C-Max Energi moves plug-in hybrid technology forward

The 2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid is

The 2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid is designed to help Ford accelerate fuel economy leadership. (Credit: Scripps Howard News Service / Ford Motor Company)

Some day, millions of motorists will travel in electric cars, and a brave few of them may even read a newspaper or magazine while the car drives robotically.

But we're not close yet. It will take many years unless and until inventors devise practical long-range batteries that can be quickly and easily recharged, much as motorists today refuel at gasoline pumps.

Meanwhile, manufacturers all over the planet are working on stopgap ways to bridge the chasm between today's preponderance of fossil-fueled cars and trucks to a future with vehicles that run on renewable and minimally polluting energy sources.

In the meantime two technologies fit the bill: electric and gasoline-electric hybrid. Neither is satisfactory, though they are more so than some others.

Diesel vehicles can be dismissed. Even if they run on biofuel, they are expensive, use internal combustion and still pollute. Fuel cells, which use hydrogen to generate electricity, are questionable.

So far, hybrids that use both gasoline engines and electric motors have been the most successful, as witness the more than a million sales of Toyota Prius hybrids. The Prius archetype uses an electric motor boosted by a gasoline engine, which allows limited driving in purely electric mode. It comes as a standard hybrid and in a plug-in version, which extends the electric-only driving range.

Ford uses technology similar to Toyota's, although its designs and patents are mostly its own. Though it lags far behind the Japanese manufacturer in sales, it is making a concerted effort to close the gap.

New for 2013 is a pure electric car, the Ford Focus Electric. It also has a couple of garage mates in the 2013 C-Max Hybrid and the 2013 C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, the subject here. John Davis, the C-Max chief engineer, describes the array, which includes Ford's gasoline Ecoboost technology, as the company's "power of choice strategy."

It amounts to recognition of the state of the art in automobiles. There is a realization that something else -- we don't know what yet -- is parked at the end of the road, but that for now the idea is to offer a selection of the best that current technology can offer to minimize emissions and maximize fuel economy.

The Focus Electric, of course, offers optimum fuel economy and zero emissions. Its EPA city/highway/combined equivalent fuel economy is 110/95/105 mpg. The drawback falls into what is called "range anxiety" -- that the Focus Electric can travel up to 76 miles, but then must sit still for four to 20 hours for recharging.

That's not a problem with the C-Max Hybrid or the C-Max Energi, both of which have gasoline-engine backup for their electric motors. The Hybrid delivers city/highway/combined fuel economy of 47/47/47 mpg -- the same as Ford's Fusion Hybrid midsized sedan.

However, the Energi gets an equivalent fuel economy rating from the EPA of 108/92/100 mpg. The hero here is the plug-in technology, which enables up to 21 miles of electric-only driving, thanks to a lithium-ion battery rated at 7.6 kilowatt-hours, compared to the Hybrid's 1.4 kilowatt-hour battery. Charging the 7.6 takes 2.5 hours with an optional $1,499 240-volt charger; seven hours from a 110-volt outlet.

However, there's a difference in price. The Hybrid has a starting price of $25,995, compared to the Energi's $33,745. A government rebate of $3,750 is available for the Energi, which brings the base price down to five bucks less than $30,000.

Both the Energi and the Hybrid are based on the European C-Max, which made its debut in 2003 as a compact minivan. But it's hard to imagine either as a minivan because both are five passenger hatchbacks with limited luggage space.

Although the Energi boasts 19 cubic feet of cargo area behind the back seats, most of it is up toward the roof because of the intrusion of the battery pack. Fully loaded, luggage would block the rear view.

On the road, the Energi is a decent performer, with good straight-line handling and modest cornering capability without much body roll. Acceleration is strong in both electric and gasoline-electric modes, and the transition between the two is barely noticeable.

It shares some components with the Ford Escape crossover utility vehicle, which no longer is offered as a hybrid. But for family utility, the roomier Escape would be a better choice.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: 2013 Ford C-Max Energi Plug-in hybrid four-door hatchback.

Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline with permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motor; 195 horsepower combined.

Transmission: continuously variable automatic.

Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.

EPA passenger/cargo volume: 100/19 cubic feet.

Weight: 3,859 pounds.

EPA city/highway/combined equivalent fuel consumption: 108/92/100 mpg.

Base price, including destination charge: $33,745.

Price as tested: $36,635.

Contact Frank Aukofer at driveways6@gmail.com. 

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