Toyota Prius V Vs. Ford C-Max Hybrid Vs. Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

Whether they come in the form of a subcompact hatchback or a full-sized pickup, hybrids are some of the most technically advanced vehicles on the road today. Blending the best of internal combustion and electric propulsion these cars and trucks can save drivers major dollars at the filling station thanks to their Star Wars-grade technology that’s advanced enough to make Han Solo jealous. “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy!”

With cutting-edge battery packs, more integrated circuits than a Foxconn factory and millions of lines of computer code tying everything together, hybrids are capable of delivering massive fuel-economy numbers and respectable performance for hundreds of thousands of miles. But despite these key advantages drivers oftentimes have to pay extra for the luxury of saving petroleum distillates; about the only instance we can think of where an automaker doesn’t charge more for a gasoline-electric model is the Lincoln MKZ sedan – the standard and hybrid variants both start at a little more than $37,000 including destination fees.

But back on track, all of this malarkey about electronics and vacuum tubes, oil refining and Harrison Ford characters is just a bunch of double-speak gobbledygook obfuscating the true nature of Ask AutoGuide. Like a first-rate charity we’re in the business of helping those in need, not yammering for the sake of making noise.

This week Kelli wrote in asking for some car-buying assistance, and we’re more than happy to oblige. She wants a small but spacious vehicle and is in love with the idea of an earth-friendly hybrid. She’s not certain what kind of car she wants but efficiency is a top priority. Power windows and door locks, a backup camera and heated front seats are mandatory; a sunroof and navigation system would be appreciated. What vehicles fit the bill? Hit the next page for all the scrumptious details.

Toyota’s Prius nameplate is practically synonymous with hybrid. Like Kleenex, Coke and Q-tip it’s a brand name that’s just about become a generic term. With such strong recognition it’s no wonder the company sells so many each year.

As for Frau Kelli we suggest the spacious Prius v, a station-wagon version for the standard model, it offers more interior space though it’s substantially less fuel efficient. Behind the second-row seats the “v” provides more than 34 cubic feet of room; with the back bench folded flat that number swells to more than 67 cubes. By comparison the standard Prius provides less than 22 cubic feet of volume.

Despite their versatility disparity the wagon version of Toyota’s famous hybrid is powered by the exact same drivetrain, which is centered on 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Augmented by a 6.5 ampere hour nickel-metal hydride battery pack and an electric motor this system delivers 134 net horsepower. On paper, or rather, displayed on an LCD screen that may sound a little anemic, but it works well enough in the real world (PLEASE tell us you’re not reading this on a CRT).

But where the Prius v falls short is in the efficiency department, relatively speaking of course. According to the U.S. EPA it stickers at 44 miles per gallon city and 40 on the highway, figures that earn it a combined score of 42 mpg. For a little context the standard model should return an average of 50 miles to a gallon of gasoline.

Where things get really interesting is when you look at pricing. The entry-level Prius v starts at right around $28,000; at that level it comes standard with things like power windows and door locks as well as a backup camera. Unfortunately you have to step up to the range-topping “Five” trim level to get heated seats, which in our opinion is a crock of horse-puckey! C’est la vie, but we just wish Toyota would offer butt warmers as a stand-alone option, or better yet, for free.

In any event a Prius v Five optioned with all of the features Kelli wants stickers for nearly 37 grand. Part of the reason it’s so expensive is that you have to opt for the $5,650 Advanced Technology Package in order to get a moonroof. Of course it also provides a JBL sound system, radar-assisted cruise control, Toyota’s pre-collision system and much more so it’s not a total rip off.

One area where the Prius v will probably trounce all comers is in the area of quality. The company has been producing hybrid vehicles for more than 15 years; it’s safe to say they’ve probably ironed out a lot of bugs over the past decade and a half, something that makes this car a smart bet for long-term ownership.

Ford’s answer to the Prius v is its Euro-flavored C-Max Hybrid. This compact MPV provides a healthy dose of versatility and style without sacrificing fuel economy.

Where the v is a lot like a station wagon the C-Max is more akin to a compact crossover; it seems to sit a little bit higher above the ground than its Japanese counterpart and it’s a bit taller overall — by nearly two inches.

When it comes to storage space this hybrid offers a maximum of 52.6 cubic feet of storage space behind the first-row seats; aft of the back bench it offers 24.5 cubes, which of course means it’s slightly less useful than the voluminous Prius. This is probably due to the vehicle’s elevated cargo floor courtesy of the all-important battery.

Powering the Ford C-Max is a 2.0-liter gasoline four-cylinder engine. Running on the efficiency-boosting Atkinson cycle (like the Toyota) it puts out a claimed 141 hp. Increasing the vehicle’s performance is a 1.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and an electric motor. All told the system is capable of delivering a sustained 188 ponies, a good bit more than the Prius can muster.

SEE ALSO: Ford C-Max Hybrid vs. Toyota Prius v

Despite its greater displacement and additional output the C-Max is supposedly slightly more efficient than the Prius v. The EPA rates it at 45 mpg city and 40 on the interstate, figures that result in a combined score of 43 miles per gallon, one better than its rival’s average. But wait, there’s one giant asterisk worth mentioning. If you look back to last summer, the company claimed it delivered 47 mpg across the board, something they were forced to change following customer complaints; we take even the revised figures with a shaker’s worth salt. You’ve been warned. Still, this car’s economy performance is even more impressive when you factor in curb weight; the C-Max hybrid is 366 pounds heavier than the Prius v.

So, this electrified Ford is more powerful and a whisker more fuel efficient than its Toyota competitor, but how does it compare when it comes to pricing? Optioned according to Kelli’s requirements the C-Max Hybrid stickers for an even $29,600, though its base price is just about 26 grand.

All variants of this vehicle come with power windows and door locks, dual-zone automatic climate control, Ford’s Easy Fuel capless fuel filler and electrically adjustable side-view mirrors. Equipment Group 203A pads the bottom line by $1,995 and includes a navigation system, foot-activated power liftgate, reverse sensing system and ambient lighting. A panoramic fixed-glass roof is an additional $1,315 and the available Winter Package adds heated seats, among other things, for a paltry 295 bucks.

Summarizing the Ford C-Max hybrid, it may not be as spacious or reliable as Toyota’s Prius v, but it’s significantly less expensive and a lot more fun to drive. It’s an appealing vehicle in its own right.

Rounding out this three-car comparison is the Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid, specifically the top of the line Touring model. So equipped it stickers for $30,120, including mandatory hush money… we mean destination and delivery fees.

With a navigation system, heated seats, power windows and locks, a sunroof and more this Subie meets all of Kelli’s buying criteria, and then some. Interestingly it’s the brand’s first gasoline/electric vehicle.

Ahead of the cabin is mounted a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine and an AC synchronous electric motor. Combined this drivetrain setup delivers a respectable 160 hp and is matched to a continuously variable transmission, just like the Ford and Toyota.

Despite their similarities things really differ when it comes to fuel economy. Unlike its competitors this Subaru isn’t all that thrifty. The best it can muster on the consumption front is 29 miles per gallon city and 33 highway; its combined score is just 31 mpg. Depending on a handful of variables it’ll do up to 25 miles an hour on electric power alone. Regenerative braking and automatic start-stop help bolster efficiency, but still we’d hope for more.

However, like all Subarus with the exception of their BRZ coupe the XV Crosstrek Hybrid holds one powerful trump card: all-wheel drive. For inclement weather, multiple seasons and mild off-roading this vehicle will absolutely shame the Prius v and C-Max. In fact, right near the top of its press release the company boldly proclaims that this machine’s got a whopping 8.7 inches of ground clearance. To find this information about the Toyota and Ford requires combing through their spec sheets (if you curious they’ve got 5.7 and 5.5 inches, respectively); clearly it’s not an important stat for these road-going, fair-weather hybrids.

As for cargo volume the Subaru Hybrid provides 21.5 cubic feet of space with the second-row seats in their upright position; lower the backrest and that number grows to 50.2 cubes. Up or down it’s the least commodious of this bunch.

Without question the Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid is the most capable vehicle in this trio thanks to its generous ground clearance and all-wheel drive, the only problem is you pay for it every time you stop at a gas station. Fuel economy, arguably Kelli’s most important parameter, is a letdown.

Far and away Toyota’s Prius v has the most cargo space, but the nameplate’s reputation for quality cannot be ignored. The Ford C-Max is the most powerful and engaging in this three-car comparison and on paper at least it’s narrowly the most efficient, important attributes to be certain. Finally, the Subaru XV Crosstrek is the most capable in inclement weather and off road. Each of these fuel-saving vehicles has its pluses and minuses; now it’s up to Kelli to find the right one for her. We’ve done as much as we can, our work here is done… for this week at least.

As always, good luck in your quest for a new family vehicle, Kelli, and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.

If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to ask@AutoGuide.com. Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for AutoGuide.com. When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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  • C-Max Power + MPG C-Max Power + MPG on Feb 28, 2014

    I have a 2013 C-Max and love it. I continue to be amazed that Ford rarely ever mentions the C-Max in any kind of advertising. Why is Ford not putting the C-Max in front of the public to better sell the car?

    • Shiratori1 Shiratori1 on Feb 28, 2014

      The c-max is a scam. It doesn't get anywhere near the mpg that is advertised in the real world (which has been proven by multiple magazines on multiple occasions).

  • Wizard of Odyssey Wizard of Odyssey on May 30, 2015

    I went through a similar decision process earlier this year and decided on the Subaru. The seating position is a little higher, without handling like a truck, and the AWD is great to have in the snow. I see the hybrid motor as a bonus bit of power, because with gas at two bucks a gallon, it's not going to it for itself. The car is nice and torquey on hills and the brakes are the best of any car I've ever driven. Highway and city range have been about equal for me, but the stop-start engine saves a bit of fuel and emissions. Despite not being a particularly fuel efficient car, it's way better in that respect than the 2005 Accord it replaced. Don't let the numbers alone decide this for you, try the cars yourself.

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