Sayonara Prius, C-Max Energi more useful, drives better
This is a tall wagon this is 100% hybrid, as in that’s all you can buy, although there are two choices.It’s a mini-minivan of sorts, that looks like a Mazda 5, which seats six. This will seat four easily and five in a pinch. The C-Max name certainly will inspire absolutely no one, but this is an extremely useful wagon that due to its hybrid-only power is a fine commuter too.There is a standard hybrid model that operates much like the successful Toyota Prius. But I had the Energi model, which is a plug-in hybrid, meaning you can plug it in to get a full charge in 2.5 to 7 hours. The lower number is for folks with 240-volt power outlets in their garage, the higher number for most of us with 120-volt service. A full charge gave my pleasant Ice Storm (blue-gray) test wagon 17 miles of electric power, getting me to the office and part way home.
At that point the gas-powered 2.0-liter I4 kicks in and delivers decent power along with reasonable gas mileage. The C-Max Energi is rated 100 mpg when it runs on electric and gas, while the EPA rates it 43 mpg on strictly gasoline. All the auto forums are full of folks saying the car’s numbers are overrated. Ford says to expect 47 mpg city and highway. Other auto writers say that’s high too.
But I’ve got to say I managed 67.8. mpg in a week’s driving. Each night I charged the lithium ion batteries fully and then drove it to and from work, the store, etc., like any other test car. I was impressed with the performance, both mpg and over the road.
First, the gas and electric motors combine for 188 horsepower. That’s plenty in this modestly sized wagon, although it’s a little heavy at 3,859 lbs., due to those batteries in back. Yet the C-Max, which was sold in Europe for 10 years before being restyled to include a Fusion-like nose for the U.S. market, feels well balanced and substantial. This isn’t a little econo-box wagon feel.
The steering is well weighted, in fact, a bit toward the heavy side. The wagon handles extremely well though. I was expecting a lot less lively handling, but this feels much like the Focus, fairly responsive.I’m not often a fan of a CVT, but the continuously variable transmission here works well, and extremely smoothly. The whole purpose of a CVT is to improve gas mileage, and it obviously helps in that task in C-Max.
Braking is fine, and the regenerative braking system helps charge up your batteries as you brake, so that like a Prius, and most other hybrids, you have electric power to get the vehicle rolling from a stop. That’s what really saves you gas.
Of course there are all sorts of clever little digital readouts on the handsome dash to let you know how your charge is holding up, and how efficient you’ve been in braking to recharge the batteries. I found it’s easy to be in the 98% efficiency zone if you let off the gas a bit before a stoplight and lightly touch the brake pedal.
Naturally the wagon’s interior is pretty quiet, what with the electric power and all. But there’s a definite moan when the gas engine kicks in. But it’s not excessive and I found the wagon quieter than most small sport-utes and compact cars. There was little road or wind noise.
How does the electric part work? Is it simple to use? Yes. Like the Chevy Volt, which is always powered by its batteries, you simply plug in the charging cable into an outlet in the fender just in front of the driver’s door. You push the recharging cap and it rotates out of the way. The Volt you press a button inside to release the cap. When you’re not using the charging cable, there’s a storage area beneath the floor behind the driver’s seat.
Interior room is generous due to the rounded roofline, like in the Mazda5. These look like nearly identical cousins in profile. Four adults fit easily and you can get another in the rear seat if need be. I liked the seats too, as did passengers. These are well formed and supply good lateral back support. The Energi has a power driver’s seat and lumbar support, but manual passenger’s front seat. Oh, and the front seats have 3 heating levels.
With the seats down you get 42.8 cubic feet of space and 19 cubic feet behind the rear seat under the hatch. Yet there’s a big shelf back there that covers the batteries, so you don’t get a good flat cargo surface, but you can cram in a bunch of stuff, think grocery bags, kid gear, etc.
C-Max’s interior is attractive too, this one featuring black leather seats with gray stitching and a black textured dash that was deep, due to the steeply raked windshield. There’s pewter plastic trim on the door handles, console, dash and tilt/telescope steering wheel hub.
I like the edgy gauge pod with its shroud that looks a bit like wings on each side. There’s a Synch system by Microsoft for the radio and this one added a $3,080 option package with a premium audio system, navigation, power liftgate, rearview camera and hands-free technology and a host of parking sensors.There are some drawbacks to C-Max though, including that battery-induced ridge in the trunk. I also found the giant key fob to be extremely cumbersome. Women have purses to carry these things in, but guys are gonna get teased about the banana in their pocket.Pricing is a bit of a shock too, as with the Volt. The Energi model starts at $32,950, with a $795 delivery fee. Add in the tester’s option package and this wagon hit $36,825. It’ll take a few years of driving to earn back that premium price with lower fuel costs. Note too that there is a $3,750 tax credit on this car currently.
You also could opt for the standard hybrid model, which is available in SE trim for $25,200, or SEL trim for $28,365. If you use the car mostly for city driving and commuting the plug-in will deliver the better gas mileage, but if you’re on the highway a lot or go longer distances the standard hybrid would likely be most economical. Note too that you can turn off the electric power to save it for city driving if your commute includes a fair amount of both.
C-Max is a well executed hybrid with better driving characteristics than either the Prius or Honda’s Insight. Gas mileage, is superior in the Energi plug-in, but according to my research and talks with other auto writers, not so in the standard hybrid.
FAST Stats: 2013 Ford C-Max Energi
Hits: Great gas mileage, quiet useful hatchback with plenty of room for four adults. Handles well with good electric power and nice ride. Like the 3-level heated front seats.
Misses: Only 17 miles on a charge, odd rear cargo area due to battery packs in trunk. Rear seats fold, but do not create flat cargo floor. Huge, cumbersome key fob.
Made in: Wayne, Mich.
Engine: 2.0-liter I4 and electric hybrid, 188 hp
Weight: 3,859 lbs.
Wheelbase: 104.3 in.
Cargo: 19.0 cu.ft. (42.8 cu.ft. seats down)
MPG: 100 elect/gas / 43 gas only
Base Price: $32,950
Dealer’s Price: $30,726
Group 303A (premium audio/nav system, hands-free technology, power liftgate, rear-view camera, key entry, parking technology package, automated parking system), $3,080
Test vehicle: $36,825
Sources: Ford, www.autos.yahoo.com
Photos: Courtesy of Ford