Monday, September 30, 2013

Ford C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid. An observation from a geeky gearhead.

I'm into fast cars. I'm into European luxury and sporty cars. I love cars in general. You can call me a gearhead. My wife is into practicality. She recently got one of those brand new Ford plug-in hybrids, the C-Max Energi. This is completely out of left field for me. The picture you see above is the average MPG of driving roughly 40 miles over a period of two days. Even as a gearhead, I can totally appreciate that 80 MPG number I am seeing above.

This is not my kind of car I typically look into. Politically correct and green trendy. The visual exterior won't turn heads. The handling and drive characteristics is nothing to rave about.  I'm currently in the market for a mid-life crisis sports car so this is the polar opposite of what I look into.  However, the C-Max Energi is already growing on me. I'm starting to really like it. It is also packed with a lot of gadgetry and electronics. This blog is not going to be a full on review of any sorts. I'm just going to give my readers my impression of a car that I will driving 20-30% of the time.

Just look at how cool the plugin port is. The blue surrounds shows you how far along your charging is. The outer edge of the port lights up fully to indicate the charge status.

If you don't know what a C-Max is, it is a Chevy Volt , Toyota Prius plug-in competitor from Ford. It has a plugin feature that allows the car to drive solely on electricity with a 21 mile range. After that, it kicks into normal hybrid mode that uses gasoline. This is our first hybrid. For comparison, my other car is a 4.4 litre V8 with 15 mpg and a small sporty european coupe that get 25 mpg on a good day. This is a big departure for us.

The C-Max was the only consideration in the hybrid 'space for our family'. While I prefer the styling and performance of the Volt (40 mile electric range), the four seat configuration of the Chevy precluded us from looking at it. The 10 mile range of the plug-in of the Toyota Prius also excluded it from my wife's list. EV only cars like the LEAF was never even considered due to our driving and commutes.

The Energi costs much more than the standard Ford C-Max hybrid due to the plug-in feature. However, with Federal Tax Credits and California rebates ($5200), our Energi  ended up being a better bargain. Moreover and most importantly, it qualifies for HOV carpool lane access. This means a solo driver can drive in the carpool lane with a special sticker in California. There is legislation in California to extend this privilege to 2019. Saving 20-45 minutes a day by using the carpool lane is very,very appealing.

Our model is the fully loaded one with all the options except panoramic moon roof. Full leather, power liftgate, premium audio/navigation, handsfree, reverse cam, remote start,etc. The car also has park assist which allows it to park itself! Overall, it has everything the wife would love except for some odd reason, the C-Max do not appear to come with xenon lights that I've been so accustomed to in my other car.

So what do I think? Well, it is a fancy piece of kit for a domestic car without a luxury badge. My other car cost north of 70K new and doesn't have some of the amenities of this car. However, there are a few little annoying things. The fit-n-finish isn't quite there in certain areas. I know auto journalists like to swoon over the feel of soft touch plastics and I might have picked up that bias myself. There are a few places where the fit-n-finish feels cheap. Then again, most cars under $45K seem to have cheap hard plastic to me. However, for a family car, cheap hard plastic often comes in handy when you have kids.

As I mentioned earlier, this post isn't meant to be a review of any sort. There are countless of real reviews on the Internet. I'm just to write about some of my observations.

The amount of electronic gizmos is a bit over-whelming. Every single little detail about the hybrid power-train is at your disposal. Driving the car and watching the screen tell you which powertrain is running can get a bit distracting. At one moment, you are purely on electric and the next, you are conventional combustion. As I mentioned before, this is our first hybrid. I've driven other hybrids but the thing that stands out is that this is a plug-in hybrid. There are even smartphone apps to monitor the car itself.

Driving the car is like playing a video game, you feel obligated to try and maximize your fuel economy by training how to brake and drive differently. Obviously, you want to be running on battery as much as you can. My first trip with the car was with a 2% charged battery (didn't want to wait for the dealer to charge) so I was running completely as a conventional plugin and seem to score 51MPG. Not bad.


This car isn't going to win any drag races. The thing that matters is smooth driving and fuel economy. By all means, this car delivers.

The car has an EPA combined MPG of 43. It rates at 100 MPGe. MPGe accounts for electricity charge consumption and electric only mode. I doubt we would ever get there but I've been reading most end-users are reporting 60+ MPG with combined EV only and gas. My wife will use up her 20 electric only miles going to work one way. Her return home trip will be conventional hybrid MPG. If she gets 40 MPG going home, then the car would be well worth it.

Other thoughts on this car:

The boot is freaking small. The big batteries take up a big chunk of space in the rear. The small Ford Focus hatchback has more cargo room than the C-Max Energi. You lose about half the rear cargo you compare it to the regular C-Max hybrid.

Next, the car feels like an oversized hatchback. For some reason, it also feels like a ultra small mini-van like the Mazda5. It isn't quite a small sedan size like the Toyota Prius.

The dead quiet start-up of the car is scary. You don't know if the car is running because there is no noise. The only thing to tell you that the car is on is a green icon on the dash. You can have the AC, stereo and navigation ON while the car is "OFF" which leads to the confusion if the car is running or not. This is a hard to explain until you live with the car. Like most modern new cars, it unlocks and locks remotely if the key FOB is nearby.

The Sony Infotainment, "MyFord" Touch is pretty cool. I don't know the pixel density of the LCD but it is much better than my previous NAV units. The whole navigation runs off an SD card hidden in the middle console. You also get the assortment of USB ports, 12 volt and 110 charging ports. The self park assist where the car park itself seems gimmicky and I doubt we will ever use it.


Overall, it is a very "practical" car for someone practical like my wife.  I'm in the market for a mid-life crisis car and a few come up: 2014 Corvette Stingray, 2014 Porsche Cayman, 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C. Yes, the 4C is definitely on my radar for a weekend cruiser. Those cars are the opposite spectrum of a plug-in hybrid like this C-Max Energi. I have to say, I really like the idea  of un-restricted solo carpool lane driving for the next few years. 20 mile range of electric only is also pretty cool.

I may follow up with more posts on this car as I drive it more.

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