At $25,995 including delivery, Ford has kept the base price of the C-Max Hybrid below that of the Prius V wagon (starting at $27,345 with delivery), though the hybrid C-Max costs about $1,200 more than the base Prius Liftback model. While the standard Prius will continue to reign as the most fuel-efficient (non-plug-in) car sold in the U.S., the added cargo capacity, people space, and fuel economy of the C-Max--and its more relaxed operation under heavy loads--may prove formidable competition for the Prius V wagon.
One drawback to the C-Max is the lack of all-wheel drive. The C-Max Hybrid effectively replaces the discontinued Ford Escape Hybrid crossover utility vehicle, but fully half of all Escape Hybrids were sold with a mechanical all-wheel drive system--pretty much mandatory in the Northeast and snowy or mountainous states. The C-Max is front-wheel-drive only, and Ford has no plans to offer an all-wheel-drive model. That's a major missing item, in our view.
While the Prius pioneered the high-efficiency segment Toyota has dominated for 12 years, at last there's a credible competitor that in some ways is a better car than the fabled Prius. The biggest challenge Ford faces, in fact, may be simply convincing those crucial California Prius buyers to consider the C-Max in the first place.