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2013 Ford C-Max Energi Review (Video)

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The 2013 Ford C-Max Energi is an interesting vehicle for a variety of reasons. It is a European-inspired family hatchback geared to achieving maximum fuel economy. When looking at the vehicle, it is obvious why it exists: to look straight into the eyes of the dominating Toyota Prius V and say, “Bring it on!” After a week driving this vehicle in a variety of different conditions, I can tell you that the vehicle accomplishes quite a few tasks well and falls short on others. One thing is for certain, if someone is cross-shopping the Prius V, and actually likes the act of driving, then the C-Max Energi is definitely the vehicle to go with.

Ford C-Max Energi

The Ford C-Max Energi resembles a slightly larger Ford Focus.

C-Max Energi Economy

No discussion about a gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid would be complete with a discussion on the fuel efficiency. There is also no point in beating around the bush with this topic. The C-Max Energi is rated at 100mpge based on the EPA testing cycle. When running in hybrid-only mode (after the vehicle is out of juice) it still achieves a rated 43mpg.

I live in a part of the country where there are few electric vehicle (EV) charging stations available. That means that if I wanted to charge, I had to charge at home or borrow a power outlet at my destination. That meant that I was driving most of the time in hybrid mode. During the week of driving, I observed a 43.3mpg average. That would be right on par with the EPA estimates. It should also be noted that during the test week the temperature exceeded 90F many days. The climate control was set at a constant 66F the entire time.

Ford C-Max Energi

Observed fuel economy for a week with the C-Max Energi.

When fully charged, the C-Max Energi will indicate somewhere between 20 and 24 miles of available EV-only driving. During that time, the vehicle will whisper along completely silent, and accelerate briskly due to the nature of the electric motor. At speeds 84mph and below, the gasoline engine will only intervene if the driver places his or her foot all the way to the floor.

Ford C-Max Energi

C-Max Energi driving exclusively on electricity.

On the included “convenience charger” the C-Max Energi will achieve a full charge in an indicated 7.1 hours, but my results were often sooner. With a Level 2 charger, the vehicle will charge in approximately 2.5 hours.

To achieve this performance and range, the vehicle utilizes a lithium-ion based battery system with active thermal management. Unlike the system in the Nissan Leaf, which uses ambient air from the cabin to keep the batteries cool, the C-Max Energi uses an actively cooling and heating system to keep the battery at temperature. Optimal temperature improves battery performance and longevity. For those concerned about long-term battery health, the C-Max Energi comes with an 8-year, 100,000 mile warranty on the hybrid components and battery.

Ford C-Max Energi

The C-Max Energi never lets you forget you’re driving a hybrid.

For someone who drives less than 20 miles a day, the C-Max Energi will never use a drop of fuel. It is also pretty cool to walk up to the car and unplug it from the wall. It truly does feel like I am driving the future.

The plug-in hybrid concept also makes sense for people who have range-anxiety as well. Like the Chevrolet Volt, once the battery is depleted the gasoline engine takes over and the car continues on its way. For a family that can only afford one car and wants the benefits of an EV, the C-Max Energi is a “best of both worlds” solution.

C-Max Technology

Aside from all the technology under the hood, the C-Max does come equipped with a decent amount of equipment. Our test unit included MyFord Touch with navigation and unique EV content. It also included a back-up camera and sensing system, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlamp controls. Like many EVs, the C-Max Energi also features automatic climate control.

Ford C-Max Energi

The Ford C-Max Energi features automatic, dual-zone climate control.

The C-Max Energi also features a class-exclusive power lift-gate that can be trigged with a foot kicking underneath the bumper. This feature is extremely useful, especially if I had my hands full attempting to load cargo. This debuted on the Ford Escape, and I would not be surprised if it proliferates across the entire Ford and Lincoln line before too long.

While not technology per se, our test unit also featured a $1,195 panoramic glass roof with a power sun shade. While this feature might be entertaining to children in the back seat, the roof does not open or vent. I would suggest skipping that option on the order sheet.

Ford C-Max Energi

The C-Max Energi comes with an optional panoramic fixed roof.

C-Max Energi Driving Dynamics

People often do not purchase a plug-in hybrid vehicle to drive sporty. However, vehicles like the Tesla Model S show that alternative-energy vehicles can be quite entertaining to drive. This is truly where the C-Max Energi wipes the floor with the Prius V.

Ford C-Max Energi

The C-Max Energi has a bigger grille than the Focus and standard fog lamps.

The C-Max Energi is built on an enlarged version of the Ford Focus platform (as is the Escape). This means that this vehicle drives just like a heavier Ford Focus. When driving spiritedly, the car almost seems to lighten in a weight and transform into a performance-oriented Focus. Handling is relatively neutral for a front-wheel drive vehicle, and under late trail braking the back-end will begin to rotate.

Ford C-Max Energi

Although a taller vehicle, the C-Max Energi’s proportions flow well on the vehicle.

Torque from the electric motor is instantaneous, making acceleration brisk in the C-Max Energi. When cornering, the vehicle does not feel that it is traveling as fast as it is. Part of that is due to the weight of the vehicle, and the other part is due to the nature of the continuously-variable transmission.

Continuously-variable transmissions (CVTs) are often featured on hybrid vehicles. Unlike a normal car, the C-Max Energi does not shift gears as it is driven along. A computer determines exactly how many engine revs are needed for the given situation and sets it accordingly.

However, the CVT is sluggish to respond. When driving on my favorite twisty stretch of road, I often found myself frustrated from the time it took for the CVT to figure out that I wanted.

Plug-In Hybrid Savings

The C-Max is sold in Europe as a non-hybrid vehicle, but can only be purchased in the United States as a hybrid or plug-in hybrid. The hybrid starts at $25,200 but to get into the Energi it will cost at least $33,345. For the privilege of driving 20 miles on pure electricity, Ford charges an $8,000 premium. For that $8,000, the vehicle comes with less storage space and a heavier car.

Ford C-Max Energi

The C-Max Energi can regenerate electricity as it drives along.

As tested, our review unit tips the scales at $37,030. If the purchaser only drive 20 miles or less per charge, then the driver will never conceivably have to purchase fuel again. With a two hour recharge time on a Level 2 charger, it would be difficult to use the vehicle on electricity alone.

Ford C-Max Energi

The C-Max Energi takes a standard charging connection and has a LED ring to show charge status.

That means the vehicle will have to be driven on gas for a period of time. When driven on gasoline online, the C-Max Energi achieves the same fuel economy as the hybrid.

Making matters worse, let’s take a lot at pricing Level 2 charging stations actually charge for electricity. In San Francisco, the average cost per kWh of electricity is $0.21. However, at an EV charging station at a Walgreens in Columbus, Ohio (where electricity is cheaper) the charge was $0.49 per kWh.

Other Level 2 chargers in the area charge $2.00 per hour of charging. Since the C-Max Energi requires 2 hours to charge, it ends up costing $4.00 for 20 miles of driving.

Granted, there are some free and low-cost chargers, but unless the owner is going to charge at home and stay within that 20 mile circle, it will be very difficult to make the vehicle inexpensive to operate.

Plug-In Hybrid and the Environment

Driving a plug-in hybrid is supposed to give the driver a sense of satisfaction. For each mile driven, polar bears are (hopefully) being saved. In fact, the C-Max Energi will even thank the driver for driving a hybrid.

C-Max Energi

The C-Max Energi thanks the driver after every trip for driving a hybrid.

According to the government, 42% of all electricity is produced from coal. That means that some or all of the electricity going into the EV battery in the C-Max Energi is coming from a dirty coal plant.

Production of lithium ion batteries is a dangerous business, causing health issues to people in production facilities. Also, production of these batteries can increase global warming, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report.

Final Verdict

Solely as an automobile, the C-Max Energi is a nice car. The vehicle features a crazy amount of head room and a decent amount of passenger space. Unfortunately, the rear hatch space is a bit limited due to all of the batteries.

Ford C-Max Energi

The C-Max Energi loses a lot of storage space to the added batteries.

I am a single man, so this car clearly was not targeted for me. But for a young couple starting out I could see the appeal of this vehicle, especially if they are drawn to the technological appeal of the plug-in hybrid.

Ford C-Max Energi

Rear-seat space in the C-Max Energi

Don’t get me wrong, this vehicle is a technological marvel. The screens are all customizable to provide the driver with the exact information that he or she wants. There is even a situation display that shows exactly what is happening in the vehicle at any given time.

Ford C-Max Energi

The C-Max Energi features a situation display that shows exactly what is going on with the EV system at any time.

The rub with me starts with the price of entry. At over $37,000 as tested, this vehicle is pretty expensive for a “big Focus.” Plug-in hybrids still are not a real economical option when purchasing. There is a certain joy of not filing up at the gas pump as often, but what price does one put on that? It would also take a significant amount of driving in EV mode to make up the price difference between the standard hybrid and the Energi. By that time, it will be time to replace the EV battery at a currently unknown cost.

Yes, the Prius V is not any better off. In fact, I would argue that the fit and finish in the C-Max Energi is far superior to that of the Prius. But with only a 20 mile range and a significant recharge time, the Energi just does not seem to make sense over the standard hybrid model.

People want to drive the C-Max Energi because it is easy on fuel, and good for the environment. However, the reality of the situation is that it is not any better for the environment than a normal car. Ultimately, if the purchaser cared about saving money overall, a plug-in hybrid in today’s environment of slow charging and few stations is ultimately going to be more expensive than just purchasing a fuel-efficient gasoline or diesel car.

There are a lot of things to like about the C-Max Energi, and for the right individual I can see the appeal. But I’d rather have the full-electric Ford Focus Electric with the better EV range for the same price. Yes, I would have range anxiety but I would get more bang for my EV buck. Better EV range and a better tax incentive make that a more appealing vehicle to me. But I would not be purchasing it to save the environment. I would be purchasing it to save money on fuel.

I still would purchase a fuel-efficient gasoline vehicle over the Ford Focus Electric, but I do respect these vehicles. Their expensive prices help manufacturers develop more advanced technology that will drive down the cost of this technology in the future. It works for Tesla.

If Ford would have just brought the European C-Max here with a good diesel motor, I think they would have had a real winner on their hands. As it sits, it is hard to make this vehicle a recommended buy. It’s a great car and does what is advertised, but with a low EV range and incredible price premium I do not believe it is the right time for this type of vehicle.

NOTE: Vehicle provided by the Ford Motor Company for review.

Chad is a writer for Notebooks.com, MotorReview.com, and GottaBeMobile.com. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He also consults in the Information Technology industry, specializing in Apple, K-12 education, and government systems. He can be reached on Google+ alongside Twitter and Facebook.

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