2013 Ford C-Max Energi Plug-In Hybrid: First Drive

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2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Marin County, CA, Nov 2012

2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Marin County, CA, Nov 2012

The 2013 Ford C-Max Energi is the first plug-in hybrid from Ford to hit the road, and the company sold 144 of them in October even before letting journalists drive the car.

It’s the pricier and more capable of the two C-Max models, and Ford compares it directly to the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid.

That car, which went on sale in February this year, has quickly become the second best-selling plug-in vehicle in the U.S.

More e-range than Hybrid

So how does the plug-in C-Max drive? Very much like the conventional C-Max.

That is to say, the C-Max Energi is a heavy, deliberate, five-door hatchback with an attractive and upscale interior, decent handling, good sound suppression, and considerably more power than the Prius lineup.

Those characteristics are all shared with the conventional C-Max Hybrid.

But the Energi model adds up to 21 miles of electric range from its much larger 7.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, according to its EPA rating--which carries the following footnote:

"This vehicle did not use any gasoline for the first 21 miles in EPA tests. However, depending on how you drive the vehicle, you may use both gasoline and electricity during the first 21 miles following a full charge."

The plug-in Prius, on the other hand, managed only 6 continuous miles in its EPA test before switching on the engine, though it covered 11 miles altogether on electricity.

Going uphill electrically

During an 80-mile test drive around the San Francisco Bay Area, the plug-in C-Max proved to be far more capable in its all-electric mode than the plug-in Prius.

In its “EV Now” mode, drivers can use the C-Max Energi entirely as an electric car. Ford says it will travel in all-electric mode up to 85 mph (compared to 62 mph for the C-Max Hybrid).

And, notably, Ford vehicle executive John Davis referred to the ability to travel electrically at high speeds by saying the company had learned that, “Customers want this.”

You won’t get anything near the EPA electric range of 21 miles if you’re traveling at freeway speeds, of course. But the C-Max Energi capably, if not briskly, accelerated up a few of San Francisco’s famous hills without kicking on its gasoline engine.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Marin County, CA, Nov 2012

2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Marin County, CA, Nov 2012

Use it as an electric car

That stands in sharp contrast to the Prius Plug-In Hybrid, which sometimes seems to switch on the gasoline engine if the driver breathes too hard.

It’s much easier to keep the C-Max Energi in electric mode, aided by the power gauge, which shows how close a driver is getting to reaching the limit of the electric motor’s available power.

In other words, the C-Max Energi can practically be used as an all-electric car for distances up to 20 miles—especially if those distances are covered at speeds of 40 mph or below, before aerodynamic drag starts to take its toll.

The Energi C-Max isn’t particularly swift in its all-electric mode—the traction motor has a peak output of 88 kilowatts (118 hp), against a combined engine-motor output of 195 hp, or 54 hp more than the Prius powertrain—but it won’t embarrass itself in traffic.

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