Selecting the Energi's 'EV Now' mode, we managed to do a 20-mile round-trip errand, out to the suburbs and back, with part of it at freeway speeds—and even running the A/C for some time—on plug-in battery power alone.
While the all-electric capability in the Toyota Prius Plug-In feels a bit like a novelty—the gasoline engine there still kicks on if you accelerate too rapidly, or get above 51 mph—the C-Max Energi stays electric and doesn't feel emasculated or compromised in that mode. It'll go all the way up to 85 mph with only the electric motor system if you want it.
A joy to drive electric—for 21 miles
And although the C Max isn't at its quickest in its EV mode, it's a joy to drive as such—nearly silent yet responsive, with almost no motor whine. Get to the point where the gasoline engine does start up, and the C-Max feels far smoother and perkier than the Prius Plug-In or Prius V—with far less engine drone as well.
We also greatly appreciate the management tools that Ford has placed in this plug-in hybrid. Hit an 'EV Now' button, and you can make sure that the gasoline engine doesn't come on at all; or hit the 'EV Later' button and it'll save your battery power, moving over to hybrid mode, with a combination of the gasoline engine and motor system under most kinds of driving. Knowing what you know about speeds along your route, you can save the electric mode for the slow crawl in gridlock, and go with gasoline on the high-speed portion.
The C-Max Energi charges back up in about seven hours on a typical 110V household outlet, or less than two and a half hours on 220V; so it's entirely possible to charge back up for another 21 miles by the time you're done at the office.
Ride quality is firm but just agreeable enough, active noise cancellation and lots of sound-insulation measures help keep on-the-road refinement at its best, and the steering is very precise and well-weighted—nearly as good as what you'll find in the Ford Focus. The C-Max is, after all, a tall wagon based on Focus underpinnings.
Although the C-Max is a few hundred pounds heavier than the Prius, especially here in Energi guise its numbers are a lot stouter: 141-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine pairs with an 88-kW electric motor system to make a combined 195 horsepower—54 hp more than the Prius's combined output.
A bigger battery and a big packaging tradeoff
The key to the C-Max's very useful all-electric driving range is its far larger 7.6-kWh battery—versus 1.4-kWh in the standard C-Max hybrid—good for 21 miles of range. The Prius Plug-In only gets a 4.4-kWh battery, and it's good for an EPA-rated 11 miles, but that's within its tighter operating range.
But that battery comes with a very significant tradeoff, which we were reminded of several times during the week we took the C-Max through our daily routine. The big pack is the size of a large suitcase (or a small chest, almost) and basically loaded right into the cargo area—taking up most of the prime space that might be used for a load of groceries, and making the cargo floor, when you flip forward the rear seats, a cobbled, multi-level affair. Transporting a large bag of garden mulch with three people aboard required, for instance, drooping the bag around the edge of the non-folded rear seatback.