Ford C-Max Hybrid owners and Consumer Reports find mileage running short

The rumblings within the auto industry over the fuel economy of the new Ford C-Max Hybrid and the related Ford Fusion Hybrid broke into the open today when Consumer Reports announced both cars had fallen far short of the mileage promised by their window stickers -- with the C-Max some 10 mpg short of its 47 mpg rating and the Fusion Hybrid off 8 mpg. Ford has said everyone's mileage will vary, but the largest tracking of mileage by C-Max owners online backs up Consumer Reports.

After the recent debacle involving Hyundai and Kia inflating mileage estimates on 900,000 cars, there's been more concern about automakers overstating their efficiencies. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets the rules for testing mileage, automakers self-certify most of the models they sell, with the EPA only sampling a small fraction as a backstop.

Consumer Reports says it tested the mileage on the C-Max and the Fusion Hybrid using a standard series of experiments it runs on all new models, including running up 2,000 miles of break-in time and using different drivers to compensate for driving styles. The result: the C-Max averaged 37 mpg, while the Fusion Hybrid hit 39 mpg. It's the largest difference between window-sticker figures and its testing that the magazine has seen. Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, says this means "most buyers won't get anything near 47 mpg in the real world."

Those results have been questioned by some, including Ford, who says some owners report getting better than 47 mpg. But there's another way to see whether the C-Max and Fusion are living up to their billing.

Tracking site Fuelly lets users sign up to keep score of how many miles they're traveling on a gallon of power. It's popular enough to reflect a worthwhile sampling of mileages for many models; for example, the 2013 Toyota Prius V, whose 212 owners registered with Fuelly have reported an average efficiency of 42.3 mpg -- dead-on with the Prius V's EPA combined city/highway estimate.

The sample size on Fuelly of Ford C-Max's owners isn't as big as the Prius V at 31, but it's far larger than any other public data source, and with 58,000 miles traveled, should be fairly representative of the C-Max's capabilities. Their reported mileage: 38.7 mpg -- in line with Consumer Reports. Fuelly only has four 2013 Fusion Hybrid owners, but even that small sample reports 39.9 mpg.

On the largest Ford C-Max owners forum, mileage results have sparked an ongoing debate about whether the car, the drivers or some other factor might be to blame for the underwhelming returns -- but most remain satisfied with their decision to buy one, and a few say even if they're short by a few miles per gallon, the C-Max still does better than what they were driving before:

"We have to bear in mind the car is new (still breaking in), a lot of the drivers are new to the hybrid way of driving, and the learning curve does take some time. Remember, the Prius has been around for 10+ years and there is a lot of trial and error that has been learned and passed on. Don't give up, driving a hybrid requires different driving techniques. Learn the the skills and techniques to get the better mileage, enjoy the car, and if/when gas goes through the roof, you've got your C-Max as a hedge to high gas prices."

Top photo: Ford, C-Max Hybrid Forum user stranger267