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Michael Toscano

2013 Ford C-Max Energi

So maybe Ford can’t spell the word energy.  But can they manage energy, can they successfully utilize plug-in energy technology to boost fuel efficiency while providing a solid ride?  Yes, it seems so, with the 2013 C-Max Energi.

New for 2013, the C-Max Energi is one of Ford’s C-Max series of hybrid and plug-in hatchbacks.  The plug-in Energi may share a basic platform with the Ford Focus, as do all the C-Max vehicles, but it’s a rather different story under the hood.  Or, more precisely, in the almost non-existent trunk area devoted here to battery storage.  Energi boasts a 2.0-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder engine that’s matched with a 118-hp, 88kW electric motor.  There’s a sturdy 7.6-kWh Lithium-ion battery package, with gears managed by an “electronic continuously variable transmission,” or eCVT.   And that provides 108 mpg equivalent (MPGe) in the city, 92 MPGe on the highway, for a combined 100 MPGe running on both current and gas.    (Gas only operation turns in a still laudable 43 mpg combined city and highway driving rate.)

So how’s the performance?  It’s no sports car, for sure, but the C-Max handles nimbly enough in city driving.  Steering is tight, acceleration is smooth and eerily quiet when running solely off the battery.  It does have a high roof, however, and this profile contributes to a slight sense that it’s top heavy at highway speeds.  Speaking of that, Ford says top speed in electric mode is 85 mph, and the engine does become obviously less responsive when approaching its upper range.

But the name is “Energi,” not “Hot Rod,” so let’s focus on that as the major selling point.   The battery’s 7.6 kWh can power the car for a trip’s initial 21 miles solely on electric power.   At that point, the gas engine engages and the car runs as a hybrid.  Transitions between gas and electric power are smooth enough that you might not be aware of them, were it not for the sound of the gas engine coming back to life.  The combination lets you cruise along for 620 miles on a fully charged battery and a tank full of gas.

Ford provides three drive modes:  Auto EV automatically switches between electric and gas propulsion to optimize fuel economy; EV Now is solely an electric glide; EV Later is a standard hybrid mode.  All three provided similar operating performance during the week the Energi was with our family.

The plug-in aspect is user friendly, and Ford has provided a quite-long-enough power cord to make charging in the driveway easy.  The external charge port, located just forward of the driver’s door, can handle either a 120 volt charge, which we used, or a 220 plug.   It took about seven hours on the 120 volt outlet to fully charge Energi at our house, and Ford promises you can cut that down to four-and-a-half hours by purchasing a 220-volt charger.

Let’s get the money business out of the way before discussing how this hatchback looks and feels.  It’s fairly good news.  The model we drove for a week has a base price of $32, 950, and is eligible for thousands of dollars of federal electric car tax credits, enough to pay for the $3,080 package of options our car had.  The options added premium audio and navigation systems, a hands-free technology package, rear view camera, a parking technology package, automated parking system, and keyless entry with a hands-free liftgate feature.  Standard safety features include dual-stage front airbags, side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, a driver's knee airbag, ABS, emergency brake assist, traction control, stability control, an anti-theft system and a post-crash alert system.

It’s a sporty vehicle, taller than other cars in its class, with economical, clean lines which I find pleasing to the eye. Its look telegraphs the idea that this is a car built to move people in a no-nonsense manner, but without the feeling that it’s an economy model. In fact, the extra headroom allows tall passengers to ride without feeling at all cramped. As long as you don’t have cargo, that is. You see, the battery array takes up the space which should be holding your golf clubs or groceries or suitcases, so there’s just a tiny bit of trunk space. If you have stuff to carry, you can take advantage of the 60/40-split rear seat, though. It folds down flat, creating room for cargo, boosting the 19 cubic feet of luggage space to 43 cubic feet. But then, of course, you lose passenger space.

The interior is comfortable, with durable materials augmented by leather trim (especially nice on the steering wheel) and enhanced by ambient lighting design.   The center instrument panel seems a bit cluttered, but the displays are easy to read.

Ford can give Prius and the Chevy Volt some stiff competition with the C-Max Energi, doing better in some important categories, and holding its own in others.  It’s affordable, a comfortable ride, and seems like sturdy transportation.