First Drive: 2013 Ford C-Max Energi

Dear Optimizer:

We know you try to get the most out of life in every aspect. When it comes to cars, you've bought Toyotas. Please take a look at our new C-Max Energi. In fact, we suspect that you've already done some research, and it would inevitably have led you to us.

Best regards,

Ford Motor Company

That's the direct-mail appeal we could imagine going out to Ford prospects. With the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Ford has something special. Enough so, in fact, to leave us wondering why anyone would still consider a battery-electric vehicle.

A Sound Basis for Better Performance

Based on the superb C-Max Hybrid, a nicer and better small wagon than the Toyota Prius v, the Energi adds capability on the electric side. In doing so it also reels in the Prius Plug-in and is only surpassed in the electric-mobility arena by the kind of supercommitment that pays diminishing dividends with maximum BEVs.

Not to say the Energi is flawless. Adding battery-storage capacity beyond that found in the C-Max Hybrid allowed the Energi to prowl around town in e-mode during our sampling. But because of the bulky 7.6-kWh lithium-ion pack, rear cargo space is diminished by 21.6 percent behind the second row and 17.8 percent behind the front row. Liftover height rises high enough to thwart a pygmy at Costco.

Meanwhile, the Energi bloats to 3899 pounds. To find some perspective on just how heavy this is, we randomly opened our Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975 to page 521 and learned that the 1961 Mercury Monterey sedan--which rode on a 120-inch wheelbase and stretched 214.6 inches in total length--weighed 3777 pounds. (The Prius Plug-in seems relatively svelte at 3165 pounds.) Compared to the C-Max Hybrid, the Energi's suspension is fundamentally unchanged but slightly recalibrated. Despite the tweaks, though, the car felt weak-kneed and fat-bottomed on undulant roads.

Nevertheless, the priority is to surpass the Prius Plug-in, and Ford's advantage from the outset that the Energi is better-looking. After an all-out technological assault, Ford claims the equivalent of 100 mpg combined and a gas-electric range of 620 miles. While the GT500 needn't feel threatened, the Energi produces a Prius-busting 195 hp.

In the selectable e-mode, the Energi is capable of traveling up to 21 miles, which would be as far as Fred Flintstone usually drove in Bedrock. It would be quite possible for Fred to commute back and forth without using gasoline, and that's why we think a one-dimensional BEV suddenly becomes undesirable. While the Energi can emulate a BEV and go across town, it can also spontaneously head out of town and across the state for the weekend, carrying recreational gear and other cargo.

Meanwhile, still in e-mode and back to its face-off with the Prius Plug-in, the Energi tops out at 85 mph. (Ford says the Prius Plug-in will do 60 mph.) Recharging can be accomplished in as little as 2.5 hours with a 240-volt supply (seven hours with 120-volt). As in the C-Max Hybrid, the Energi's integration of electric and internal-combustion power sources is nearly seamless, and the regenerative brakes are as mellow as any we've encountered. Lacking athleticism though it may be, the car is pleasant enough to drive, and much credit goes to the engineering team for making it so smooth.

Adaptivity Is a Key Trait

Another important characteristic is the Energi's EV+ feature that's part of the SmartGauge dashboard display. By reading the navigation system, the EV+ software determines when Fred Flinstone is arriving at the quarry or starting the homebound leg of his journey. It then directs the car to stay in e-mode. This also occurs on the approach to a frequently visited intersection. Ford says it will develop additional means of using onboard data to increase efficiency in forthcoming vehicles. Meanwhile, over the long term, EV+ can be disabled, and if Fred is selling the car to his neighbor Barney Rubble, the data can be erased.

The Energi does without special external adornment besides a few badges, but its charge port includes state-of-charge illumination by means of the encircling LED indicator. Of course, the car also comes with a suite of irresistible smartphone apps that allow the remote management of charging functions; to some buyers, these apps are probably more dazzling than any bodyside adornment.

The Energi is available with such options as a hands-free liftgate, parking technology, and premium audio and navigation. From a base price of $32,950, which is $6,955 more expensive than the C-Max Hybrid, our test vehicle checked in at a healthy $36,635. That's a chunk of change, but Ford thinks the cherished optimizers who are target buyers will find value in the C-Max Energi, even at that price.

Base price:$32,950, including $795 destination and delivery
As tested: $36,635

Engine: DOHC 2.0-liter with variable valve timing
Power: 141 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 129 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Electric motor: Permanent-magnet AC synchronous
Battery: 7.6 kWh lithium-ion
Battery peak power: 35 kW
Total system horsepower: 195 hp
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Drive: Front-wheel

Steering: Electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
Suspension, Front: Independent short and long arm, double lower ball joints, stabilizer bar
Suspension, Rear: Independent multilink twist blade, stabilizer bar
Brakes: Four-wheel disc with regenerative capability, ABS
Tires: P225/50R-17 all-season

L x W x H: 173.6 x 72.0 x 63.8 in
Wheelbase: 104.3 in
Track F/R: 60.5/60.4 in
Weight: 3899 lb
Cargo volume (rear seats up/down): 19.2/42.8 cu ft

0-60 MPH: N/A
Top Speed: N/A
EPA Mileage: 108 city/92 highway mpg

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