There was a recent meme running around on Facebook in which the daytime talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, lamented that nobody should be judged on whether they are gay or straight but that, instead, we should all be judged on what kind of cars we drive. While I am a strong supporter of equal rights for all as a basic freedom, my first reaction was to dismiss the meme as stupefyingly shallow by placing such high regard for materialism above all else.
And up until two months ago I would have continued to have that first reaction, muttering under my breath about how far the once gloriously free and innovative American culture has fallen that even our serious issues have to be couched in bling and soundbites in order for anybody to pay attention.
But that was before I bought the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi that right now, as I write, adorns my nighttime garage with a satisfyingly blue, pulsating glow from its charging port—oh that beautiful glow. But I digress. After driving this car for nearly three months, my mind’s natural first reaction was suppressed by the thought, “Please judge me.”
Seriously, I dare you.
Fun, Functional, Futuristic and Satisfying
In a nutshell, the C-Max Energi is so fun, functional, satisfying, futuristic and economical that you’d be crazy to judge me in any way that wasn’t positive. And if you do I’m just going to ignore you for the stubborn, close-minded lump of last century that you are. That’s a promise. This car probably screams “elitist” to the majority of Americans, but it really shouldn’t: It’s American-built at the Michigan Assembly Plant—and it’s a Ford.
The C-Max is a compact microvan crossover—or some other equally inane label that manufacturers have dreamt up lately. While Ford has sold it around the globe for many years now, it only made it to North American shores this year. And while you can buy it in both 5- and 7-passenger versions over there in multiple drivetrain configurations including gas, diesel, hybrid and plug-in hybrid, here in the States Ford made the calculation that they are only going to sell the 5-passenger model in two versions: the Hybrid and the Energi (Ford’s term for plug-in hybrid).
Yes, Ford has certainly had its fair share of marketing-related black-eyes with their new hybrid and plug-in hybrid drivetrains, mostly relating to drastically underperforming on the fuel economy front, but I’m not here to write about that. In my experience with the Energi, the actual fuel economy of the engine makes next to no difference.
Fuel Economy—Who Cares?
Ford has recently been hit with complaints of rigging the EPA fuel economy test to return results that are much higher than average drivers are finding in practice. And while the current state of affairs for the accuracy of EPA fuel economy ratings and the concurrent gaming of the tests by automakers is a bigger issue in general, with the C-Max Energi I find such arguments to be almost pointless.
I haven’t used more than a drop of gas in that car in 10 weeks. Even so, if I ever needed to drive over the mountains and go 800 miles on a whim I could do it using gas. In fact, none of my local dealers were authorized to sell the C-Max Energi when I wanted to buy it and so I had to take delivery of the car more than 130 miles away over the mountain passes in a freak spring blizzard. Even with its low-rolling resistance tires, the front wheel drive C-Max behaved admirably on the way back from the dealer in the snowstorm. I didn’t even have to put on the chains that I had hastily bought before making the trek. I’m sure the extra weight of the 7.6 kWh battery pack helped keep those tires grounded.
The EPA has certified the C-Max Energi at 21 miles of all-electric battery range before it switches over to hybrid mode where it’s supposed to return 43 mpg. The only experience I’ve had with using gas was on that trip back from the dealership over the mountains in the snowstorm, and that resulted in a 36 mpg average AFTER the battery was drained. Take that for what it’s worth.
But as I said, with the Energi the fuel economy hardly matters. Although the EPA says it will return 21 miles of all-electric range, I’ve found it comes closer to 24 or 25. That’s up and down hills and at speeds of between 25 and 50 mph. I’ve been able charge during the day from a regular 120 volt outlet, so the car always has more than enough stored electricity to get us around to where we need to go without using gas.
The town I live in also has some well-located charging stations which allow me to fill up when I’m out running errands, dining, or hitting the gym. And in the Pacific Northwest electricity is ultra-inexpensive and virtually all hydropower, so it’s economical and green too. I pay the equivalent of 15 cents per gallon of gasoline. But even if you get your electricity from some other source, electricity is always less expensive per mile than gas.
In fact, I was recently shocked when I had to fill up a regular gas car a few days ago and saw that in that six weeks gas had gone from $3.50 per gallon to almost $4, then immediately was elated that I was shocked at that realization.
Remote App is Useful
The available MyFordMobile smartphone app has some rough edges and can sometimes be very slow (some days even failing to be able to reach the server), however, with that said, I love this app. Not only does it allow me to monitor charging status and set up alerts for things like accidental unplugging or tripped circuits, it also will locate my car on map using GPS and lets me start it remotely or lock and unlock it. Seriously, I could be halfway around the world and if my wife called and said she’d locked her keys in the car I could unlock is with press of a fake smartphone button.
In terms of functionality, the battery does take up a significant portion of the trunk, but even so we can fit our 45 pound dog in there no problem and the hatchback microvan crossover thing greatly helps to minimize the loss of space. In any event, it is the car’s biggest drawback, so I encourage you to take old fido to the dealership and see if he’ll fit in before you take the plunge.
Other niggling annoyances exist. For instance, I wish the car would somehow remind you when that you park the car you should plug it in if you can. Although it’s become a habit, there are some times that I’m hurried or distracted and I’ve forgotten to plug the car in. A simple chime or combination of audible and visual indicators would be an easy fix.
Also, my kids’ booster seats partially cover up the buckles in the rear so waiting for them to get themselves buckled sometimes turns into an unnecessary problem—which, at the end of long school day, can sometimes feel like insurmountable frustration to them (and, consequently, their parents). I also wish the state of charge of the battery was displayed with more granularity (e.g. 82%), however all we get is a rather non-specific bar graph display with which you can guess in 10% increments.
Even with these drawbacks, to be honest, this is the first car I’ve truly loved. Aside from it being satisfying to drive for all the intellectual reasons you might expect, it’s surprisingly peppy, well-balanced, and grippy. It’s also cute, in that not-too-cute-for-your-typical-guy kind of way. The seats are comfortable and incredibly adjustable—everybody from a 120 pound 5’4″ pixie to a 6’6″ 300 pound giant could make this work for them. That’s actually a rare accomplishment in today’s cars.
In fact, I’m so smitten with this vehicle that it may be the car that finally made me a car guy. I know I write about cars and such, but really I’ve always felt mostly like a tech writer writing about the technology IN the cars and the cars themselves were an appliance to me—a way to get from point A to point B. Yes, I’ve always been into cars, but for me it was about the technology of the future. Now an average schmuck like me can walk into any car dealership in the country and buy the future. Not just one future, but a growing selection of multiple futures to choose from. It’s not just for the cover of Popular Mechanics anymore.
The C-Max Energi may not be a sexy thing, but the pleasure I get from driving around on electrons made from local dams at the equivalent of 15 cents per gallon gas and supporting local jobs is certainly equivalent to someone who really gets off on taking their ’57 Chevy to the levee or some shit.
So stop pumping terrorism into your car and, if at all possible, buy a plug in vehicle. The Ford C-Max Energi may be just the car to help you take the plunge.