Ford got a lot of favorable reviews and rave notices when it launched its C-MAX and Fusion hybrids. Reviewers gave the cars high marks for handling, fit and finish and all those other good things, and everyone pretty much accepted the 47 mile-per-gallon estimates that showed up on the window stickers.
But some of that good feeling has rubbed off as consumers have actually gotten their hands on the cars.
"I thought my 2013 C-MAX would be a Prius Killer? NOT! As a returning Ford buyer I feel deceived," said Ronald of South Portland, Maine. "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."
Ron is not the only one complaining. Consumer Reports magazine tested both the C-Max and Fusion and said they both came in well short of the claimed 47 mpg fuel efficiency. The C-Max achieved 37 mpg, the Fusion 39 in the magazine's tests.
"These two vehicles have the largest discrepancy between our overall-mpg results and the estimates published by the EPA that we've seen among any current models," Consumer Reports said in a statement.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which determines the mpg ratings, has said it is confident the 47 mpg finding is sound but has said it will review the ratings of both Ford vehicles, the Detroit News reported.
Ford's President of the Americas Joe Hinrichs has defended the fuel efficiency claims, saying Ford followed the EPA's rules.
Don't blame EPA
But consumers like Ronald aren't content to let the EPA take the rap.
"This is not an issue about EPA testing standards, but rather an issue about setting false customer expectations in order to promote sales," Ronald says in an open letter to Ford that he shared with ConsumerAffairs. "Ford's 47 mpg marketing campaign tarnished what should have been the roll-out of a truly remarkable vehicle, the C-Max."
Ronald also faults the dealer who sold him the car, Yankee Ford. He said service personnel there have accused him of not knowing have to drive a 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," he said. "Is there a difference how I drive Prius Hybrid vs. the CMAX hybrid? I think we all know the answer to that."
Ronald added that he had just returned from a trip to San Francisco, where the driver of a DeSoto Cab said he was averaging about 30 mpg as well.
Out for a spin
After reading Ron's complaint, we jumped in the car and hustled over to Ted Britt Ford in Fairfax, Va., where an obliging salesman soon had us whirring down Lee Jackson Memorial Highway in a new C-Max.
It is indeed a spiffy little car, with impressive handling, braking, acceleration and so forth. By chance, we had been confined in a Prius just a few days before and found it to be like driving a tin box on roller skates. In our brief spin, we found the C-Max equivalent to the Volkswagen Tiguan that is our current family cruiser.
"But what about the mileage?" we asked. "I've read that some people aren't getting 47 miles per gallon."
"Oh, that is when the car is new. You have to drive it about 5,000 miles before you start getting the 47 mpg," the salesman replied, perhaps hoping he would be 5,000 miles away by the time we had run the odometer up to that point.
Ronald, for the record, has 4,400 miles on his C-Max, so perhaps things will soon turn around for him, although we're not holding our breath.
Who's right? It may be too soon to say. There aren't many owner reviews, positive or negative, yet. There has been at least one class action suit filed in California, claiming Ford's ads are deceptive but we may all be too old to drive by the time it and similar suits are settled.
Meanwhile, consumers are snapping these cars up. The C-Max broke launch records in October and November 2012, selling 8,030 units, making it the highest-selling hybrid ever in its first two months. As those cars roll up the miles, we'll no doubt be hearing about the new owners' experiences, good and bad. Until then, if you're looking for an ultra-high-mileage vehicle, you might want to wait and let the mpg dispute play itself out.