2013 Ford CMAX Energi: Plug-Into Style

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Europe’s family-friendly, five-passenger wagon comes to the USA as the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi. Much like Chevrolet’s lauded Volt, Ford’s C-Max Energi is a plug-in vehicle with both an electric motor and a gas engine for non-stop driving. Come along on a road test of a super fuel-efficient C-Max Energi on an early fast-moving trip from coastal Orange County, California to UCLA’s Westwood village district.

One way to put a car to the test, especially any alternative fuel vehicle like the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi, is to take an early morning commute to LA from an outlying suburb. I woke up abruptly at 5:30 a.m. in my hometown near Newport Beach to hit the almost 100-mile round trip drive up north in my semi-electric ride. With coffee mug in hand and barely awake, I slipped into the sumptuous cockpit of my road test C-Max Energi wagon and instantly woke up before hitting OC’s busy 405 North. So far I really didn’t see much difference in performance with this electric-and-gas combo car. In fact, the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi runs for the first 20+ miles or so on pure electric power. Those who haven’t driven an EV yet will love the incredibly quick, no-torque acceleration, especially over freeway bridges and thrilling straightaways.

While sipping hot organic coffee out of a silver coffee canister, I was quite satisfied. Had Ford truly delivered on a road-worthy plug-in vehicle? After a doctor’s trip to LA’s UCLA Medical Center and an entire week driving the family around in the newfangled autogenic vehicle I was hooked on the top-notch eco ride.

Screaming up the 405 I examined my thoroughly modern cockpit and tried my best to find LA’s traffic-and-weather channel on Sirius Satellite Radio (comes standard) while steering. I was also excited about driving the first 21 miles in all-electric mode. I was not disappointed in the least. In all-electric mode, the Energi zoomed to 80+ mph at zero-torque warp speed. I also fell in love with the overall driving dynamics.

So what is this plug-in hybrid? Is it a wagon, a sedan or a hatch? Is it European, Asian or American? Actually, upon examination and reflection, I have decided the C-Max’s exterior is truly a hybrid of vehicle styles on all three continents. The German influence comes through in the pointy hood, long front windshield, sculpted side lines and sleek windows. There’s American bravado in the toothy silver grille, restrained curves and bodacious booty. And the Asian technique of turning mini cars into mighty design miracles shows through too.

Inside, the C-Max shows off Ford’s design vision for modern-looking interiors, supreme comfort, quality materials and solid construction. I agree with other professional car reviewers that the interior can be “over designed.” I prefer simplicity in car cabins, so the space-age central console doesn’t exactly thrill me. However, the interior is certainly highly attractive – especially for men with its rich black leather, handsome black matte textured plastics, shiny piano black surfaces and generous matte and brilliant chrome accents. The driver’s cockpit is indeed a slice of heaven with its super comfortable seats, stand-out digital instrument and information “gauge” and infotainment wonderland of a steering wheel. The front passenger space also gives maximum comfort and leg room for enjoying the smooth electric ride. The back seat holds three passengers in comfort and style as well.

While some auto critiques are not excited about Ford’s SYNC and then MyFord Touch infotainment systems, I actually enjoy this relatively hands-free driving experience. Sure, SYNC and MyFord Touch can take a while to learn and set exactly to your liking. Perhaps it is because road testers only get a week with these cars, so our experience is quite limited. Truly, I think it would take a virgin Ford owner a month or so to take advantage of the system and learn to work it almost subconsciously.

One big drawback to the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi is the stunted cargo capacity. Normally, one buys a hatchback wagon for the versatile cargo space. Unfortunately, the C-Max Energi requires a rather large battery pack, which is packed beneath the cargo floor. The battery reduces space considerably, although, in the end it has the same 19.2 cubic ft. of cargo space as the Toyota Prius. However, the wagon aspect of the C-Max means the cargo space can be bumped up to a whopping 42.8 cubic ft. with both back seats lowered completely.

One reason for the high price in the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi is the technology. Remember, you are getting the technology and safety of a luxury car under the Ford label. But it will cost you. The base MSRP of $32,950 comes with loads of standard features found on luxury cars including 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic wipers, heated mirrors with blind spot detection, fog lamps, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and ignition, full power accessories, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, auto-dimming rear view mirror, heated front seats, eight-way power drive seat (with lumbar), SYNC voice-activated electronic interface, Bluetooth connectivity, touchscreen display with MyFord Touch, six-speaker sound system, CD player, satellite radio and auxiliary audio, iPod/iPhone and USB ports.

That’s quite a lot of comfort and infotainment technology for any car, but you can also add a premium audio and navigation package such as the Sony sound system with HD radio, hands-free technology package (rearview camera and an enhanced power lift gate that allows you to open it simply by swiping your foot under the bumper), parking technology package (requires the previous two packages and includes front parking sensors and an automatic parallel parking system). A panoramic sunroof is the only stand-alone option.

I was so busy inspecting the interior and the exterior on the drive to UCLA Medical Center that I really didn’t get to check out the performance in the 2013 C-Max Energi until the drive home. Now after lunchtime and ready to beat LA’s dreaded afternoon traffic, I hit the 405 South on gas power alone driven by the 2-liter four-cylinder engine. After snaking slowly down Wilshire Boulevard to the always-under-construction freeway entrance, I hit the accelerator to catch up with fast-moving traffic coming swift from their hilly descent. The 2013 Ford C-Max Energi roared to life quickly, smoothly and with the utmost ease as befits new Fords. The sunny and dry 50-mile drive back was a pleasure and a breeze in the C-Max Energi. Would charging be easy too?

Upon arriving home I pulled into my tiny one-car apartment garage. With a 12-volt outlet, it was fully charged overnight for another 21 or so. I wonder what the true math is of the extra heavy lithium ion battery’s weight against the 21 miles of “free” driving. Anyone care to take that challenge? I’m certain it is not a true 21-mile savings at the pump when considering how much the extra battery weighs down the engine. The EPA has estimated the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi gets 100 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalence), which tops Toyota Prius Plug-In (95 MPGe) and Chevrolet’s Volt (98 MPGe). In gas mode, the C-Max Energi achieves 43 mpg combined.

Ford is known for its safety record and innovative safety technologies, so it’s no surprise this green family wagon is loaded to the max. The 2013 Ford C-Max Energi comes equipped with standard anti-lock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, electronic brakeforce distribution, tire pressure monitoring, front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag, 911 Assist, and MyKey which allows owners to set certain speed and stereo volume parameters for teen drivers and parking sensors. The National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration awarded the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi with four out of five stars for the overall score and a perfect five stars for side crash test.

Don’t think the electric revolution is quite here yet? Think again. The city of Palo Alto, CA recently passed a "progressive ordinance…requiring builders to pre-wire new homes so they are fit for EV charging."  Little by little, the EV revolution is here and the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi is a good way to go electric while also owning and driving a conventional non-stop car.