Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are catching on but still have a ways to go towards scoring consumer acceptance. Ford Motor’s C-MAX Energi, however, is a huge step forward for PHEVs–and Detroit–with its impressive performance and miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe). On Monday, I had an opportunity to test drive one from San Francisco to Marin County.
Walking up to the rows of C-MAX Energi test cars lined up along Mission Street, my first gut impression this would be a yet another “alternative” car that would sacrifice performance and comfort. But I realized immediately I was in for a fun ride. Whether you generate battery power by breaking on city streets, indulge your lead foot on the highway or drive down that ridiculous touristy stretch down Lombard Street (not part of Ford’s suggested route but we could not resist), this versatile car delivers comfort while lightening your wallet in the long run with its fuel efficiency.
Setting foot into the C-MAX Energi, I was surprised by its spaciousness. I had plenty of leg room, did not feel cramped and there was also plenty of space to stretch in the back. The dashboard is well designed and the MyFord touchscreen with its climate control, entertainment options and GPS system is intuitive to use. On the dash’s left side is Ford’s SmartGauge screen that offers various views that help coach the driver to drive more efficiently. The car we scored also had a panoramic sun roof, which really makes the car feel airy and again, adds to the overall driving experience.
Then the fun started with our drive to Olema, a small town near Point Reyes in Marin County, north of San Francisco. Our car was not fully charged to its maximum 21 mile range capacity, but we had about 13 miles to spare for the “EV Now” mode, i.e. battery only. What immediately struck me as our trip started were the benefits of driving an electric vehicle: great torque (129 lb.-ft) and a very quiet ride. Granted, that 13 miles of juice did not last long past the Golden Gate Bridge because I was quick to slam the pedal to the floor several times and I was able to drive fairly quickly because of the light traffic along Highway 101. Then the C-MAX Energi automatically flipped to “Auto EV” (hybrid) mode, and let me know the EV Now option was not available. I also was able to drive in the third mode, “EV Later,” which allows the driver to commute in hybrid mode but reserve the battery power for city street driving.
Meanwhile, I was impressed with the car’s handling. The suspension system is excellent, allowing for a generally smooth ride. Plus, the acceleration was respectable for a car its size and engine’s 141 horsepower. Driving along Marin’s mountain roads was also a breeze with its power steering–some may complain the steering wheel does not feel tight enough, but I thought it was comfortable for a vehicle in its size range. Eventually we took a break in Olema where staff greeted us and let us mill about–I had exhausted the battery power, but during the 45- or so minute hiatus we had approximately 10 miles of battery power available.
Let’s not forget the car’s efficiency. Ford suggests the MPGe is 108 on city streets, 92 on highways and 100 MPG combined. When we first started driving on San Francisco’s Bay and Lombard Streets, our MPGe shined at over 530 miles per gallon. That number fell precipitously once the battery power ran out and we segued into Auto EV mode. At the end of our drive our MPGe stood at just over 51 miles per gallon–at one point when I accelerated like a mad dog to over 90 miles per hour, we watched the MPG rating slide by over 5 miles instantaneously.
The minuses? Well, because of the size of the battery pack the cargo area in the rear of the car may be too small for some drivers’ preferences. And I did find the blind spot on my side of the car awkward despite the adjustments I had made. And, of course, owners of the C-MAX Energi would have to sort out the details on scoring a Tier 2 recharge station, although the recharge time on a 120V outlet is about seven hours, not a completely disaster if you wish to recharge the car overnight. Nevertheless, this car is a huge step forward for PHEVs. For drivers who still insist PHEVs lack the moxie of automobiles with conventional ICE engines, I will say this: the C-MAX Energi offers the advantages of a PHEV… and yet you do not feel as if you making any sacrifices by driving a PHEV. Whether you have a 25-mile commute each way, take a lot of road trips or bundle the kids in the car for long errands, this versatile car, in my opinion, is a winner. And with a starting price of $32,950 before add-ons and those federal, state and local incentives, the price is competitive.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter.
Images credit: Leon Kaye