Now we'll see if the C-Max Hybrid lives up to the hype

For this commuter, switching to the C-Max should save $240 a month in gasoline.
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DETROIT -- Congratulations, Alan Mulally, Jim Farley, Mark Fields, et al.

I believe you. I've bought the hype. I'm in, and I have freely agreed to break nearly every car-buying rule I hold dear because of it.

Let's just hope you're right.

Last weekend, I agreed to buy a new 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, replacing my six-passenger 2007 Ford Freestyle (derisively known as the "Stylefree" among some of my colleagues) crossover with the much-smaller and brand new five-passenger C-Max.

I did so for one reason -- or, more accurately, 47 reasons: the impressive 47 mpg fuel efficiency rating that the C-Max earned from the EPA, and the fact that the rating was the same for city, highway or combined driving.

Like many consumers who have taken new jobs recently, my daily commute is such that, with gasoline at $4 a gallon, the monthly savings from the Freestyle to the C-Max should be in excess of $240.

In the end, those savings were just too much to pass up, especially when the C-Max came with a $1,000 rebate -- something that is happily baffling to me given the vehicle's launch just weeks ago and limited dealer inventory.

The purchase came despite several nagging misgivings I experienced during my test drive.

The vehicle has Sync with MyFord Touch, easily my least favorite automaker infotainment system, and one I swore I would never own. A sales rep defended the much-maligned touch screen during our test drive, as he's supposed to do, but couldn't adequately explain away the four-second gaze it took me to accomplish even the most basic of the screen's tasks.

But in the end, the only way for me to get access to satellite radio, which I coveted, was a package that included MyFord Touch. Hurdle one was gone.

I also spent a decent portion of my test drive arguing with the Sync voice recognition system, which failed to recognize about three-quarters of my test commands. This isn't unusual. I've had similar experiences in several vehicles from other automakers that I've tested, and I'm willing to consider that better training on my part will solve that problem in the months to come. And hurdle two fell away.

The C-Max Hybrid is also beginning its first year of production in the United States. I'm told this experience will be different, recallwise, from the two handfuls of recalls I endured when I bought a 2000 Focus wagon. We'll see, I guess.

But perhaps my biggest concern was that my efforts to get anything close to 47 mpg during a 20-mile test run fell about 15 mpg short.

I know that the EPA numbers are estimates only, and depend greatly on driving conditions. And I was willing to accept the word of Ford Motor Co.'s top executives on their recent C-Max launch marketing blitz that my long-term experience will be different from my short term one.

I guess we'll see shortly about that, too. I pick up my new C-Max today.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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