2016 Ford C-Max Energi SEL Review

2016 Ford C-Max Energi SEL Review

I’d driven the 2016 Ford C-Max Energi before but had never “lived” with one, so I was curious to spend time exploring Ford’s take on the plug-in hybrid genre. Unlike its conventional sibling, the C-Max Hybrid, the Energi can run in full-electric mode for about 20 miles and at speeds up to 85 mph. After that, or under heavy loads, the gas Atkinson-cycle engine kicks in, with range jumping to as much as 550 miles.

First impression: it’s an attractive car, with Ford’s familiar “Aston Martin” front grille, taut proportions, optional Ruby Red tinted clearcoat paint ($395), and standard 17-inch aluminum wheels. Mine also arrived with the optional panoramic glass roof, which adds a welcome airiness to the cabin but will set you back $1,315. The cockpit itself is clean and handsome, and because the Energi stands more than five feet tall, you sit relatively high up. It’s available only in upscale SEL trim, so even in base form it’s nicely equipped: leather-trimmed seats (heated in front), dual-zone automatic climate control, and Ford’s Sync 3 voice-activated infotainment system. My tester upped the luxe even more with a $3,000 options group that added premium audio and navigation, a power liftgate, a rear-view camera, keyless entry, and a parking-technology package with active park assist.

Heading out to mix it up with LA traffic, I immediately smiled at the slick, silent propulsion underfoot. Like the BMW i3 I drove recently, the Energi whisks you away from stoplights almost effortlessly, albeit not especially quickly. It even zoomed me up an entrance ramp and into the maw of the hurtling 405 freeway without the gas engine coming to life. Maintaining pace with 70-75 mph traffic was no trouble, no struggle. Still, the gas engine didn’t activate.

The Energi feels more solid and road-tuned than, say, a Prius. It’s almost sporty in its moves; the steering has a pleasant heft and the chassis is surprisingly lively. Some shoppers in this segment might even find the ride overly firm, but to me, the suspension setup is a welcome break from the anemic responses so common in economy-optimized vehicles.

The regen brakes take some getting used to until you’re able to execute stops without any bobbing of the nose, but soon enough their unique feel becomes familiar. The dash includes a “green leaves” display that coaches you in how best to make throttle and brake inputs for maximum range. At the end of my first day with the Energi, I had just under half a “tank” of battery power left—though, of course, I’m in LA, and what often feel like long drives are really just a few traffic-clogged miles

The next day, I managed to drive for about an hour or so when finally the gas engine kicked into life. It’s sudden arrival changes the character of the Energi significantly: the sublime smoothness and quietness is replaced by a four-cylinder rasp that, with the electric motor now essentially off-line and the gas engine doing all the work, under heavy loads can become quite pronounced.

I wanted my magic-carpet Energi back, so when I got home I plugged-in the charger to a standard wall outlet (curiously, the charging gear is housed under the left-rear passenger’s floorboard). With just 120 volts, it takes a full night to recharge the Energi fully, but C-Max owners can install a 240-volt charger that does the job in about 2.5 hours. If you have a charger available to top up while at work, you could conceivably drive up to 20 miles each way on electric power alone.

The Energi offers some nifty optional gizmos. Park assist works just like the system I tried recently on a Ford Explorer Platinum: sensors scan for a parking space and, once a suitable one is identified, all the driver needs to do is operate the transmission, gas, and brakes. The Energi steers itself into the spot—and it proved quite adept at doing so. Energi owners will also appreciate the available power liftgate. No need to fumble for the key fob: arriving at the vehicle with grocery bags in hand, you simply swipe your foot under the rear bumper and the gate rises up automatically. It closes with a foot-swipe, too. Very handy indeed.

In all, the Energi feels grown up and solid. It’s the best-handling — and possibly the best-looking car in its class (Ford also claims it leads on passenger room, too). But it’s not a runaway winner. Base price is about on par with the Volt (around $33K), but getting generous with options boosts the sticker fast (my test car checked in at $37,510). Unless you’re confident you could get around almost exclusively utilizing the Energi’s EV-only capability, you’d want to give serious attention to the conventional C-Max Hybrid, which starts at $25,045. The other shortcoming: with the rear seats up, cargo room is sadly lacking. There’s a big battery pack back there (see photo), so the load floor rises about halfway up the height of the rear seats. Fold the rear seats down, though, and room expands considerably, to 42.8 cubic feet—though that’s still about 20 cubic feet shy of, say, a Prius V.

The 2016 Ford C-Max Energi is the driver’s plug-in hybrid — a responsive and attractive hatchback with excellent seats, generous rear passenger room, and, once you get used to navigating the busy MyFord touch interface, an abundance of useful conveniences. If your daily driving amounts to 20 miles or fewer (and a huge number of motorists fit that bill), you could enjoy its spirited dynamics and EV refinement drive day in and day out without ever visiting a gas station. That’s mostly how I drove it, and I’d rate my week pretty sweet.