2014 Ford C-Max Energi road test: Surprisingly fun to drive, inexpensive to operate

 

2014 Ford C-Max Eneergi

2014 Ford C-Max Energi

You say you’re not familiar with the car that Ford calls the C-Max Energi? Can’t blame you. I haven’t seen more than a handful myself. But, to simplify matters let’s just agree that the C-Max Energi is Ford’s alternative to Toyota’s plug-in hybrid. Surely, you know what a Prius looks like.

Anyway, none of this is to say that the Ford and Toyota are twins under the skin. They are similar in their hatchback designs and house the same type of powertrains, but the execution is definitely different.

Ford C-Max Energi instruments

Ford C-Max Energi instruments

I am not sage enough, nor foolish enough, to suggest that one is better than the other. That’s merely an invitation for those who disagree to brand me an ignorant oaf. What’s more, I’m not at all sure that better would be a fair way to describe one against the other.

What we’ll do here is take a close look at Ford’s 2014 C-Max Energi, which was developed in Europe, is manufactured in 5- and 7-seat configurations, and is a near twin to the standard C-Max Hybrid. However, only the 5-seat versions are available in the United States.

For the record, the 2014 and 2015 models are essentially identical. Now to the basics.

Ford C-Max Energi front seats

Ford C-Max Energi front seats

The powerplant consists of a 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine that produces 141 horsepower and 129 pound-feet of torque. Depending on power needs and battery charge, it works alone or in combination with an electric motor that gets its juice from a lithium-ion battery pack. Together they can produce a maximum of 188 horsepower.

The power is transmitted to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission.

The C-Max Energi can be recharged from a standard 120-volt outlet in approximately 5 to 7 hours or from an available 240-volt charging station in about 2 1/2 hours.

Ford C-Max Energy back seats

Ford C-Max Energi back seats

When the battery pack is fully charged, the C-Max Energi can travel about 20 miles on electrical power alone. It can go from a stop to 60 mph in less than 8 seconds and on to a top speed of 85 mph.

After the initial charge is depleted, the powerplant works like a standard C-Max Hybrid, meaning that the battery pack is charged as needed from power supplied by the gasoline engine and by the regenerative power from braking.

The car provided for my inspection arrived without the plug-in cable so for all intents and purposes I was operating the hatchback as a standard hybrid.

The EPA rates the Energi at 40 mpg around town, 36 mpg on the open road and at 38 mpg overall. In my week with the hybrid not plugged in, I averaged 39 mpg.

More impressive than the fuel mileage —- to me at least —- was the way the front-wheel-drive hatchback handled. It is not the car to go roaring along the back roads with, but it had driving dynamics good enough to make me forget I was driving a tall hybrid wagon.

Ford C-MCax Energi trunk

Ford C-MCax Energi trunk

The electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion steering was accurate, the four-wheel disc brakes strong and the independent suspension —- struts in front, multi-link setup at the rear —- swallowed bumps competently and allowed me to round corners at speeds that would induce excessive body lean in some similar vehicles.

Adding to its appeal was a quiet cabin with quality materials and a spaciousness that allows all five passengers of average size to enjoy their travels in comfort. Luggage space is impeded somewhat by the large battery pack that elevates the luggage compartment, but the C-Max Energi can accommodate 19.2 cubic feet of cargo with both seatbacks in place and 42.8 cubic feet with the second-row seatback folded forward.

The test car was brimming with amenities. Sync with MyFord Touch infotainment system, leather upholstery, premium sound system, navigation, hands-free technology package, dual-zone climate control, power lift gate that can be opened by sliding a foot beneath the rear of the vehicle, fixed-glass roof, keyless, entry and ignition —- all and more were present and accounted for in the test car.

Safety features include a full complement of airbags, full-length side curtains, rearview camera, stability control, traction control, antilock braking. brake force distribution and emergency brake assist.

Ford C-Max Energi hatch can be opened by sliding foot beneath rear bumper.

Ford C-Max Energi hatch can be opened by sliding foot beneath rear bumper.

Ford has changed its pricing structure for 2015 to bring the cost of the Energi more in line with the standard Ford C-Max hybrid. At $38,455, the 2014 test car rang in some $7,000 more than a comparable C-Max Hybrid.

For 2015, the C-Max Energi has a bottom line of $31,243, including a $5,257 rebate. A similarly well equipped C-Max Hybrid has a suggested retail price of $31,150, including a $750 rebate.

In addition to price, buyers need to do additional homework to determine if the C-Max Energi makes better sense for them than the C-Max Hybrid. They will find that the standard hybrid gets slightly better gas mileage and has more luggage space due to its smaller battery pack.

To learn more about the standard C-Max Hybrid click here to read John Matras’ report on the 2014 model.

Gas prices that began plummeting last year and have continued to slide in early 2015 make hybrid vehicles a tougher sell because of the increased price that the complicated technology requires over standard gasoline-powered vehicles.

But buyers with serious environmental concerns may continue to see hybrids —-plug-in or standard — as the more responsible choices to fill their transportation needs.

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