Test Drive: 2013 Ford C-Max Energi

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Published March 22, 2013

| FoxNews.com

Even though it doesn’t necessarily look it, we’re led to believe that the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi is cool, because its name is intentionally misspelled with an “i” at the end.

Lucky for Ford, it kind of is.

The C-Max Energi is a plug-in hybrid, which is essentially a conventional hybrid with a larger battery pack installed that allows it to travel a fair distance on electricity alone. In this case, up to 21 miles per charge.

After that it works like a regular hybrid, collecting otherwise wasted energy from the gasoline engine and brakes and recycling it through an electric motor to help deliver a combined fuel economy rating of 43 mpg.

Factor in the average use cycle for an American driver and the EPA predicts that you’ll typically travel 100 miles before burning a gallon of gasoline. Unless, of course, you take a lot of long trips with no recharges along the way, then break out the calculator and have at it.

The C-Max Energi is powered by both a 141 hp 2.0-liter four cylinder and a 118 hp electric motor, which put out a combined 188 hp. More fuzzy math, I know, but that’s how these things work.

The electric motor draws its energy with a “y” from a 7.6 kilowatt-hour battery that can be recharged in two and a half hours with a 240-volt charger, or about seven hours on a standard outlet. It takes up a good portion of the cargo bay floor, like having a couple of IKEA flat packs permanently installed there.

The neat trick is that you get to control what’s propelling the car and when, at least to some extent.

Three drive modes are available: Auto EV, EV Now and EV Later. The first leaves things up to the car, which switches between pure electric and hybrid drive as it deems fit. The second locks it in EV mode and runs off the power stored in the battery pack until it is depleted, while the third does the opposite, turning off the main battery and engaging hybrid drive.

Why not just use the battery first all the time?

Well, as the specs above indicate, when it’s in EV mode the C-Max Energi has significantly less power on tap than it does in hybrid mode, so if you’re in a hurry it might leave you wanting.

That’s not to say it’s the snail it kind of resembles. If you’re foot rarely meets the floor, you’ll be quite satisfied with the EV performance. It’s pretty lively out of the blocks, and can handle highway duties just fine up to its limited, battery-powered top speed of 85 mph, all in an almost disappointing silence. No futuristic flux capacitor sounds added here.

The car is well aware of its lack of potency, and if it senses you and your four friends could use a boost on your way home from IKEA with a full load of actual flat packs, it politely offers to engage the gasoline engine, a gesture that you can accept or decline with a press of a button on the steering wheel.

Keep in mind, too, that if your primary interest is buying this car is saving gasoline, the electric drive is more efficient at low speeds, so you’ll likely go further on battery power around town. You may also want to keep some in reserve in case you get home late and need to sneak into the driveway.

There is a noticeable difference in performance when it switches to hybrid mode, and since it’s primarily relying on the gasoline engine the power delivery is less linear and much noisier. Anything more than half-throttle turns up an unpleasant moan, but keep a light foot on the pedal and the C-Max Energy is one of the most refined hybrids you’ll find.

Ford has gone out of its way to make this a very normal car. It’s based on the same platform as the Focus and Escape, and its passenger compartment is identical to the latter. In fact, the C-Max is sold overseas in non-hybrid versions, but is only available here as the Energi and a standard Hybrid that gets 47 mpg, but has no long range EV capabilities.

You sit high in the saddle and have a great view out of the large windows all around. The interior has a much flashier look than the body, and for $29,995 after a $3,750 federal tax credit comes equipped with a touch screen and voice activated infotainment system that doesn’t overdo the plug-in theme. There are just a couple of configurable displays to the left of the speedometer that monitor what’s going on under the hood.

Overall the C-Max Energi is a pleasant car to drive. The stiff, low rolling resistance tires can be a little crunchy at times, but it has a generally good ride and very tidy handling.

As far as its efficiency is concerned, when I picked up the car, it had a fully-charged battery and a gauge that read 21 miles of range. I made it16 miles in mixed city and highway driving in EV mode. The next time I charged it, that’s what it told me to expect. I thought there might be something wrong with the charging station, but later learned that computer recalibrates its predictions based on your driving history, so there are no surprises along the way. Honesty -- still the best policy.

There are a lot of plug-in hybrids coming on line right now, including a Ford Fusion Energi that uses the same powertrain as the C-Max. All of them work in very different ways, however, so comparing them is an apples and oranges affair.

For example, the closest competitors to the C-Max Energi are the Chevrolet Volt and the Toyota Prius Plug-in. The Volt costs $32,495 when you subtract the big $7,500 tax credit it gets because it can go 38 miles per charge, but it only seats four and gets 37 mpg after it runs out of juice. On the other hand, Toyota Prius Plug-In costs $30,295 after a $2,500 tax credit due to its smaller battery and relatively paltry 11-mile electric range, but it gets 50 mpg in hybrid mode.

Confusing, but not any more so than cross shopping similarly priced sedans and SUVs with their myriad engine options. The wrench in the works for the C-Max Energi is that the C-Max Hybrid costs just $25,995 and doesn’t come with any junk in the trunk.

Then again, unless you keep a barrel of gasoline in your garage you can’t fill it up at home, so it’s not nearly as cool, is it?

(They probably would’ve spelled it Hibrid if it were.)

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2013 Ford C-Max Energi

Base Price: $29,995 (after $3,750 federal tax credit)

Type: 5-passenger, 5-door hatchback

Powertrain: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 118 hp electric motor

Power: 188 hp

Transmission: CVT automatic

MPG: 108 city/92 hwy

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