SAN FRANCISCO?One of the best compliments I can pay to a plug-in hybrid is that it looks and feels like a regular car. This, more than anything else, is what the automakers should be striving to achieve with these vehicles, in my view ? make people forget that they're driving a car with an electrical socket.
The Ford C-Max Energi is such a vehicle. During the time I spent driving Ford's newest plug-in over hill and dale around San Francisco, I was pleasantly surprised by how much it felt like a regular car, even while running in full electric mode.
Just unveiled across North America, the C-Max is aimed squarely at the bestselling hybrid, Toyota Prius. That's a pretty lofty goal, given the entrenched position of the Prius, but the C-Max has some impressive credentials of its own.
Built on Ford's new global C front-drive platform (which also underpins the Focus), the C-Max is powered by a 2.0-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder gas engine, which produces 141 horsepower and 129 lb.-ft. of torque. It derives extra power from a 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which powers an electric motor, for a total system output of 195 hp on a full charge.
Ford says the battery pack is 25 to 30 per cent smaller and 50 per cent lighter than the nickel metal hydride units used in its previous hybrids. They're also recyclable and feature air cooling, which helps manage their temperature and ensure long life.
The only transmission available is Ford's new electronic-controlled continuously variable transmission, designed to manage power delivery from both the gas engine and electric motor.
Ford also claims the C-Max can travel at speeds of up to 100 km/h in full electric mode.
This all sounds all well and good, but what about fuel economy, range and charge times?
Well, according to Ford, the C-Max delivers a 1.9 L/100 km city rating (combined gas and electric), 4.5 L/100 km on the highway (gas only) and has a total range of 1,221 kilometres (43 in electric-only mode), though the automaker has recently come under fire, accused of exaggerated fuel-efficiency claims on its C-Max line.
It takes about seven hours to fully recharge with a standard 120-volt plug. An optional 240-volt home-charging station cuts that time to about 2.5 hours. Ford is partnering with Best Buy to install the stations for $1,600.
I got a combined 3.4 L/100 km on a 58-km route from rural Marin Country north of the city into heavy, late-afternoon San Francisco traffic. Much of my drive was at speeds of 70 to 90 km/h, the car wasn't fully charged when I started, and I wasn't being especially careful with my driving style. Pretty impressive, all things considered.
Throughout the drive, the C-Max delivered a comfortable ride, secure handling over some very tight and winding roads, and a noticeably quiet ride (although the gas engine does get a bit noisy under acceleration).
As far as looks are concerned, the C-Max isn't sleek or sexy, but for a vehicle that seats five and has some decent cargo space, it's far from ugly.
The big open-mouth grille and wedge-shaped headlamps are similar to that of its Focus sibling.
Inside, the car was finished in tasteful tan leather and came loaded with the high-quality trim materials and electronics you would expect in a car starting at $37,000.
Ford's product folks aren't shy about their goals for the C-Max Energi: they aim to eat Toyota's lunch with this car. They boast about the car's better all-electric top speed, better electric-mode fuel economy, and greater all-electric range, although the Toyota's starting price is $1,300 lower.
Displacing the Prius for top spot on the hybrid sales charts will be no easy task, but Ford appears to have a worthy challenger.
Travel for freelance writer Lee Bailie was provided by the manufacturer. Email email@example.com.
2013 Ford C-Max Energi
ENGINE: 2.0 L 4-cylinder with an electric motor and a 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery pack
POWER/TORQUE: 141 hp/129 lb.-ft. (gas engine only); 195 hp (total hybrid system)
FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: 1.9 (gas/electric); 4.5 (gas only)
COMPETITION: Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf
WHAT'S BEST: Impressive array of green technologies.
WHAT'S WORST: Gas engine a little on the noisy side.
WHAT'S INTERESTING: The MyFord mobile app monitors and schedules charging times, range and locates the nearest charging stations.
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