While the Euro-egg C-MAX Energi looks like an overgrown Focus designed to compensate for plump Americans or club queen with oversized wardrobes, it’s likely the most technologically-advanced vehicle Ford has ever put through showrooms. What it lacks in absolute elegance, it makes up by corralling electrons and packing space.
Ford builds two versions of the C-MAX – one, a normal hybrid that achieves 47/47 mpg city/highway, and the more flamboyant Energi plug-in version that travels 21 miles without touching fossils. Total range is 620 miles. If at first you just see a little minivan, look again.
The C-MAX Energi’s lithium-ion battery pack can be re-charged in seven hours from household plugs and in just 2.5 hours with an optional 240v charger. Cost to recharge the vehicle: $1. Fuel economy for the Energi is rated 108/92 MPGe city/highway.
Going farther than 20 miles in the Energi without an extension cord necessitates using the Jurassic Period’s finest. Up front is a 2.0-liter gasoline engine driving the front wheels through a continuously-variable transmission. Electric heating, regenerative braking, and a sophisticated control module conserve what you’ve pilfered from the home tap. Total system output is 195 horsepower.
There’s something cool about the C-MAX’s shape. Every surface was smoothed to enhance airflow, but the flanks are distinguished by Ford’s multi-faceted chrome-slat grille, beefy fender arches, and 17” machined aluminum wheels shod in low rolling resistance tires. Only the little round door in the Energi’s fender, which glows with a lighted halo when plugged, indicates it’s on lithium.
Much of the interior echoes the Ford Escape and Focus. Five supportive leather seats – heated in front – are very European in fit and quality. Audio and navigation controls sit high in a dash pod with climate below. The dashboard could host a picnic, but wide expanses of glass invite sunlight. The 60/40 split-fold rear seats compensate for all of the space taken up by the battery pack in the cargo area.
Advanced interior tech complements the science below. Drivers can play with the SmartGauge that “grows” and “shrivels” leaves in the instrument cluster, depending on how eco-friendly they drive. Brake Coach puts a gauge in the cluster that emphasizes smart regenerative braking skills. Ford’s cantankerous SYNC system theoretically allows drivers to access navigation, audio, and trip computer through voice commands. When docking, use the semi-automatic parallel parking system. An under bumper sensor opens the hatch with a wave of the foot as a dramatic entrance for the big gayby carriage.
While not a rocket ship, the C-MAX Energi is a nice drive. The beauty of an electric powertrain is thumping off-the-line torque. Step in too aggressively and tires sing to the pavement. On the highway, the four-cylinder engine is assisted by the electric motor for smooth, turbo-esque gusto. Having all of the battery weight down in the chassis enhances stability that belies the minivan shell. And, if that adoption paperwork goes through, you’ll be ready for Junior with a cavern of space.
By flaunting her electrons, the Ford C-MAX Energi is giving rivals like the Toyota Prius a shock in the seat. Unlike some hybrids and electrics that drive like they should have stayed in high school shop class, the C-MAX Energi is a delight and says much about Ford’s hybrid future. Price as-tested came to $36,825.
2013 Ford C-MAX Energi
Five-passenger, FWD wagon
Powertrain: 7.6 kWh Li-ion batteries, 2.0-liter I4, total 195hp
Suspension f/r:Ind/Control blade
Wheels: 17”/17” alloy f/r
Brakes: regen disc/disc fr/rr
Must-have features: MPGs, Style
Driving range: 20/620 miles elect/total
Top speed: 102 mph
Fuel economy: 108/92MPGecity/hwy
Assembly: Wayne, MI
Base/as-tested price: $33,345/36,825