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2015 Ford C-MAX Energi review

Highs

  • Cabin is roomy for both driver and passengers
  • Top notch material quality used throughout the cabin
  • Excellent energy and fuel efficiency gauges
  • Brake coach is really fun to use

Rating

Our Score 6.5
User Score 2

Lows

  • High price tag compared to standard C-Max Hybrid
  • Battery takes up too much cargo space
  • Poorly designed interior details
  • MyFord touch is a lesson in anger management
The C-Max Energi’s combination of electric motor and range-extending gasoline engine make it a decent choice for drivers who want to live the EV dream without suffering range-anxiety nightmares of a pure battery electric.

Update 11-19-14: This review originally covered the 2013 model year of the Ford C-MAX Energi. The 2015 Ford C-MAX Energi is in showrooms now. No substantial changes were made to the body or design of the car, but the latest model showcases a few aesthetic tweaks and changes in regards to fuel efficiency. All changes are listed below.

  • Stylish new C-MAX delivers significant improvements in fuel efficiency and
    CO2 emissions; advanced technology; and smart new stowage solutions
  • New C-MAX family features more emotional, sleek exterior design with bold new face of
    Ford and an intuitive, beautifully crafted interior
  • Hands-Free Liftgate and Perpendicular Parking offered; improved Active City Stop collision
    avoidance works at speeds of up to 50 km/h
  • Powertrain line-up for Europe includes new 1.5-litre EcoBoost and 1.5-litre TDCi engines;
    99 g/km CO2 1.5-litre ECOnetic diesel also offered for first time on C-MAX
  • New Ford C-MAX offers higher levels of comfort, refinement and ride
    quality

Intro

Going whole hog and driving around in one of those crazy contraptions known as an “electric car” can be a scary thing, especially for drivers nursed their whole lives on gasoline-powered cars (i.e.: everybody).

But for those of you who would rather not wade around in the urine-tinged kiddy pool waters of electric motivation by driving a hybrid (sorry, hybrids) or cannonballing recklessly into the deep end by going fully electric, why not slap on a pair of water wings and safely soak up the EV experience in a plug-in hybrid?

In fact, I’m pretty sure those were the exact word’s uttered by the Ford team when pitching the 2013 C-Max Energi to the bosses up in Dearborn. But does Ford’s first dedicated plug-in hybrid fizzle or does the C-MAX Energi deserve a place in the Blue Oval’s rapidly growing green car portfolio?

The 2013 C-Max Energi base price is $33,000 and $39,000 as tested and those numbers are before federal tax rebates (usually $7,500) and anything your state may kick in. It’s a five-passenger plug-in hybrid electric vehicle with European roots (oh la la) and Ford Focus underpinnings. It runs on both gas and electricity, but rather than being forced to charge the battery up by driving on gas as in a regular hybrid, the Energi can be plugged in and recharged, relegating the gas engine to pinch-hitter while you drive around on electrons alone.

Plush but poorly designed

Naturally, first impressions are crucial, so after admiring the glittery ruby red paint covering the C-Max Energi, it was time to step in and experience it for myself.

2013 Ford CMAX Plugin back right angle

There are a number of positive elements in the C-Max’s cabin. The leather wrapped seats, steering wheel and center console-mounted shifter all felt great to the touch, while material quality along the dash and side looked and felt equally plush. With a 10-way electronically adjustable driver seat, I was able to fiddle with my settings to obtain maximum comfort. Plus, the slightly elevated seats in the C-Max, with its large forward greenhouse, provide a better view of the road than both the Prius Plug-in and the Chevy Volt.

But then things start to go south because from the outside looking in, the C-Max Energi appears a lot more practical than it really is.

…from the outside looking in – the C-Max Energi appears a lot more practical than it really is.

The dash is over-stylized, with vertical vents that never feel like they were blowing air where I wanted them to. The LCD display from which Ford’s beleaguered MyFord Touch system emanates (more on MyFord Touch in a bit) is perched too high and far away to interact with comfortably. And with the shifter placed so high up on the center console, it was hard to reach the dual zone climate controls whenever I shifted into Park. I actually had to shift down into Drive and put my foot on the brake if I wanted to fiddle with the controls.

There is also very little practical space up front. The cupholders, normally a bastion for my phone, keys and wallet, are too narrow and shallow to be of any real use.

Those quibbles aside, the C-Max is a comfortable space to be in size-wise. There is plenty of room in the second row although taller passengers will find head and shoulder room a bit sparse thanks to the car’s sloping dome. And while you could technically throw three people in back, two is the more realistic number here.

Cargo space is another sour note. Given the need to house the C-Max’s large battery pack, you’re left with 19.2 cubic feet of space, which is more than the Chevy Volt but substantially less than the Toyota Prius. That number rises to 42.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. While I was able to stuff the majority of a recent Costco trip in the cargo hold, the remainder had to be shoved in the second row of seats. Making matters worse, the rear cargo area is elevated and drops off abruptly near the liftgate door, making it easy for items to tumble down into the small crevice created by the step. This layout reduces the utility aspect of the C-Max Energi for hauling items and passengers at the same time.

The trouble with MyFord Touch

At the heart of the C-Max’s driver-technology interface is MyFord Touch. I knew the C-Max Energi would sport Ford’s navigation and entertainment system and given my not so wonderful run-ins with it in the past, I can’t say I was exactly thrilled at the prospect of using it again.

2013 Ford CMAX Plugin charging station

Ford’s interface gets a lot of grief and rightfully so. It’s terribly unintuitive despite trying so hard to be helpful. Normally, I get in a car with a touchscreen and I’m groping at it like a prepubescent schoolboy. But the problem with MyFord touch is that it’s so slow and unresponsive that I’d rather not play with it at all for fear of going blind.

Ford’s color-coded quadrant system is supposed to make things easier to navigate. There is a section for your phone, navigation, radio/media, and climate controls. But where other systems let me customize favorites to fit my needs – GM’s MyLink springs to mind – MyFord Touch locks in those four choices, offering no customization options whatsoever.

From the outside, the C-Max employs the same seemingly Aston Martin-inspired front grill, only with a little less bravado.

Couple the systems draconian interface with unresponsive buttons that make entering destinations a tedious task, along with a weak GPS antenna that drops satellite radio signals even where there are no obstructions, and Ford may as well call it MyFord Punch because that’s exactly what I wanted to do to it after spending a week with the plagued interface.

Thankfully, voice commands work a lot better than the clunky touchscreen. Rather than robotically splitting up voice commands by state, city, and street, the C-Max Energi allowed me to enter addresses hands-free by speaking the entire address string in one go. Likewise, placing calls was a breeze; I simply had to speak the name of a contact already in my phone and presto.

Pairing my phone to the C-Max Energi also made it easy to stream music from apps like Pandora and Spotify, which piped through an upgraded Sony audio system. Sony’s system didn’t exactly blow me away, but it’s a great little setup that turns the C-Max Energi into a thumping discotheque on wheels. MyFord Touch isn’t a total loss, but it still has a ways to go.

The car that coaches

Flanking each side of the central speedometer are two LCD displays. The screen on the left displays a cornucopia of energy information including how much gasoline and electricity is being used along with your current mpg and mpge (miles per gallon equivalent).

The left screen is also where the car’s brake coach is displayed, which grades you on how effectively you are operating the C-Max’s regenerative braking system, which recaptures energy every time you brake and puts it back in the battery. For me, the brake coach became a meta game of its own and I found myself obsessing on how to achieve a perfect 100 percent score every time I came to a stop (pro tip: you gotta caress the brakes and plan those stops way, way ahead). An unexpected result of this efficiency game is that I tended to more closely observe the traffic ahead in order to make my stops generate more power.

2013 Ford CMAX Plugin dashboard

The right-hand screen mimics a lot of what you already see on the center console screen, with the exception of an efficiency tree that adds leaves the more efficiently you drive. Go light on the gas while making the most of regenerative braking and Ford’s digital forest will flower while you get the most out of the C-Max’s battery and gasoline engine. Drive like a speed demon and you strip away whole regions of the Amazon rainforest. Or something like that.

Both screens are toggled using two D-Pad-like controls on the steering wheel. I have to say that out of all the battery-electric cars I have driven, both pure EVs and plug-in hybrids, the 2013 C-Max Energi does the best job of not only showing you how efficiently you are driving , but coaching you on how to drive more efficiently as well.

Not long after placing the C-Max into “D” and puttering down the road did it become clear to me just how much the car behaves like, well, a normal car – albeit one that sports a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine but also happens to be paired to an electric motor powered by a 1.4 kWh lithium-ion battery.

Driving in Portland’s gridded downtown, the C-Max Energi ran primarily on its lithium-ion battery and electric motor. Unlike the Prius Plug-in, which has a total electric-only range of roughly 13 miles, the C-Max Energi can travel roughly 18-21 miles on a single charge, depending on how you drive and whether or not you have the heater or air conditioning on. I found when I paid attention to mileage and went light on the pedal, I could squeeze about 20 miles from the battery – otherwise EV mileage hovered around 17-18.

Because mileage can vary so wildly in an EV depending on conditions and your right foot, scrutinizing or praising figures extensively is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle. Still, EPA-figures show a combined 100 MPGe, making the C-Max Energi one of the most fuel-efficient cars available. For reference, the Prius Plug-in gets 95 MPGe and the Volt 98 MPGe. Be warned though, 100 MPGe relates to when the Energi is running solely on electricity. After all that juice is zapped, the Energi reverts to an EPA estimated 44 mpg in the city, 41 mpg highway, and 43 mpg combined (same as the regular C-Max).

EPA-figures show a combined 100 MPGe, making the C-Max Energi one of the most fuel-efficient cars available.

Like the Volt, the C-Max Energi allows drivers to dictate when gasoline or electricity in the form of EV Now and EV Later modes. In EV Now mode, the C-Max is powered exclusively by its battery. It can hit a top speed of 85 mph and runs until the battery is depleted, where at that point, it switches back to the default Auto position.

EV Later mode reserves the electric battery, using instead the car’s 141-horsepower gasoline engine. I found myself using EV Later frequently on the freeway – where EVs batteries are at their most inefficient – and exclusively using EV Now in the city and suburbs in order to maximize the battery’s range. That seemed to stretch my gas dollars the furthest.

Of course if you don’t want to fiddle with either mode you don’t have to. The default Auto setting does a good job of knowing when to switch between electricity and gasoline on its own. For example, my daily commute up Portland’s West Hills was a stretch that would trigger the gasoline engine, especially if I really put my foot down to climb up the hill, whereas my morning commute down the slope ensured the car operated only as an EV.

Efficiency aside, the C-Max Energi handles well thanks to a stiffly-tuned suspension, which feels like it’s been tinkered with to accommodate the extra weight of its lithium-ion battery. Cabin sway is kept to a minimum and powering through turns, while not the most breathtaking experience, was adequate thanks to the car’s combined 188 horsepower and 246 lb-ft (129 lb-ft from the engine boosted by 117 lb-ft from the electric motor), which also help the C-Max Energi scoot up hills with surprising confidence.

Charging

Charge times are relatively quick for the C-Max Energi because it has a relatively small battery. A full charge takes about 2.5 to 3 hours using a 240-volt charging station. If you don’t have access to a charging station at home or nearby, a 110-volt outlet will take about 7 hours. Depending on your commute, it’s very possible to go without using any gas and rely exclusively on electrons to get you to and from work. In fact, Ford and other brands are finding drivers doing just that more and more.

Battery over beauty

From the outside, the C-Max employs the same seemingly Aston Martin-inspired front grill, only with a little less bravado. The C-Max doesn’t manage to pull off the look quite as well as its siblings, looking a lot like a Ford Focus with a giant tumor on its back, thanks to its almost minivan dimensions.

2013 Ford CMAX Plugin engine

It’s not ugly per se; it’s just not particularly pretty either. The C-Max isn’t as handsome as the Chevrolet Volt, but it certainly edges out the Prius plug-in, tumor and all.

I wish I was able to say that the C-Max’s staid style is easily remedied with a different set of wheels or a swap of paint but that’s not the case; I actually liked the ruby red paint our review model came in.

Simply put, the C-Max’s exterior looks too disjointed and patched together, looking more like a mutated Focus that’s been drawn and quartered and then thoroughly finished off with an ugly stick.

Conclusion

Ultimately, whether you should buy a C-Max Energi largely depends on what you want it for. If pure electric range is what you’re after, the Chevy Volt, with its 38 mile range, is the better choice. If you anticipate driving longer stretches, the Toyota Prius Plug-in has the most frugal gasoline fuel economy (51 city/49 highway/50 combined).

Overall, however, the C-Max Energi is one of the better plug-in hybrids on the market. The C-Max Energi’s combination of electric motor and range-extending gasoline engine make it an excellent choice for drivers who want to live the EV dream without suffering range-anxiety nightmares of a pure battery-powered electric vehicle. The combination of the 2.0-liter gas engine and electric motor give it a performance boost as well, allowing you to pass that pesky Prius with ease.

But glaring issues spoil the experience, especially the rage-inducing MyFord Touch (remember to count to 10), the poorly designed cabin details and a shrunken cargo area, which ultimately reduce its usefulness to haul things around. It also cost considerably more than the plain-Jane hybrid model, which starts at $25,000.

If you can get past those complaints, the C-Max Energi is a solid choice and worth exploring if you intend on putting on those water wings and purchasing a plug-in hybrid.

Highs

  • Cabin is roomy for both driver and passengers
  • High quality materials used throughout the cabin
  • Excellent energy and fuel efficiency gauges
  • Brake coach is really fun to use

Lows

  • High price tag compared to standard C-Max Hybrid
  • Battery takes up too much cargo space
  • Poorly designed interior details
  • MyFord Touch is a lesson in anger management

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