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Road Test: 2013 Ford C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid

Hybrid shy of fuel economy claims, but roomy hatch is still a quite frugal, flexible performer

If Ford C-Max Energi, Ford’s new plug-in hybrid, was a small wooden puppet boy and the same thing happened to it whenever claims were, um, difficult to match, its nose might grow every time the engine is started.

Ford proudly proclaims the Ford C-Max Energi can be driven up to 43 kilometres in electric-only mode with an average consumption of 1.9 litres-equivalent (Le) per 100 kilometres. After fully recharging the main battery overnight, I managed to drive 20.6 kilometres in EV mode, which I thought was pretty good, given the nasty weather. However, it averaged 2.8 Le/100 km, which is 47% higher than advertised.

Things went downhill when the C-Max Energi switched to regular hybrid operation, as it does whenever the battery is depleted. Again, Ford says it has a city rating of 4.0 L/100 km and a highway rating of 4.1 L/100 km, which means it should average somewhere around those numbers. The Energi’s trusty trip computer was showing an average of 7.0 L/100 km, a number that included the electric-only operation phase and the regular gas/electric operation when it went hybrid. This is a 75% increase in consumption compared to the posted number.

So, why is there such a vast discrepancy? That I cannot state for sure, although the tests used to generate the “official” federal numbers are asinine, particularly when it comes to calculating the highway consumption figure. I quote: “The highway test simulates a 16-km trip with an average speed of 77 km/h and a top speed of 97 km/h.” Ask yourself, when was the last time you drove on the highway following this guideline? I never have because it could involve getting run over by a tractor trailer — to my mind, that sort of highway speed should be classified as dangerous driving.

In 2015, the testing procedure will adopt a five-cycle test. Hopefully, this will generate more realistic numbers. Until then, they remain as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike and need to be taken with a large grain of salt.

Fuel economy rant aside, the rest of the C-Max Energi more than lived up to expectations. To begin, the ride and handling proved to be very nicely balanced. On the highway, the ride quality was excellent. Switch venue and push the Energi through a series of winding curves, and it held the driver’s line with very little body roll and surprisingly little understeer even as the limit is neared. Likewise, the steering has a decent feel and the brake pedal is not as spongy as most hybrids. It came together very impressively.

The same goes for the manner in which the hybrid system works — it is commendably seamless whenever it switches between modes. The powertrain basis for the Energi is the same as the regular C-Max. This means a 2.0-litre engine (141 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque) and an electric motor (118 hp and 177 lb-ft). The combination delivers a net system output of 188 horsepower, which is enough to keep the drive entertaining. It also delivers surprising performance — a run to 100 kilometres an hour in 9.4 seconds and it accomplished the more important 80-to-120-km/h passing move in 5.4 seconds. Both times are very good, hybrid or otherwise.

The power is relayed to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission. It does tend to motorboat when the accelerator pedal is pushed aggressively, but as the torque turns up so early there is never much of a need to tromp it off the line. This means the engine side stays muted most of the time.
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1 comment to Road Test: 2013 Ford C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid

  • Ronald Kramer

    Open letter to Ford:

    I thought my 2013 C-MAX would be a Prius Killer? NOT! As a returning Ford buyer I feel deceived. I want to support US companies and US jobs. What was Ford thinking when they published 47/ 47/47 estimates? Based on the advertised EPA estimates, I would have been ok with low 40’s but 28-33 mpg is not even in the ballpark. This is not an issue about EPA testing standards, but rather an issue about setting false customer expectations in order to promote sales. Ford’s “47MPG” marketing campaign tarnished what should have been the roll out of a truly remarkable vehicle, the CMAX. Real world MPG estimates should have been promoted in the mid-30’s. No one would have questioned those numbers and the CMAX would have received the accolades it deserves. How these MPG estimates made it through Ford corporate is beyond me! Maybe it was the rush to go to market? I have been accused of not knowing how to drive hybrid. For the record, during the last three years I have leased both a 2010 Prius and 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid, and consider myself an experienced hyper-miler. My mileage in the Prius is 50 plus, the Insight is 40 plus. The C-MAX is a well-built car, with extremely inflated EPA estimates. I respectfully request that this matter be investigated as soon as possible. My efforts to deal with this locally and through Ford customer service have frustrated me to no end. The constant response? “You need to learn to how to drive hybrid type of vehicle “. Is there a difference how I drive Prius Hybrid vs. the CMAX hybrid? I think we all know the answer to that. I need someone at Ford to reach out to me and assist in a proactive manner so we can put this matter to rest.

    Ronald Kramer Yankee Ford Customer

    South Portland, Maine

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