Designed in and for the European family minivan market, the C-Max is sold as a normal petrol-powered car there. In the U.S., Ford offers the tall wagon only as a hybrid or plug-in hybrid, creating a new designated model to go head-to-head with Toyota’s Prius.
Standard hybrids combine a gasoline engine with an electric motor and a larger battery. The battery accumulates power by regenerating it whenever you use the brakes. Hybrids never need to be plugged in. The car’s computer decides when to use the engine or the motor - or both.
A pure electric vehicle is great, until you run out of juice. Or, range anxiety could make you limit your driving.
A plug-in hybrid is a step between an all-electric car and a normal hybrid. You can charge up a separate battery and run for a limited distance, after which the car automatically switches to hybrid mode and keeps rolling.
With the C-Max, charging is easy. The durable cord sits coils up on a portable holder that stashes neatly under the driver's seat. You just have to remember to take out the cord and connect your car to your home's power supply every night. I was able to fully charge the car overnight, in 10 to 12 hours, on standard household 110 current.
On the left front fender, the round plastic door flips up and you plug in what looks like a gas nozzle without the tube. A circle around the filler glows and as you charge the car and illuminates, in quarters, showing what percentage the battery has charged.
The C-Max is very pleasant to drive, with responsive steering, a firm, controlled ride, and an airy and attractive interior. You sit high, like in a crossover SUV.
I commute 30 miles to work each day, and I enjoyed about 21 fuel-free miles before the car became a regular hybrid. Part of my driving after that was electric-powered, so, the first day, I ended up driving 23.6 of the 29.4 total miles on pure electricity. I verified a similar performance on subsequent days. The transition from smooth, silent electric to gas/electric is virtually undetectable.
Of course, with no chance to charge, my trip home was simply as a hybrid, but even then, I logged nearly half the trip in "EV" (electric vehicle) mode. The ideal case for this car would be to have a shorter commute, with a charger at both ends. Then, perhaps, I could use no gas at all.
One weekend day, I ran several errands, to the dry cleaner, bank, pet food store, and realized when I pulled into my driveway that I had done it all on electricity alone. And that felt good.
The C-Max combines a 2.0-liter, 141-horsepower gasoline engine with an electric motor for a combined 188 horsepower. The battery is a Lithium-ion type rather than the older style nickel-metal-hydride, so it's more efficient and smaller. The plug-in model does lose several cubic feet of rear cargo space versus the hybrid for the additional battery, but I still could open the hatch and slide in a variety of substantial items.
The C-Max's accommodations feature lots of angles and nicely finished surfaces, creating a strong, solid feel. Use Ford's SYNC system to attach your phone and music devices, keying in or using voice commands to set it up.
The instrument panel features Ford MyTouch, which makes it easy to change what you see on the right and left sides of the simple round speedometer. The left side displays fuel economy information and gives you insight into which powerplant is running and how hard it's working. And it automatically displays a report after each trip showing how efficiently you drove.
The right side of the instrument panel displays entertainment and other features, but is most fun as Efficiency Leaves. Drive gently and electrically and you can add various-sized leaves to the plant. When you're stomping on the gas on the freeway, the leaves fall off and disappear.
The EPA now has an MPGe (the “e” is for “equivalent”) number. The Energi earns 108 City, 92 Highway, and 100 Combined. Driving only about a third of my miles in pure electric mode, I still averaged a notable 49.5 miles per gallon (equivalent) over the test week. If you drove more locally and stayed on battery power, then the number would get closer to 100 MPGe.
Prices for the C-Max Energi start at $33,345; the regular hybrid begins at $25,200.
The C-Max energy is good for the times, but I expect, in the near future, to see an improved electric range in the Energi - and probably a C-Max all-electric vehicle in what is shaping up to be an epic battle for green buyers.