Why We Drive A Ford C-Max Energi And A Ford Focus Electric

2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid in Massachusetts winter [photo: John Mitchell]

2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid in Massachusetts winter [photo: John Mitchell]

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My wife and I have been very pleased with the results of green initiatives we undertook at our home, including solar panels and geothermal heating.

Then we decided to expand our efforts to automobiles and cut down on our fossil fuel use.

While we didn't find an affordable battery electric car with the 350 miles of range and 5-minute recharge time that we dreamed of to replace our Ford Explorer and Escape, I believe we've found a good compromise that blends excellent performance and high reliability.

We now own a 2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid hatchback, and we lease a 2013 Ford Focus Electric battery-electric car--and we've concluded that we couldn't be more impressed.

Both vehicles appear to have high-quality workmanship and--importantly for other everyday buyers--are now available for sale in all 50 states.

Ford C-Max Energi (plug-in hybrid)

After about 4,400 miles in our 2013 C-Max plug-in hybrid, it is averaging 83 mpg in blended use (operating on both battery and engine power). In our typical driving, it runs only on electric power about 73 percent of total miles.

When used in gasoline-only mode, it averages 46 mpg in a combination of highway and non-highway driving. A very useful feature is the ability to run it in normal hybrid mode, EV LATER mode, or EV NOW mode.

An obvious difference between my previous Explorer and the new C-Max is its reduced ground clearance: When parking, I find I have to be careful about getting too close to a curb, or I can ride up onto it with the low-hanging front bodywork under the bumper.

One of the keys to keeping gas mileage high on the C-Max is keeping the car plugged in all the time. A full recharge using a 240-Volt Level 2 charging station takes about two and a half hours.

This may sound obvious, but if you plug in at every opportunity, you turn a vehicle with a rated 21-mile electric range into one that can go much farther on pure electricity during a typical day.

And if a long journey is on the calendar, its blended electric-and-gasoline range is advertised at 600 miles or more. We've found the C-Max to offer plenty of room for five people, plus some cargo (although less than in the conventional C-Max Hybrid, which has a lower cargo deck due to its smaller lithium-ion battery).

2013 Ford Focus Electric in Massachusetts [photo: John Mitchell]

2013 Ford Focus Electric in Massachusetts [photo: John Mitchell]

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2013 Ford Focus Electric

Having a vehicle with no range limitations made our next leap a little less nerve-racking. With a round-trip commute to work of 46 miles, I was willing to see what the Focus Electric would do for us--and it hasn't let us down.

Today I drove 23 miles into work, and the Focus showed a range remaining of 82 miles. The ability to cool or warm the battery (known as "thermal conditioning") depending on conditions seems to preserve range better than other electric vehicles in temperature extremes.

Consumer Reports called the Focus Electric one of the nicest electric cars they have driven, and I have to agree! The interior is top-rate including the leather upholstery (the only choice you have with the electric Focus).

2012 Ford Focus Electric, New York City, April 2012

2012 Ford Focus Electric, New York City, April 2012

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I would have liked to have fog lights as well, but I suppose weight had to be cut somewhere. The cargo area has an 'organizer unit' which is removable, and that's just what I've done--which increases the load-bay volume.

The Focus Electric too gives us seating for five and some room for bags in the back. I'm also pleased with its performance; we find the acceleration impressive. While testing the car, Edmunds said the Focus Electric "nipped the Nissan Leaf in acceleration and braking, while it handily beats it in handling."

Because it has a 6.6-kilowatt charger, a full battery recharge using a 240-Volt Level 2 charging station takes about 4 hours.

Both vehicles have an 8-inch LCD touch screen in the center of the dash, plus two configurable 4.2-inch color LCD displays in the instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. The display in both vehicles to keep track of charge remaining and other information is very helpful.

One of the best functions, which we've used a lot, is the 'brake coach' that helps maximize range by teaching the optimal use of regenerative braking. In the electric Focus, part of the Ford smartphone app uses the MapQuest trip planner to locate charging stations and find the most efficient routes to them while navigating to your destination.

Unfortunately, Ford's app does not include all charging stations. To make sure we're aware of all possible charging locations, we use apps from Plugshare, Recargo, Chargepoint, and AAA.

Instead of "her car" and "his car", my wife and I now choose the car that makes the most sense for our destinations each day.

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Comments (37)
  1. Leather is not the only choice on the Focus EV. You have the choice between cloth and leather (this being the only thing you can configure).

  2. Hi Matt,

    You're right! The editors changed my wording around a little! I kind of liked not having to make all those option decisions.

  3. Two of the colors available for the Focus are extra cost. Shouldn't they be considered options too?

  4. I am still enjoying my FFE as well. I would think the BMW i3 will be a better small electric car when it arrives later this year but it might be 50% more expensive too. I'm wondering if the author is John Hanson Mitchell, I assume so.

  5. But I guess it could be John MItchell the architect...

  6. Thanks for sharing your real world experiences with these two vehicles! I'm assuming your solar PV installation covers your energy needs for these vehicles. Could you share what size PV install is adequate to cover this? Thanks again.

  7. Hi Chris,

    We have 9 standard panels on a southern facing roof and this time of year on a good day make about 7kw of power a day.

  8. So probably not enough to cover the cars, but not a bad start. Depending on where you live, UCS estimates that even using grid power with an EV is either on-par or much cleaner than a gasoline engine. And you can always put up more PV! :)

  9. Hi Eric,
    Thanks for your comments. As a matter of fact, our Utility gets their power from a number of green sources. I fiqure that we can fill up the the Focus with a 1/2 charge 160 times/year with our solar.

  10. From the article: "After about 4,400 miles in our 2013 C-Max plug-in hybrid, it is averaging 83 mpg in blended use..."

    As a point of comparison, the median for all Chevy Volts is 170 MPG.

  11. If you just drive about 35 miles a day you may enjoy over 100 mpg. But what about the drive over 200 miles that takes you up and over a 5000 foot mountain pass? How will you Volt handle that with it s 1.4 liter engine that has 85 HP? Rather poorly I would bet. My C-Max Energi has a 2.0 liter engine that can give me 185 HP. I am taking my C-Max up to Mt. Rainier National Park in another week and will report back on the mpg.

  12. The Volt would handle it fine. Even my old 2012 Prius Three went 550 miles up and over the Sierra Nevada range (7000+ft) twice at high speeds and zero hypermiling. I ended the trip at 54mpg. Do you want speed or fuel efficiency? You're not going to get both without a plug.

  13. Hi Justin,

    That's why we decided on the C-Max Energi (plug-in) vs. the standard C-Max.

  14. Great choice! Thanks for making the paradyme shift. :)

  15. @Barry Meister, Mr. Ford Fan.

    I believe I and Mr. Voelker has mentioned it to you before in other comment section. So, I am NOT going be nice about it.

    You have NO freaking clue on what you are talking about on the Volt.

    Volt (as an EREV) is completely different from your PHEV in terms of ICE vs. electric motor design. In your PHEV, your engine is the main power source. In the Volt, the electric motor is the main drive. When power is needed such as Mt. Rainer, the power from the battery AND the generator/ICE is combined to power the electric motor. No problem at all. Especially if you crank up the "mountain mode" early.

    Please get yourself informed and get some clue.

  16. My wife's C-Max Energi is now showing an overall MPG of 119, and still growing.

    We've owned both the Volt and now the Energi, and they are both wonderful vehicles. We prefer the larger range of the Volt, but also prefer the greater visibility in the Energi. Clearly, you can't go wrong with either vehicle.

  17. Hi Richard,
    I agree! I have better visibility than I had in the Explorer.

  18. I get to hear about Volt inflated MPG numbers regularly; inflated because they ignore the electrical energy used. If I did that in my EVs, I'd have a BAZILLION MPG, since I use no gas whatsoever.

    The Volt MPG can never be above it's best (100% EV) efficiency, which is 93 MPGe (well, it can be a little better if you're a really efficient driver, but at best 5-10% better). I think someone at GM must have thought it would be fun to ignore that fact, and so we have these unrealistic numbers huge numbers of people are claiming as fact.

    The Cmax Energi has a rated 100 MPGe in EV mode, so 83 blended (with 73% in EV mode overall) sounds about right AND real. With Volt accounting the number would be 170 too (using data from story w/10k miles).

  19. "The Volt MPG can never be above it's best (100% EV) efficiency, which is 93 MPGe (well, it can be a little better if you're a really efficient driver, but at best 5-10% better)"

    I beg to differ.

    First of all, Volt's EV mode is rated at 98MPGe for EV mode, NOT your 93MPGe.

    Second of all, Volt's owner have been known to easily get 40-45 miles per charge. That is 40-45 miles per 10.5KWh. 33.7KWh per gallon. So, that is easily 128 to 144 MPGe. Even if you include the 15% charging loss, that is easily 109-122 MPGe in real life driving!!!

    I got a lead foot (75+mph cruising) and I easily get 38-39 miles EV range per full charge. Each full charge is about 12.3KWh from the grid (10.5KWh used in the car). That is easily 104MPGe!!!

  20. I was impressed with both also, although I would favor the Fusion. We don't have kids. The Focus Electric just drives well and feels like a "regular" car. The Fusion Energi just felt great, although the C-MAX handled better for me. Either way, Ford has decent alternative energy cars to offer.

  21. Most excellent report one that can benefit all car owners. IF fuel efficiency is the prime goal it necessary to put figures on paper. Data will verify efficiency. Most people drive with emotions and this is hugely expensive for the average driver WASTES at least three out of each ten gallons purchased. And yet, very few, verify MPGS for their driving situation AND evolve plans to improve. All drivers can benefit from this piece. I have a 2008 hybrid and have solar panels as of last November. A plug-in hybrid is in the horizon. Thanks for your words.

  22. Thanks Ramon!

  23. An excellent article giving good insights into the change from the traditional US house "fleet" to a new paradigm.

    I am sure your experience will become more common place which can only be a good thing.

    Semantics about the merits of Volt vs C Max Plug in are probably irrelevant when compared to the change from Explorer/Escape to Plug in/EV.

    Bravo John Bravo

  24. Thanks Jeremy....much appreciated. It's exciting to actually drive the vehicles and come up with the data yourself.

  25. Any suggestions for easing the burden upon those who had to earn adn pay the $15,000-plus in governmental subsidies that funded such a substantial portion of these purchases?

    Or are they offset by taxes upon income levied against workers at the extension cord factory who connect each car to the coal-fueled powerplant whenever they're charging?

  26. @Mortimer: You should really do your research before you regurgitate stuff like that to this audience.

    There are two separate studies that show a plug-in car is cleaner than a 25-mpg gasoline car (today's average, roughly) even if it's charged on the dirtiest, most coal-heavy grid in the nation (WV or ND). One is the 2007 EPRI-NRDC study, the other the 2012 UCS report.

    Given the attitude in your comment, I presume you can refute the assumptions, data & projections of those reports? Do please let us know how your own data differs. We're eager to hear coherent, well-reasoned arguments on worthy issues like these.

    Talking points from one end of the political spectrum, though: Not so much.

  27. Doesn't the government subsidize gasoline, food and other stuff we use here in the US? Why not subsidize this too as it also creates jobs and promotes cleaner air.

  28. I suggest that the air you breathe will be somewhat cleaner and that the taxes you pay for the Middle East Wars to Protect Oil Profits will be somewhat fewer. Electrically powered vehicles make a statement that the sooner we got off our oil addiction, the better.

  29. The only problem I have with the C-Max is it looks frumpy. It's practical, drives really nice, and is perfect in many ways, but the three opening "grill" and tall front end of the car make it look not so good.

  30. I'm new to this topic and would like to hear some opinions on what vehicles would work best for my 45-mile one-way commute, but also for my frequent need to travel our 5-county area. So my typical day is 90 miles, but often becomes 200 miles. All on a not-for-profit sized paycheck.

  31. If you don't get a free charge at work, then your best bet is a regular Prius (non plugin version). But if you can actually get a charge at work, then your best bet is a Volt.

    None of the BEVs will meet your requirement.

  32. Plugin Prius is averaging ~78 mpg (gas) averages about 65 mpg on highway in HV mode. With incentives a plugin Prius cost me the same as a mid-range std. Prius.

  33. Thanks for the story and details on what you've done. We've had a similar transformation that started with a 6.2kw solar array in 2010 and got two EVs (we've kept a Ford Focus for our long trips)

    I have one question: I rented a Cmax Hybrid a few weeks back and could not get the thing to register better than 39 mpg. I can't say I was trying hard to hyper-mile, but I wasn't racing or driving inefficiently. Is there something in the Energi (better regen / more use of battery in gas mode) that offsets the higher weight of the Energi vs. the Hybrid? Since it's been a topic of contention for Ford (some have sued because MPG was less than advertised), I'm curious about your perspective.

  34. Energi version is actually rated even lower (EPA) than the regular hybrid version.

  35. @John Mitchell,

    I am curious on your switch. So, you had two SUVs. Were they AWD? Did you actually need the capability of those two SUVs?

    If so, how are you addressing those concerns now with two FWD cars with less ground clearance and LESS carrying capacity?

    Are you choosing those two Ford products b/c you are a Ford fan or b/c those two products actually make sense for what you need?

  36. Good choices. Along with the Focus EV, I would have chosen a Volt for my other vehicle for extended range. After 4000 drama-free miles, I'm averaging 160 MPG and get about 45 miles on a charge of 70/30 hwy/city usage. It does seat one less than the C-Max, though, and does not have the active sound deadening system the C-Max has.

  37. What is the range of the FFE in winter? I live outside Boston and am concerned that my ~40-50 mile round-trip route would be too much for cold winter days.

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