, anyone who looks closely will see the resemblance of the C-MAX to both the Escape and Focus, especially in the interior.

2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid

Now that the Escape has shed its boxy exterior and any pretense of being a rough and ready SUV, it would seem to accomplish many of the same goals as the C-MAX, just without the eco-prestige of being a hybrid. Unfortunately, given that the EcoBoost engines seem to be a bit shy on both the Eco and the Boost, the Escape falls short on performance and especially efficiency.

Although we wish Ford would offer the new Escape with a hybrid powertrain, even if just for the larger trunk and snappier exterior design, for most buyers the C-MAX should fit the bill for practical and efficient transportation. With mileage that almost doubles that of the Escape, a similar interior, and respectable performance, the C-MAX should convince more than a few Prius shoppers to buy American.

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  1. Derek February 8, 2013 at 10:58 am Reply

    Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe – so many great choices in the mid-size crossover segment.

    • Derek February 8, 2013 at 11:04 am Reply

      The Mazda CX-5 has a great design and functional interior that doesn’t look low-rent. Plus, the dynamic handling of this compact crossover does a better job than some sedans. Unfortunately, power was sacrificed to appease the stricter fuel economy standards.

  2. Jeff February 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm Reply

    I like what Ford has done with the Escape, I might consider this model if they have changed / increased the Headroom clearance.
    However you need to compare this Escape to the Mitsubishi Outlander, the design and premium options are identical, all though the Mitsubishi has more to offer at the same price.
    The Outlander is being manufactured in the US for the first time for the 2014 model year.
    I have owned a 2007, and currently own a 2009 Mitsubishi Outlander and they are excellent vehicles that are constantly over looked.
    P.S. I wanted to buy a 2007 Escape Hybrid but the headroom clearance was 0″ for my body. The Outlander was my second choice.

  3. Jimmie Grimes February 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm Reply

    One more review that leaves out an important thing in an automobile, and the drive to LA was the perfect place to insert it. Was the seat comfortable for several hours driving. Did the drivers seat adjust, back and forth,up and down? All auto reviewers seem to think that we only buy cars for the drive to work and back. With Airline fares and waiting times, the great American road trip is on it’s way back. The main reason people bought the old land cruisers was that they were COMFORTABLE to drive! Yes fuel economy is important, but all the cars builders have forgotten to give us seats that do not prep us for a back operation.

    • Alex Kramer February 25, 2013 at 9:30 am Reply

      Excellent point, Jimmie, and something we should have mentioned. The front seats are quite comfortable, and should do well for a longer road trip. The rear seats, on the other hand, are a bit less than luxurious. As you can see from the photos, they cushions are quite thin and therefore have to be on the firm side, so rear seat passengers will suffer on longer trips. The seats are the same for both the C-Max and Escape, so this would be downside to owning either car.

  4. steve March 16, 2013 at 4:24 am Reply

    Nice singlespeed-Retrotec? I wish you would’ve shown a pic of it in the back of the Escape for comparison’s sake. And maybe a pic or two with the front wheel on and the bike laid down to see if it would fit that way in either vehicle. I have to be able to fit at least one bike in the back of a vehicle to give it serious consideration. I’d love to replace my low mpg compact pickup with something more with more car like handling/ride and better fuel economy but it has to hold at least one bike!

    • Derek Mau March 17, 2013 at 10:06 pm Reply

      Good eye, Steve.

      Yes, that is my old 2005 Retrotec in the back. Always a trail favorite and a good conversation starter.

      Sorry I didn’t get any photos of the bike in the back of the Ford Escape. I’ll ask Alex to comment on fitting a bike in the back of the Escape since he drove the crossover more than me.

  5. Alex Kramer March 18, 2013 at 6:11 pm Reply

    Good question Steve, and unfortunately neither the C-Max or the Escape is the best choice for being able to just throw a bike in the back, unless it’s a very small bike. My large 29er required the front wheel to be removed for it to fit, and even then the rear tire is jammed up against the front seats. Still, it wasn’t too much trouble to pop the wheel off an wedge the bike inside, although I’d definitely get a hitch rack if I purchased either vehicle.

  6. Ronald Kramer March 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm Reply

    Open letter to Ford:

    I thought my 2013 C-MAX would be a Prius Killer? NOT! As a returning Ford buyer I feel deceived. I want to support US companies and US jobs. What was Ford thinking when they published 47/ 47/47 estimates? Based on the advertised EPA estimates, I would have been ok with low 40’s but 28-33 mpg is not even in the ballpark. This is not an issue about EPA testing standards, but rather an issue about setting false customer expectations in order to promote sales. Ford’s “47MPG” marketing campaign tarnished what should have been the roll out of a truly remarkable vehicle, the CMAX. Real world MPG estimates should have been promoted in the mid-30’s. No one would have questioned those numbers and the CMAX would have received the accolades it deserves. How these MPG estimates made it through Ford corporate is beyond me! Maybe it was the rush to go to market? I have been accused of not knowing how to drive hybrid. For the record, during the last three years I have leased both a 2010 Prius and 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid, and consider myself an experienced hyper-miler. My mileage in the Prius is 50 plus, the Insight is 40 plus. The C-MAX is a well-built car, with extremely inflated EPA estimates. I respectfully request that this matter be investigated as soon as possible. My efforts to deal with this locally and through Ford customer service have frustrated me to no end. The constant response? “You need to learn to how to drive hybrid type of vehicle “. Is there a difference how I drive Prius Hybrid vs. the CMAX hybrid? I think we all know the answer to that. I need someone at Ford to reach out to me and assist in a proactive manner so we can put this matter to rest.

    Ronald Kramer Yankee Ford Customer
    South Portland, Maine

  7. Alex Kramer March 20, 2013 at 10:21 am Reply

    I understand your frustration, Ronald, and I agree that Ford has created an unnecessary issue regarding mileage expectations. My time with the C-Max also showed that the 47 mpg claim is unrealistic, although with very careful driving I was able to keep it around the 40 mpg mark, which, as you mention, is more than respectable for this kind of vehicle.

  8. Steve March 20, 2013 at 10:37 am Reply

    Thanks, guys! Sounds like it would be barely acceptable as a bike hauler. I’ll keep it in mind tho! I’m hoping Ford will introduce a small pickup that will manage around 30mpg hwy-that I would buy in a heartbeat! Come on 2014 Ranger or F-100!

  9. 365 day loan review June 21, 2013 at 1:04 pm Reply

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  10. Stevie B. July 1, 2013 at 5:30 am Reply

    I have to respectfully disagree with those claiming that the C-Max achieves real world MPG’s in the 30’s. I have been driving my C-Max SE since March, and have put 3,000 miles on the odometer. My worst tank was during the break in period, where she returned just 35.4 mpg. The best tank occurred once the weather warmed up earlier in June. I was shocked – 64.3 MPG. This was achieved in suburban traffic, with frequent stops and starts, and no highway driving.

    My last seven fill ups were 44.2, 64.3, 51.3, 41.1, 43.3, 41.0, 56.7. This translates to an average of 48.8 MPG, surpassing the EPA ‘estimate’.

    There are even times when running errands around town that I can operate entirely in electric mode. It is quite satisfying to have the system tell me I have returned 999.9 MPG and I have used 0.0 gallons of fuel when I shut the car off =)


  11. Alexei R September 6, 2013 at 8:11 pm Reply

    They actually improved things by last software upgrade, especially for freeway mpg (as they allow EV mode up to 85 mph now, which means +2 – +4 mpg driving on some freeways). The only problem I have with CMAX is ‘no spare wheel’ as it is actually a big -show killer- if it primary car (their free service is useless on remote roads and in the mountains, car MUST have spare if it is not metro-area-only car).

    And amazingly, I already had 2 ‘spare tire’ cases during first year with CMAX and first was unrepairable (in second case their kit helped to drive to the home).

    Anyway, after upgrade it easily show 40 and better mpg on freeways. So 40/44 rating looks pretty reasonable.

  12. Drew April 18, 2014 at 10:43 am Reply

    I have a c-max energi. I use electric only off the freeway and hybrid mode while on highways and long stretches of road between the speeds of 45-65. When using hybrid only, roundtrip I get between 40-50 mpg. Somewhere around the estimates. I do hypermill to an extreme though and always lose speed going uphill sometimes 30-40mph. 47mpg is certainly achievable in the cmax but it takes some serious effort to get there. The EV battery really pays off though. 90% of my driving is in EV mode averaging me out to over 120mpg. I get free electricity so it is really worth it.

  13. frank April 18, 2014 at 3:46 pm Reply

    i have a 2011 ford fiesta i can get 42.9 if i drive it right i realy like it. would like the Tesla better

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