2013 Ford C-Max Energi Plug-In Hybrid First Drive

With California the most important domestic market for electrified vehicles, it came as no surprise that Ford chose San Francisco and the Northern California coastline as the backdrop for the C-Max Energi Plug-In Hybrid media drive.

The crossover-esque C-Max has been available in Europe since 2003 and comes to our shores for the first time. The C-Max rides on the Focus platform. It’s only available in America in hybrid or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) form.

The standard C-Max hybrid is rated at 47 city / 47 highway miles per gallon (MPG). The C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid uses a larger lithium ion battery to deliver up to 21 miles of pure electric driving, at speeds up to 85 miles per hour, before it switches to conventional hybrid mode.

The C-Max Energi lands squarely between its targets: the Toyota Prius plug-in with an eleven-mile maximum EV mode and the Chevy Volt which is designed to deliver approximately forty miles per charge, before the gasoline-powered “range-extender” kicks in.

Our drive route took us from Mission Street in San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge and up Route 101. Turning off into the hills, we wound our way to the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge in Olema.

The C-Max Energi provides three EV modes: Auto EV, EV Now, and EV Later. EV Now uses the stored energy in the Lithium Ion battery immediately, while EV Later saves the power for optimum scenarios. We left San Francisco in Auto EV mode and drained the battery on the ride up to Olema.

Ford provided a handful of Prius plug-ins to test at the halfway point in the drive.

A big portable generator and an array of mobile charging stations provided a half hour splash of electric juice for the fleet of C-Max Energis return leg to San Francisco. A full charge takes two and a half hours with a 240-volt charger.

Driving the C-Max Energi back-to-back with the Prius Plug-In was an eye-opener, as the C-Max Energi demonstrated its considerable advantages in acceleration, ride, and handling. The Prius felt sluggish and vague by comparison. (While we did not have the opportunity to shoot an acceleration run, Edmunds tests show the C-Max to be approximately two seconds faster than the Prius in the 0-60 MPH sprint.) Miles per tank is one of the C-Max Energi’s strong points, with a healthy 620 miles of range.

Our serpentine route back to San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway took us along the spectacular California coastline. Twisty roads with significant elevation changes provide plenty of opportunities to test regenerative braking, but are tough on overall MPGs. For every hill you glide down, there’s another to climb. We ended up at approximately 65 miles per gallon for the entire trip. Thoughtful use of the different EV modes could have boosted the overall numbers, but we just drove. While regenerative brakes always seem to feel different from conventional brakes, the C-Max’s system is among the best we’ve driven.

There are an enormous number of Prius taxis on the streets of San Francisco – and the roads of California in general – and it’s not hard to envision Toyota losing market share to Ford. The C-Max’s interior is quite roomy for its occupants and provides a whopping amount of headroom. The downside to that 21 miles of pure electric range with the Energi? Trunk space. The larger battery pack in the C-Max Energi eats up a big chunk of cargo volume.

All-in-all, it’s clear that 2013 will mark a significant shift in the hybrid market. Keep an eye out for our full reviews of the conventional Ford C-Max and Fusion Hybrids in the coming weeks.

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