Motoring: Ford’s C-Max Energi offers a greener people mover

I lack the patience for eco-friendly motoring…but my love for over-powered gas-guzzling V8s is challenged by my thrift.

Call it a tall wagon or ‘mini’ minivan, the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid is a practical people carrier with the added benefit of a hybrid powertrain that can operate for up to 43 km on electricity alone.

Call it a tall wagon or ‘mini’ minivan, the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid is a practical people carrier with the added benefit of a hybrid powertrain that can operate for up to 43 km on electricity alone.

My wife accuses me of having two conflicting personalities.

I prefer the term ‘complex.’

On one hand, I lack the patience for eco-friendly motoring, and am less than euphoric when some do-gooder thwarts my progress with achingly slow acceleration and early, gentle braking.

On the other hand, my love for over-powered rides with turbo fours, sixes and gas-guzzling V8s is challenged by my thrift. Frequent trips to the gas pump hike my blood pressure even more than ‘green’ slowpokes.

So while a neck-snapping hybrid like the BMW ActiveHybrid3 may relieve my inner turmoil, I lack that kind of budget, and could buy two Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrids—my tester for the week—for about the same price.

Admittedly, this five-door tall wagon doesn’t come close to matching the Bimmer in style and performance, but it’s far more practical, and will carry five passengers—and all their stuff—comfortably, and with loads of tech goodies to keep them informed and entertained.

In terms of form and function, think Mercedes B 250, Mazda5, Kia Rondo, and the Prius V. C-Max wears a similar shape, but is one of the most fetching among them with its bold Fusion-style grille, wraparound projector headlamps, 17-inch alloys, roof spoiler, and sharp character line that bisects both door handles.

The Energi model—starting at $36,999—is top dog in the three-car lineup that also includes two standard hybrids: the SE at $27,199 and SEL at $30,199. The Energi has a long list of standard equipment, and plenty of options.

One of the first features I tested was the famed hands-free liftgate. With smart key in pocket, I briefly waved my foot under the rear bumper to release the latch and raise the power liftgate.

So simple, yet so practical—especially when it’s raining and you’re loaded down with groceries. With all those big brains in the auto industry, it’s a wonder nobody thought of this sooner.

Like all wagons, the C-Max shines at cargo carrying, but the plug-in’s larger battery takes a bite from its capacity. The regular hybrid offers 694 litres of space behind the 60/40 second row and 1,490 litres with all seats folded flat. The Energi provides 544 and 1,212 litres with a raised deck to accommodate its lithium-ion battery pack.

The other four doors open to a surprisingly roomy interior. Passengers are treated to loads of head and legroom in both rows of seating, which in the C-Max Energi is heated up front and trimmed in leather.

One nifty feature is the second row in-floor storage. These footwell compartments are small, but ideal for hiding iPods, smartphones and other valuables.

It’s in the instrument panel and centre console, however, where Ford has really invested its energy. You’d expect a hybrid to provide loads of driver info, and the C-Max takes this to the max.

Let’s start with the dual-LCD SmartGauge that provides real-time information to help get the most from this vehicle.

If you’re unfamiliar with the benefits of a “plug-in,” C-Max’s larger battery gives this model substantially more EV capability, making it closer to a range-extended electric vehicle like the Chevy Volt, than a typical hybrid.

The regular hybrid isn’t designed for sustained EV mode, but can go up to 100 km/h on electrons only.

But capability isn’t reality, and 43 clicks without petrol is a pipe dream for most. Turn on lights, air conditioning, audio system, and other accessories, and the max range will plummet. And that doesn’t account for driving style.

Where I’m heading is that to avoid trips to the pump, a little monitoring and coaching are in order.

The C-Max’s ‘brake coach’, just left of the speedometer, displays your braking efficiency every time you hit the pedal. Brake late and hard, and you’ll get a failing grade. I was awarded 41 per cent on one abrupt stop. Brake gently and gradually, and you’ll be scoring in the nineties.

The “efficiency leaves,” one of several optional screens to the right of the speedo, is a graphic representation that grows leaves and vines when you drive efficiently, and sheds its foliage when you don’t. At one point, my display was a sorry equivalent of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but that was soon remedied with a little restraint.

Other readouts offer instant and historical fuel economy, trip data, time-elapsed fuel consumption and kilometres to empty, not to mention battery status and energy usage.

I paid little attention to any of these until trying to survive on battery alone. If, like me, you’re blessed with a short commute, the C-Max Energi may rarely visit the pump.

Of course, you can’t run in EV mode without properly charging the unit via a standard 120-volt outlet (takes overnight) or an available 240-volt station that takes about 2.5 hours. Regenerative braking alone won’t do it.

One helpful feature is the charging port’s illuminated ring. This works best at night, but each quadrant lights as the battery charges, allowing you to monitor its progress from a nearby window.

Next morning, and after starting the C-Max, I simply pushed the “EV Now” button, and was operating as silently as a golf cart. Albeit with only 30 km to start, and not the 43 I’d expected.

Had I wanted to save the full charge for later—and, for example, not waste it on an immediate highway run—I could have selected “EV Later.”

Acceleration sans gas is mild, providing no kick for passing or merging into traffic. But for most situations, it’s easy to forget you’re driving on electricity alone.

Which is really no gamble, because when you run out, the petrol engine seamlessly takes over. The C-Max Energi then returns to full hybrid operation.

Performance is surprisingly peppy with the entire system on tap, as the gas/electric duo makes a combined 195 hp, taking the vehicle’s 1,750 kg curb weight smartly up to speed.

The Energi comes with some additional goodies like pushbutton start, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors and the SYNC with MyFordTouch infotainment system that in my tester also included optional navigation and upgraded audio.

Transport Canada posts a Canadian fuel economy rating of 1.9Le/100km (150 MPGe city/hwy/comb) using electricity and gas. The U.S. numbers are more conservative, but my real-world results were, according to the on-board computer, 5.9Le/100km.

That could have improved, had I been lighter on the pedal and more diligent about using EV mode.

But based on experience, including a recent run in the larger Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, I can achieve similar results in a regular hybrid.

Bottom line, if your decision on choosing the Energi over any other C-Max is a financial one, you’ll not likely recoup the price premium any time soon. But that doesn’t diminish the concept.

Until batteries become vastly more efficient and/or public quick-charge outlets become as ubiquitous as gas stations, pure electric vehicles will remain a novelty, or at best, a second vehicle.

Plug-in hybrids and range-extended vehicles bridge the gap, allowing early adopters the fun and frugality of tapping a much cheaper energy source (especially if you plug in at work!), and without having to put the CAA on speed dial.

Ford C-Max Energi

Body Style: five-door compact wagon

Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel-drive

Engine: 2.0-litre Atkinson cycle inline four-cylinder with electric motor (combined 195 hp)

Transmission: electronically-controlled, continuously variable transmission

Range: 43 km in EV mode, 885 km overall gas/electric

Ev Mode Top Speed: 137 km/h

Cargo: 544 litres behind second row, 1212 litres with seats folded

Fuel Economy: 1.9Le/100km (150 MPGe city/hwy/comb)

Price: $36,999; add $2,500 for navigation, Sony premium sound system, hands-free liftgate, active park assist, rearview camera, parking sensors



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