Auto Review: Plugging in the C-Max

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Jan. 31, 2013
- Contributed Photo

Who would have thought that one of the regular chores we would learn to include into our daily routine would be plugging in the car? True, it’s still kind of a rare thing for the most part, but electric and plug-in hybrid-electric cars are becoming more available, and Ford has launched a veritable gaggle of new products with alternative drivetrains; from full electric to gas-electric hybrids. The goal here is high efficiency and low emissions, while still delivering familiar, fun-to-drive cars that blend practicality with style.

The new C-Max is a compact wagon/vanlet that only comes in hybrid variations here in the U.S., and we spent a week with the plug-in hybrid edition (called the C-Max Energi). Ford is striving to offer the advantages of this fuel-saving technology in a driver-friendly package that seems like a normal car, aside from the fact that to get full benefits of the system, you need to plug it in regularly, either to your regular household outlet or available special charging stations.

The front-drive C-Max has ample interior room in its shapely, wagon-like profile that is still small enough for easy parking. Like the non-plug-in C-Max, the Energi is powered by a high-efficiency Atkinson Cycle 2-liter Inline Four engine that, in concert with an electric motor (powered by a lithium-ion battery), has a total system output of 188 horsepower. The car runs on either the engine, engine plus electric motor, or solely on the electric motor, depending on driving and battery charge conditions. Electric-only operation is extended if you plug the car in overnight (roughly six or seven hours at normal 110V household current; considerably shorter with an optional 240V charging station). When fully charged, I was able to get about 15 miles on electric power alone, although this was in cold weather, where this range will be its lowest. In warmer weather, you should get additional miles on e-only power. Once the Li-ion battery pack gets low, the engine fires up to continue you on your way, and the batteries are recharged in motion both by the engine and regenerative braking.

The transmission is a very smooth, quiet Continuously Variable automatic unit, and acceleration is brisk. The C-Max is a very tight, well-assembled car with a compliant ride, crisp handling and very good steering feedback (although the turning radius seems a bit longer than you would think, given the compact dimensions). Both front and rear seat room is generous, but the cargo area is compromised in the Energi by the sizable battery that takes up some of the available space. Overall, the car is very well-finished and generously equipped, with Ford’s latest infotainment technology on display thanks to an included Audio and Navigation package.

It’s hard for the EPA protocol to estimate actual fuel mileage because this obviously depends on how often you plug in the car, but the stated numbers are 100 MPG equivalent for “combined” plug-in electric/gas operation, or 44 city/41 highway during regular hybrid operation. With options, our sticker came to $36,635.

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