2013 Ford C-MAX Energi

Ford recently brought its C-MAX wagon, previously available only in Europe, over to the states and added a gas-electric powertrain to create a hybrid-only model to challenge the dominance of Toyota's Prius lineup. Whereas the standard C-MAX is a traditional hybrid, the C-MAX Energi is a plug-in model that trades a measure of cabin space and fuel economy for a longer 21-mile electric-only range.

While the standard C-MAX Hybrid utilizes a 1.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, the Energi packs a larger 7.6-kWh unit that accounts for usefully-long range. In most other respects, the two models are the same - both use a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder that teams with a permanent-magnet AC synchronous electric motor. Total system output is 195 horsepower, and a continuously variable transmission sends power to the front wheels.

Due to the extra weight of the battery pack, the Energi can manage "only" 44 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway - the Hybrid gets 47 mpg in both cycles. However, for those whose commute is 21 miles or less each way, the Energi could conceivably get them to work and back without using a drop of fuel (provided there's a place to charge up at the office). When driven in electric-only mode, the Energi returns a combined 100 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).

Recharging the Energi's batteries from empty to full takes two and a half hours using a 240-volt charger, or seven hours with a standard 120-volt household outlet.

Underpinned by the same platform used by the nimble Focus compact, the Energi doesn't drive like a typical hybrid - the steering is well-weighted, the body motions well-controlled. On the downside, it isn't quite as big inside as its crossover-like look would suggest - the big battery intrudes into the cargo area, cutting stowage space behind the rear seats from 24.5 cubic feet in the standard C-MAX to 19.2 in the Energi. Fold those rear seats down, and that figure expands to 43.4 cubic feet.

Design-wise, the Energi is much like its Focus platform mate inside, with high-quality materials and a modern-looking dashboard. The instrument panel contains screens on either side of the speedometer that display efficiency-related information. On the left, "SmartGauge with EcoGuide" includes a brake coach function that helps drivers capture the maximum energy possible through regenerative braking, while on the right there's an "Efficiency Leaves" graphic that rewards efficient driving with leaves and vines that accumulate over the course of a drive to create an animated forest.

Standard and Optional Features
The C-MAX Energi comes standard with leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo system, Bluetooth connectivity with SYNC, MyFord Touch, a reverse sensing system and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Three optional equipment packages are available.

Equipment group 301A adds a voice-activated navigation system with SiriusxM Traffic and SiriusXM Travel Link, a nine-speaker Sony premium audio system and HD radio with iTunes tagging.

To those features, equipment group 302A adds a rearview camera and a nifty hands-free power-operated liftgate. It opens with the kick of the foot under the bumper - perfect for situations when you have your hands full.

Finally, equipment group 303A brings a front sensing system and active park assist, which can actually parallel park the C-MAX by itself - the system operates the steering wheel, while all the driver has to do is operate the gas and brakes.

Occupant Safety
All C-MAX Energi models come standard with dual front, side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to a driver's knee airbag, traction and stability control systems and emergency brake assist.

Key Competitors
The C-MAX Energi's rivals include the Chevrolet Volt, which offers a 38-mile electric-only range but is more expensive and less spacious than the Ford, and the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, which is capable of just 11 miles of electric-only driving.