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Ford’s C-Max Energi plug-in shines on city streets

Fuel-thrifty vehicle ranks third best in fuel economy among plug-in hybrids and 10th best among non-plug-in hybrids.


August 13, 2015
by The Associated Press

15CMAX-Energi_03_HRDEARBORN, Mich. — Ford’s first dedicated hybrid for North American consumers, the C-Max gasoline-electric hybrid hatchback, is turning out to be an acquired taste. Sales are declining for the second straight year, lower gas prices have led the C-Max and other hybrids to lose their lustre and Consumer Reports predicts the plug-in C-Max Energi’s reliability to be worse than average.

But a recent test drive of the 2015 model illustrated how, if driven right, the mid-size car can endear itself to a driver, especially those in cities.

In its third model year, the C-Max remains a fuel-thrifty vehicle, ranking third best in fuel economy among plug-in hybrids and 10th best among non-plug-in hybrids. Plus, the C-Max, which is sold as either a plug-in hybrid with onboard gasoline engine or as a non-plug-in hybrid with a gasoline four-cylinder supplemented by onboard-generated electric power – offers a lot of room for the money. The tall, five-door vehicle has more front and rear headroom than major competitors, such as the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius, as well as more legroom in the back and a range of cargo space from 19.2 cubic feet to 52.6 cubic feet.

All this comes at a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, that’s on par with or less than other hybrids.

The non-plug-in model, a 2015 C-Max Hybrid, starts at $25,045 – $20 more than the starting MSRP and destination charge for a 2015 Prius Two. The 2015 C-Max Energi, which is the plug-in model, starts at $32,645 – $2,525 less than the 2015 Volt and qualifies for a tax credit.

But shoppers who want to reduce oil consumption – regardless of gas prices – have plenty of choices, including all-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf that can go 70 or more miles on electric power vs. the 20-mile range of the plug-in C-Max Energi. Plus, some would-be buyers might remember the C-Max publicity from 2013, when Ford lowered mileage numbers after customer complaints.

And US sales are down again, with just 13,101 sold through July.

A test drive of the C-Max Energi showed that the short commutes and quick errands mostly fit the electric-power range. The fully fueled and charged tester arrived with a travel range of 550 miles. After five days and 158 miles – accumulated via many short city driving trips – the travel range for the C-Max Energi was 527 miles. No gasoline had been purchased and the gas gauge hadn’t budged.

14CMAX-Energi-HERO-Cutaway

The automaker says the plug-in hybrid provides an expected miles per gallon equivalent rating in charge-depleting mode better than Toyota’s Prius plug-in hybrid. PHOTO: FORD MOTOR CO.

Federal government mileage rating is 40 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 mpg on highways with the 2-litre, Atkinson cycle four-cylinder, which is the primary driver of the C-Max.

The C-Max Energi’s four-cylinder engine mostly took over the duties for longer trips.

It was like having two cars _ one electric, one not. Passengers couldn’t tell if the front-wheel drive C-Max was in electric or gas mode, because transitions between power modes were seamless.

Power came on strongly and silently at startup. Total horsepower peaks at a healthy 188, and while torque from the electric power is instantaneous, the engine’s torque of 129 foot-pounds felt decent.

Styling makes the car look like a practical but inexpensive hatchback, but the turning circle in the C-Max is surprisingly big at 38 feet.

The C-Max Energi’s cargo space behind the back seats is compromised by the lithium-ion battery pack, so much so that the cord and plug for charging the car are stored in a compartment in the back-seat floor.

The ride was firm, not plush, and the weight of the battery pack gave the C-Max an unsettling pivot point in aggressive turns.

Passengers heard some road noise and wind noise, and wind buffeting noise was severe when the front windows were open.

A backup camera is not standard on the C-Max and can cost more than $2,000 to add because it’s part of an option package.

© 2015 The Associated Press

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