Test Drive, The Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-in Hybrid

Ford C-MAX Energi
Cutaway of the Ford C-MAX Energi
Ford C-MAX Energi
Cutaway of the Ford C-MAX Energi

The world of plug-in hybrids is growing by leaps and bounds, with more choice than ever. We test-drove the Ford C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid and found it to be a worthy competitor.

Our last test drive of the Ford Fusion Energi will probably give you the gist of how these two cars function. Let’s be fair; I liked both Energi cars, as well as Ford’s Focus Electric. Both Energi cars, plug-in hybrids, PHEV are technically similar — but no matter how much they share in common, they have two very different personalities.

C-MAX Hits The Sweet Spot. The C-MAX is a compact car competing with the Toyota Prius. Ford is quick to point out the C-MAX has many advantages over the Prius. More room, cheaper, better range, and better fuel economy is what’s advertised. I would also add it is “more fun to drive”. So far the C-MAX has done well with its sales numbers, and turned out to be good competition in the world of hybrids.

Let’s get the obvious out first. As with most plug-in hybrids, the Energi line of cars sacrifice some trunk space for the extra lithium battery pack. As you can see from the pictures the trunk is smaller than the hybrid or regular versions. That is the price you will pay to drive up to 20 miles on electricity while watching exasperated gasoline drivers stuck in traffic, and saving gasoline.

Here is a quick take with Debra Hotatling, Western Region Leader at Ford Motor Company on what Ford’s Power of Choice means.

Handling And Feel. I mentioned previously the interior of the Fusion with its central console and dash feels reminiscent of 1970s supercars. The C-MAX leaves the dash and front wide open. This creates a sensation of open space that should appeal to the owners it aims to please. In other words, the C-MAX feels big inside and is roomy enough to seat five with some trunk space. The one thing the C-MAX did was to surprise me with how it handles. Modern cars are very generic and sometime lack spirit. I had fun coming faster than expected in corners. It was equally as much fun taking off quickly from tight corners. The C-MAX Energi showed little body roll, which gives you a sense of safety.

Electric steering systems have been a mixed bag for journalists. Overall, the C-MAX and Fusion Energi have a neutral and  not oversensitive steering. At all times I felt enough feedback from the chassis and road conditions. Given how broken down and dilapidated our California roads are, testing a cars on those uneven surfaces is important — and easy to do.

Technically Speaking. Much like the Fusion Energi, the C-MAX sports the same 2.0-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine with an aluminum block and head. The valvetrain is guided by a DOHC with variable intake camshaft timing, iVCT. All of this gives it a 141 hp with 129 lb.-ft. of torque. The electric motor is rated at 118 hp at 6,000 RPM, or 88 kW with 177 lb.-ft., 240Nm of torque. Coupled to the electric motor, the total power climbs to 188 hp and its top speed is 102 mph. In electricity mode, its top speed is 85 mph, not bad for a close to two ton car.

We’d been waiting for the C-MAX for a few years when Ford promised to bring across the little European car. The wait was well worth it. I’ve met a few owners who have nothing but positive feedback about it, including journalists. In the end, choosing between the C-MAX and the Fusion is a question of taste and needs. Need to go to work in style and bring clients along for a ride? The Ford Fusion Energi will suit you and get the conversation going. Have children but weary of gasoline price hikes? The Ford C-MAX is a great candidate.

Nicolas Zart
Born and raised around classic cars, it wasn't until Nicolas drove an AC Proulsion eBox and a Tesla Roadster that the light went on. Eager to spread the news about those amazing full torque electric vehicles, he started writing about this amazing technology and its social impacts in 2007. Today, Nicolas covers renewable energy, test drives cars, does podcasts and films. Nicolas offers an in-depth look at the e-mobility world through interviews and the many contacts he made in those industries. His articles are also published on Teslrati, CleanTechnica, the Beverly Hills Car Club and Medium. "There are more solutions than obstacles." Nicolas Zart