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Newest Ford C-Max comes with a plug

Wednesday - 5/8/2013, 1:37pm  ET

This undated image made available by Ford shows the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi. (AP Photo/Ford)

ANN M. JOB
For The Associated Press

Ford's newest C-Max is the ultimate plug-in gasoline-electric hatchback for fuel- and environmentally conscious drivers yearning for something new.

Introduced for 2013, the C-Max Energi is an electric plug-in, tall, five-seat car that has a four-cylinder, gasoline engine as a backup. A driver can typically travel for up to 21 miles on all-electric power before the gas engine seamlessly takes over.

Or, the driver can push a button to select gas-engine propulsion only -- say, if he or she is headed directly onto a freeway -- and save the electric power stored in the onboard battery pack for later, in-city driving where lower speeds maximize the electric power range.

These smart, selectable choices and fresh, attractive styling plus easy charging and an impressive, potential 620-mile range on one tank of fuel and one battery charge come in one well-equipped model -- the 2013 C-Max Energi SEL.

Also not to be missed: The federal government rating of 100 miles-per-gallon equivalent for the C-Max Energi tops the 98 mpg equivalent of the 2013 Chevrolet Volt as well as the 95 mpg equivalent of the plug-in hybrid version of the 2013 Toyota Prius.

The only vehicles with higher mpg equivalent numbers are all-electric cars with much lower overall travel range, such as the 2013 Leaf with a 115 mpg equivalent rating and a travel range of up to 75 miles.

Pricing for the C-Max Energi is in the middle of the pack.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $34,140 and includes continuously variable transmission (CVT) that a driver operates like an automatic.

This compares with the $39,995 starting retail price for a 2013 Volt and the $32,795 starting retail price for a 2013 Prius Plug-In Hybrid.

Note the C-Max Energi comes standard with features that can be extra on competitors, such as leather-trimmed seats, dual-zone climate control, hands-free calling system, wireless Bluetooth audio for access to music on a smartphone, heated front seats and three years of free, personalized news, sports and business news.

But while the Volt qualifies for a federal income tax credit of $7,500, the C-Max Energi's tax credit is $3,751.

This amount is not subtracted directly from the C-Max Energi's purchase price. Rather, the tax credit goes on income tax forms of the purchaser to help reduce that year's overall federal tax.

It's also worth noting there is a non-plug-in hybrid version of C-Max that has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $25,995, which is $8,145 lower in price than the Energi. No wonder, then, that so far in calendar 2013, the non-plug-in C-Max Hybrid is outselling the pricier C-Max Energi by a wide margin.

Still, the test C-Max Energi was a car that delighted with its styling, comfortable interior, sprightly power -- both electric and gas engine -- and agile handling.

Especially attractive: The styling lines on the sides, the good proportions of the body and the expressive front grille that give this fuel-sipper an upscale look.

It also helped that the Energi comes standard with good-sized, 17-inch wheels. In comparison, the base Prius Plug-In rides on smaller, 15-inch wheels.

Inside, the C-Max Energi can feel spacious, thanks to its 5.3-foot-tall height. This provides a full 41 inches of front-seat headroom -- roomy even for 6-footers. In the back seat, headroom is shaved just a bit, to 39.4 inches.

Meantime, the Prius Plug-In stands less than 5 feet tall and has less headroom in front and back seats. The Prius is a couple inches longer, however, from bumper to bumper, and has a slightly longer wheelbase. So, front-seat legroom of 40.4 inches in the C-Max Energi is less than the 42.5 inches in the Prius Plug-In. But the Ford's back-seat legroom of 36.5 inches is a half inch greater than the back-seat legroom in the Prius.

Perhaps the least competitive space is the Energi's 19.2 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats, which is less than what's in the Prius. It's also 22 percent less than the cargo room in the non-plug-in version of C-Max Hybrid. The lost space is taken up in the Energi by a larger lithium ion battery pack.

The test Energi impressed with fuel economy on the very first drive which was all-electric and thus, zero gasoline.

And charging was easy. Even a regular electrical outlet in a circa 1970s garage charged this car up, albeit over a slow seven hours for a full charge. It was much faster, though, at a dedicated, 240-volt charging station, where a full charge took just 2.5 hours.

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