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Ford C-Max was expected, hybrid model wasn't

Ford introduces the C-Max, in both gasoline and hybrid models, at the 2011 Detroit auto show.

Ford C-Max
The C-Max, already sold in Europe, comes to the U.S. Josh Miller/CNET

DETROIT--With the Fiesta, Ford started to bring its European-designed cars to the U.S. This effort has been followed through with the new Focus and the C-Max people carrier, the latter currently sold in Europe. Ford previously announced the C-Max would be coming to the U.S.

But kept secret until the 2011 Detroit auto show was the hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions. Both models use a hybrid system similar to that found in the Ford Fusion Hybrid, an Atkinson cycle engine paired with an electric traction motor, letting the cars drive under electric power alone at speeds up to 47 mph.

But the C-Max hybrids get an improvement on this system using lithium ion batteries instead of the Fusion Hybrid's nickel metal hydride. With this new battery pack, Ford expects the C-Max hybrid to get better fuel economy than the Fusion Hybrid.

The plug-in version, called the C-Max Energi, adds a plug port to the left front fender of the car. The Energi drives in electric mode when it has a fully charged battery, switching to normal hybrid drive when the battery gets depleted. Ford does not specify an electric range, which we would not expect to be much, but overall the car can go about 500 miles.