2013 Ford C-Max Energi review:

The e-vehicle lifestyle, without the range anxiety

By this point, the car was operating in hybrid mode, its electric range completely sapped. However, on the long grade down from the mountain the regenerative braking managed to put 2 miles of range back on the battery, which I promptly burned up when the highway flattened out.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi
With regenerative braking, the transmission's Low range seems unnecessary. Josh Miller/CNET

The transmission, a continuously variable unit relying on a mysterious interaction between planetary gearsets to mix electric and gasoline power, offered a Low range. When I used it going downhill, it did not seem to engage regeneration, so I rode the brakes, comfortable in the knowledge that instead of burning up discs and pads, the car was charging its battery.

Ford rates the total output for the C-Max Energi at 188 horsepower, also giving torque figures of 129 pound-feet for the engine and 117 pound-feet for the motor. No matter how hard I stood on the accelerator, I could not get the front tires to chirp. But the car took off adequately enough for merging and getting out ahead of traffic. It even climbed hills effortlessly.

The instrument cluster includes all sorts of driver-selectable displays, car data on the left and infotainment features on the right. I've seen them before on other Ford models. With the C-Max Energi, my favorite left-hand display, named Engage by Ford, showed the mix of electric and gasoline power going to the wheels. I liked being able to see how much power came from each source.

Directional-pad-style controls on the steering wheel made it easy for me to choose displays on the left or right. For the infotainment side of the instrument cluster, I could also quickly choose a contact from my paired phone to make a call, or change the audio source.

That right-hand screen mimics some of the functions available on the center LCD, which is all part of the MyFord Touch interface. This interface suffers from performance problems, the touch screen reacting too slowly to input. But underneath its color-coded screens, it has an excellent feature set.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi
The touch screen, part of the optional MyFord Touch interface, reacts slowly to input. Josh Miller/CNET

The MyFord Touch interface comes standard, but navigation, a system that I often find frustrating, is optional. Based on an SD card, the maps render slowly on the main touch screen. What must be a weak GPS antenna also leads to moments when the system cannot pinpoint the car, most often when it has been parked in a garage and has to reestablish its positioning.

When the system works, I like its route guidance. It shows good, full-color directions for upcoming turns and reads out the relevant street names. The maps appear in perspective or 2D views, and render buildings in urban centers. Street names show up in an easy-to-read format.

The system also shows traffic conditions, not only for highways and freeways, but also for some surface streets. I found its traffic alerts when I was using route guidance inconsistent. When operating as I would expect, it popped up a dialog box asking if I wanted to avoid traffic ahead on the route. But during a couple of trips, it sent me into the thick of a traffic jam without so much as a warning.

I believe the system did not find what it considered a suitable alternative to the major freeways going in my direction, a problem not restricted to Ford's system. It would be nice if navigation systems let you adjust how aggressively they try to avoid bad traffic. In Los Angeles, for example, locals often use surface streets to stay clear of problem freeways. Navigation systems should be able to mimic that behavior.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi
The navigation system pops up these warnings for bad traffic, but it could be more aggressive in seeking alternate routes. Josh Miller/CNET

Because of the slow touch-screen response, entering destinations can be tedious. Voice command works as an excellent alternative in the C-Max Energi. When entering a street address, it let me say the entire string, instead of asking for street and city separately. Likewise, when using its points-of-interest database, I successfully used voice command to search for the nearest Taco Bell.

The voice command system worked very well for making phone calls, letting me say the name of the person I wanted to call when it was stored in my phone. Similarly, Ford Sync remains the best at fielding music requests through voice command, letting me ask by album, artist, genre, or song name for music stored on USB drives or iOS devices plugged into the car's USB ports. Ford deserves credit for putting two USB ports in the C-Max Energi, which is much appreciated.

Using the touch-screen interface to browse a device's music library was a little clunky, with an extra screen to drill down through. Bluetooth streaming worked well as an audio source, although I could not use voice command or the touch screen to select music. However, Ford shows full track information on the main LCD.

Without Sync AppLink, there is no Pandora or other online music service integration.

I was pleased to find the optional Sony audio system in the C-Max Energi I tested. It qualifies as a very good value among premium car audio systems. It may not have all the power and sublime reproduction of systems found in luxury cars, but it blows away systems in many competitive vehicles.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi does not fit every lifestyle. It helps to have a place to plug it in, whether at home or at the office, preferably both. You can get a 240-volt charging station for the garage, which will bring the battery to full in 2.5 hours, or rely on the 110-volt adapter, good for a full charge in about 7 hours.

With a relatively short commute, you might not use a drop of gasoline all week.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi
The C-Max Energi includes the option to schedule charging times. Josh Miller/CNET

The dimensions of the C-Max Energi make it very suitable as an all-purpose family vehicle, although the loss of cargo area space for the battery pack makes Ford's C-Max Hybrid ultimately more practical. Its driving character is uncomplicated, and technophiles will enjoy fine-tuning the car's performance with the EV button. Its brake coaching will help anyone drive more efficiently.

Among non-luxury carmakers, Ford offers a lot when it comes to tech. By itself, Sync does an excellent job of connecting personal electronics to the car, and making them safe to use while driving. Because the MyFord Touch system comes standard, Sync AppLink is not available in the C-Max Energi.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Ford C-Max Energi
Trim n/a
Power train 2-liter 4-cylinder engine with 88-kilowatt electric motor, electronic continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy 88 mpg equivalent, 38 mpg combined city and highway average
Observed fuel economy 58.2 mpg
Navigation Optional flash memory-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard with contact list integration
Digital audio sources iPod/iPhone, USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Sony 9-speaker system
Driver aids Rearview camera
Base price $32,950
Price as tested $35,440

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