2013 Ford C-Max Energi

It's not just good for taxi fleets.

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December 7, 2013

2013 Ford C-Max Energi

Taller passengers won't feel like they're sitting in a Japanese subway car at rush hour.

Introduction
After writing our little feature delving into the secrets of the plug-in hybrid, I was excited to get the chance to test one out in real-world conditions. Up for review this week is the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi, the plug-in version of the automaker's C-Max hybrid. It's being adopted for taxi use in Chicago on a surprisingly large scale, so it must be pretty great at hauling people around with relative efficiency, right?

The biggest difference between the standard C-Max and its PHEV brother is the larger lithium-ion battery, now suitable for extended jaunts at highway speeds without internal-combustion intervention. However, we didn't really get to experience EV-only mode on the highway; seeing as how Chicago has already frozen over for the winter, the additional draw from the cabin and seat heaters meant that the battery was depleting faster than it would in ideal conditions, so the motor would kick in to both power the drive wheels and charge the battery.

Thankfully, it's a near-seamless transition, with the relatively sedate noise of the inline-four as the sole tactile marker signaling the drivetrain is switching modes. Otherwise, without that noise and the drive-mode screen on the dashboard, you wouldn't know what was powering the vehicle at any time. That's actually a great thing for first-time hybrid buyers, as many have concerns over the feeling of driving a partially-electric vehicle.

While we did do plenty of suburban commuting under just the electric power, most of our driving was a mixture of both propulsion methods, and the gas mileage numbers we reached were similar to those stated by the EPA, so there aren't any unrealistic expectations. Well, there might be a few, but they aren't related to the C-Max's fuel economy.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi Interior Even before you step inside the C-Max, you'll notice how high the roofline is. That gives the interior more than enough space for even the tallest hippies. The back seat retains the roof height, and taller passengers won't feel like they're sitting in a Japanese subway car at rush hour - likely a driving force in its assimilation into taxi fleets. That said, there can't be room everywhere, as the battery needs to fit somewhere; sadly, the trunk space is sacrificed, making it difficult to fit anything back there (save a few groceries) without having to fold the back seats down. Thankfully, the rear seats fold down quickly and easily. While it's nice to see that Ford has settled on a common design language for its interiors, most everything on the dashboard is hard plastic, and certainly not premium enough for this car's as-tested price.
2013 Ford C-Max Energi Exterior The C-Max looks like a Ford Fiesta that was stung by a bee, to which it was allergic. It's basically a swollen version of Ford's mini-hatch, although the proportions don't make it look comically ungainly. The ride height doesn't look as high as it feels, either. There really isn't anything too remarkable about the exterior, save for an illuminated charge port in front of the driver's door and more than enough hybrid badges to secure you a green-car-only parking spot. Even with our tester's bright-blue paint and the aforementioned badges, it still looks far less smug than a Prius or a Leaf.
2013 Ford C-Max Energi On the Road This is where the C-Max gets a little confused. It actually feels rewarding to drive -- you can watch the interaction between the ICE and electric motors in real-time on the dashboard, and you'll find yourself sacrificing a little speed in favor of engaging the electric motor. Despite being rather tall for a non-crossover, there isn't any heavy body roll, and the car handles rather neutrally overall - again, perfect for a taxi fleet. That said, let's hope you don't need to flip U-turns on a daily basis; steering lock happens prematurely, and we found ourselves making far more three-point turns than normal. With a high mileage number in the city and an optional feature to help you parallel park, you'd think the car would be the ultimate big-city plug-in. Sadly, the turning radius and awkward driving height don't really play to that tune.

Also, roughly half the time, the car wouldn't realize the radio was on after starting up, and you'd have to switch sources or stations for the C-Max to realize that you didn't want to sit in silence for the whole ride. That shouldn't be happening on a car of any price.
2013 Ford C-Max Energi Final Thoughts Even with its inability to navigate tight city streets, the car is still more than good enough for low-mileage trips in an urban landscape. It seats four in relative comfort (as long as nobody brings a ski bag or bicycle), absorbs nasty bumps with aplomb, and does a good job separating the passenger compartment from outside noise. If your family consists of one or two people, this would be excellent for ignoring gas stations for weeks at a time. The motor and regenerative braking charge the battery relatively quickly, so even if you can't garage it and plug it in every night, you'll still be getting nearly every benefit out of the C-Max. It's pretty easy to see why taxi companies are picking them up.
2013 Ford C-Max Energi Specs & Price Engine: 2.0-liter I-4 with 7.6-kWh lithium-ion battery

Transmission: Continuously-variable

Power Output: 141 hp / 129 lb-ft (engine), 188 hp (net)

Fuel Economy: 108 city / 92 highway (MPGe), 44 city / 41 highway (gasoline engine only)

Base Price: $32,950

As Tested: $38,215 (incl. $795 destination, before incentives)

Optional Features: 301A (HD Radio, nine-speaker Sony audio system, navigation), 302A (301A plus power liftgate, rearview camera, hands-free liftgate), 303A (302A plus parking sensors and active parking assist), panoramic fixed-glass roof, push-button start

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