Ford's hybrid strategy is evolving, with the company committed to offering consumers a variety of powertrains for some of its mainstream models. For 2013 Ford has added a new trim to the relatively new C-Max hybrid lineup: a plug-in hybrid option, or "Energi" model in Ford-speak.
Like the regular 2013 Ford C-Max, the Energi is a fun-to-drive hybrid that delivers comfort, style and efficiency, but it compromises cargo capacity and has an electric range that's too limited for the plug-in's additional cost.
The Energi can be driven roughly 21 miles on electric power alone. When the battery reaches a certain level of depletion, the gasoline engine kicks in to keep the car going, up to 620 miles total. Recharging the Energi takes about 2½ hours on a 240-volt level 2 EV charger or up to seven hours on a standard 120-volt household power outlet.
If that kind of operation sounds familiar, it's because two other vehicles on the market work in similar ways: the Toyota Prius Plug-in and the Chevrolet Volt. (It's just the regular Prius that comes as a plug-in; the larger Prius v does not.) In our week with the C-Max Energi, we found it to be the best-driving car of the trio, but we question whether the plug-in feature's additional cost is worth the benefit. To see the C-Max Energi compared side-by-side with its competitors, click here.
Which Kind of C-Max Am I Looking At?
Outwardly, the Energi is much the same as the basic C-Max. Only the charge port on the left front fender and the reduced cargo room allude to this being anything but a normal C-Max. The C-Max Energi replaces the normal hybrid's 1.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack with a much larger, 7.6-kwh battery in the cargo area, which does indeed cut into the rear storage area. It also eliminates the regular C-Max's flat floor when the rear seats are folded. The additional 250 pounds that came with the C-Max's conversion to a plug-in don't, however, affect the car's excellent driving dynamics too much, aside from some rather clunky braking. A four-element LED light ring surrounds the charge port, lighting up in segments as a visual cue to let the driver know the battery's charge status upon parking the vehicle and plugging it in. It's a unique element, but a more useful one might have been a warning inside the car that the charging-port door is open before driving off. Leaving it open is fairly easy to do after unplugging the car.
We've already covered the regular C-Max (see the review), and pretty much all the opinions on that model hold true for the Energi model. Driving any C-Max is a pleasure. Its fit and finish, refinement and interior material quality put it considerably above hybrid models from Toyota and Honda. Using the C-Max, however, is less pleasant, due to design issues for interior controls that simply must be addressed. For instance, when placed in Park, the shifter completely obscures half the car's buttons, including the fuel-door release switch. The climate-control knobs are bizarre little nubs that are difficult to grip with bare fingers and impossible with gloves. MyFord Touch and the latest Sync system operate without issue maybe two requests out of three. The C-Max looks good inside; it just doesn't work as well as it should.