2013 Ford C-Max Energi Review by Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Ford CMax Energi

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

• SEE ALSO: Ford Buyers Guide


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Ford CMax Energi

Soon after this week's test car, a 2013 Ford C-Max Energi, was delivered, I had to run some errands. That entailed a 15-mile round trip on city streets and the local highway, with speeds up to 65 mph. I got in the car, pressed the "start" button, left it in default operating mode, and off I went.

It was quiet, smooth, and had no problem keeping up with traffic. When I got back, I checked the trip computer for mileage. I had noticed that the information display to the left of the speedometer was indicating EV mode whenever I glanced at it, and was surprised when it said I had used 0.04 gallons of gasoline for an average of 227 mpg for the trip.

A good start to the week! Yes, mileage decreased rather quickly after that, when the plug-in portion of the battery charge was drained and the car operated as a regular hybrid. But with two charging periods at home, I got through a 300-mile week with an average of 44 mpg. That was without really trying for highest possible mileage, and without more plug-in recharging than the two periods mentioned. It was notably better than the 36 mpg I got in the regular C-Max.

Ford has an interesting market positioning for its C-Max "Multi-Activity Vehicle" (MAV) -- all are gasoline-electric hybrids, but some are more hybrid than others.

The standard C-Max is a regular series/parallel hybrid, using a 2.0-liter, 141-horsepower Atkinson cycle gasoline engine, 118-horsepower permanent-magnet asynchronous AC electric motor-generator, and 1.4kWh lithium-ion battery to store energy generated by regenerative braking. Like other hybrids, it's self-contained and never needs to be connected to an external power source. I drove one a few months ago and was impressed by its smoothness, interior space and quality, and usefulness. So when the opportunity to spend a week with the other C-Max arose, I gladly accepted.

That would be the C-Max Energi, the plug-in hybrid version. Think of a plug-in hybrid as the step between a regular hybrid and a full electric vehicle. Like a regular hybrid, it has a gasoline engine that is sometimes used for tractive power, and a motor-generator that is used for traction and electricity generation for the motor and battery, with different degrees of combination from purely internal to purely electric to many combinations of the two. A plug-in hybrid's motive power battery can be recharged directly by being plugged into an external power source, such as a recharging station or regular 120 VAC wall socket. Some plug-in hybrids use a larger battery than their regular counterparts; others use a separate battery.

Because of the larger battery capacity, a plug-in hybrid can run longer in pure electric-vehicle (EV) mode than can a regular hybrid, and recharging from the power grid is less expensive than the equivalent amount of gasoline. There is no "range anxiety" as can happen with a pure EV - when the battery is discharged, the internal combustion engine provides power, and helps recharge the battery. Just don't run out of gasoline -- but that's no different from the internal combustion technology that's been used for more than the past century.

The C-Max Energi uses the same engine and traction motor-generator as the regular C-Max, but the high-voltage battery is larger, with a 7.6kWh capacity. A larger battery needs more space, and that means that the Energi's luggage capacity is diminished a bit, with 5.3 cubic feet less behind the rear seat and 9.8 cft less total with the rear seat folded. Not a serious problem, as there is plenty of rear-seat space for two or even three adults, and reasonable luggage space considering the relatively small size of the C-Max.

There is another, more noticeable, difference between the regular C-Max and Energi -- price. Technology costs, and the extra technology in the Energi raises the base MSRP to $32,950 from the mostly equivalent C-Max SEL's $28,200. Last time I looked, $4,750 still bought a lot of gasoline… but the price is in line with other plug-in hybrids. The Toyota Prius Plug-In is smaller and around the same price; the Chevrolet Volt is slightly larger and more expensive. Energy-related tax credits, different in every state, can change the price difference, and commute-lane privileges can be worth a certain amount of money to some people.

But I suspect that price is not a high priority consideration for today's plug-in buyers. Now that hybrids are familiar, even commonplace in some parts of the country (yes I live in California :) early-adopter technophiles who want cutting-edge technology want something more than a mere hybrid. Electric cars are selling well -- I see plenty of Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) and Tesla Model S sedans -- but there still is demand for plug-in hybrids, range anxiety not included.

Given current environmental regulatory trends and technical developments, I expect most cars in the medium future -- 10 years or so -- to be hybrids or plug-in hybrids. Don't fear that, the technology works. Charging can be a challenge now, especially if you live in an apartment or condo or have to park on the street, but expect battery technology to improve for the better, both in energy density and in charging time. And the charging infrastructure can only get better.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Ford CMax Energi

If you're looking for a car that is big enough inside for four adults regularly, or two plus two or three children and some luggage, and value fuel efficiency and a small footprint for easy parking, the Ford C-Max or C-Max Energi are definitely worth a good look. Which depends on how electrified you are.

I'll keep the following sections short, as the Energi is identical to the regular C-Max in most ways other than battery size and EV range.

APPEARANCE: It's recognizably a Ford in the current Ford styling idiom, and noticeably related to the Focus with which it shares chassis underpinnings. The C-Max is taller, in the manner of European vehicles, for maximized space efficiency. You have to look closely to tell an Energi from a regular C-Max. Most apparent is badging -- where the regular C-Max says "Hybrid" on the front fenders and tailgate, the Energi says "C-Max Energi". And there is the charge port on the left front fender. That's it.

COMFORT: As mentioned, the larger battery reduces space behind the rear seat a bit. That's about it for differences inside compared to the SEL trim level of the regular C-Max. Which means the same comfortable upscale interior with soft-touch materials on the doors and instrument panel, leather seating (heated in front), and "glass cockpit" instrumentation with reconfigurable information displays flanking the electroluminescent speedometer. There is another slight space reduction, as the storage under the left-side rear passenger floor is reserved for the charge cord.

SAFETY: All C-Max models have Ford's Personal Safety System™, AdvanceTrac® with Roll Stability Control™, all-speed traction control, dual-stage front airbags, front seat side-impact airbags, Safety Canopy® side-curtain airbags, a driver's knee airbag, Brake Assist, and SOS Post-Crash Alert™.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The Energi is not quite identical to the regular C-Max on the road as it weighs about 260 pounds more. That is noticeable, but not objectionable, and had a minimal impact on the C-Max's good road manners. Changes to the fully-independent MacPherson strut / Control Blade multilink suspension are minimal, ditto for the electrically-assisted steering. As in the C-Max, regenerative braking helps stopping, and the front brake discs are a bit larger to deal with the weight increase. It stops very well, and is actually enjoyable to drive on a good "sports car" road.

PERFORMANCE: Other than the larger battery and perhaps some hardware and software changes to deal with that, the Energi's powertrain is identical to that of the regular C-Max. Which means a full series/parallel hybrid system linking the 2.0 liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine (maxima of 141 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque) and the synchronous AC traction motor (maxima of 118 hp and 177 lb-ft) through a computer-controlled continuously-variable transmission (CVT). Maximum system horsepower is 188; and the electric motor's maximum torque is developed as soon as it starts to turn, so it can give a kick that feels like a low-boot turbocharger at times. Best acceleration uses both systems. Acceleration in EV mode is strong at lower speeds but the rate does drop as speed increases. Still, I had no problem keeping up with or ahead of traffic at any time, and changes between power modes were rarely discernible. And fuel economy was very good for a near-4000 pound vehicle.

CONCLUSIONS: Ford's C-Max Energi adds even better fuel economy to the C-Max's fine combination of space, style, and efficiency.

SPECIFICATIONS

2013 Ford C-Max Energi

Base Price $ 32,950

Price As Tested $ 37,830

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy Atkinson Cycle inline 4-cylinder

Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.

Horsepower 141 @ n/a rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 129 @ n/a rpm

Electric Motor permanent magnet AC synchronous

Horsepower 118 @ 6000 rpm

Torque 177 lb-ft @ 0 rpm

Transmission electronic CVT

Maximum System Horsepower 188

Hybrid Battery 7.6 kWh Lithium-Ion

Wheelbase / Length 104.3 in. / 173.6 in.

Curb Weight 3899 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 20.7

Fuel Capacity 14.0 gal.

Fuel Requirement unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P225/50R17 93V Michelin GreenX Energy Saver A/S

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, ESC, HLA, regenerative braking standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent Control Blade™ multilink

Drivetrain transverse front engine and motor, front-wheel drive


PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon combined claimed / observed 43 / 44

0 to 60 mph est 9 sec


OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Equipment Group 303A - includes: Premium Audio and Technology Package, Hands-Free Technology Package, Power Liftgate, Rear-View Camera, Keyless Entry/Start/Tailgate, Parking Technology Package, Automated Parking System $ 3080

Ruby Red Metallic Tinted Paint $ 395

Panoramic Sunroof $ 1,195

Destination and Delivery $ 795

Equipment Group Savings -($ 585)


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