The Chevrolet Volt and the Ford C-Max Energi are both compact plug-in hybrid hatchbacks. Each is powered by a combination of electricity from the grid, used to charge an on-board battery pack, and a 4-cylinder engine.
But the two are very different vehicles in shape, accommodations, and driving behavior—though each one will likely have its fans, we've given our nod to one of them by a fairly wide margin.
Under our new scoring system, the 2017 Volt earned a score of 7.5. The C-Max lineup that includes the Energi plug-in hybrid model, on the other hand, is rated at 5.3—meaning that the Volt wins this one pretty decisively. If you want a car that combines useful electric range with a gasoline engine for long trips, the Volt is simply a better choice. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Chevy Volt is an all-new second generation of the range-extended electric car. It's better looking, provides more electric range, accelerates faster, and is quieter and more refined inside. It won all sorts of awards for 2016, including the Green Car Reports 2016 Best Car To Buy title. The current Ford C-Max Energi remains all but identical to the version launched in 2013 alongside the conventional hybrid version of the C-Max, despite an incremental front-end styling update this year.
The Volt is a low, sleek hatchback that's racier and less slab-sided than its predecessor. We see elements of the last Honda Civic in parts of its design, and more than a little similarity to the latest Cruze compact sedan. The C-Max, on the other hand, is an upright five-door vehicle that's either a tall hatchback or a small minivan—you be the judge. Against the latest Volt, its lines are chunkier, but they conceal more interior room.
Inside, the Volt will hold four adults in form-fitting bucket seats separated by a wide tunnel that holds the battery pack. There's a fifth "seating position," basically a padded space between the two outboard seats. While it may work for a lithe teenage athlete, larger or older adults won't be comfortable–and it's only really for emergencies. The C-Max, on the other hand, holds four comfortably and five acceptably. Its battery pack is sited under the load-bay floor, which is higher than you'd expect in a vehicle this size—and offers correspondingly less cargo room.
Bodies aside, it's electric range that most differentiates these two plug-in hybrids. The Volt now has 53 miles of EPA-rated range, up from last year's 38 miles, while the C-Max Energi is rated at just 19 miles of range. Both use transverse 4-cylinder engines with two-motor hybrid systems powering the front wheels. Sophisticated software controls the engine and electric power, battery charging, and regenerative braking, with the goal of minimizing combined energy use. Once the battery is depleted, the Volt is rated at 42 miles per gallon combined, the C-Max Energi at 38 mpg combined.
2016 Ford C-Max EnergiEnlarge Photo
2016 Ford C-Max HybridEnlarge Photo
2016 Ford C-Max EnergiEnlarge Photo
But a key difference is that the Volt always runs purely on electricity until its battery is depleted. Unless the weather is below freezing, its engine never turns on if there's charge in the battery. Chevy's data shows that nine out of every 10 trips in the new Volt won't involve the engine at all. The C-Max Energi is a more traditional plug-in hybrid: When the driver floors the pedal, the engine has to switch on. Unlike the Volt, the battery and electric motors alone can't power the C-Max under all conditions.