2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid at 2011 Detroit Auto Show

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  • Competes with: Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt
  • Looks like: A regular C-Max with conventional second-row doors instead of sliders – plus an Aston Martin grille
  • Drivetrain: Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder with two electric motors and electrically variable transmission; front-wheel drive
  • Hits dealerships: Late 2012

At a media briefing in Detroit last month, Ford product development head Derrick Kuzak called the C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid the “first of our next-generation hybrids here in North America.” Toward that end, both C-Max variants use a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack rather than the nickel-metal hydride packs that power Ford’s current hybrids. The new batteries are 25 to 30 percent smaller and 50 percent lighter than their forebears, Ford says.

Scheduled for production at the same plant that produces the regular C-Max and the new Focus, the C-Max Hybrid and Energi are expected to go on sale late next year.

Both cars drop the regular C-Max’s sliding doors and third-row seat for two rows and conventional second-row doors. This layout is already available in Europe sans the hybrid powertrain. Their exteriors gain a few visual enhancements, namely multispoke wheels with low-rolling-resistance tires and a grille that looks straight off one of Aston Martin’s cars. (On a low-slung exotic, that grille works. On the tallish C-Max, it looks out of place.)

Ford promises the C-Max Hybrid will achieve better gas mileage than the current Ford Fusion Hybrid’s 41 mpg city rating. EPA ratings for the C-Max Energi, meanwhile, are still pending. They could end up looking something like the Chevy Volt’s numbers, with an mpg-equivalent score if you drive with a full battery charge over a given range and a secondary score if you never charge your battery after buying the car.

That’s not to say the C-Max Energi works like the Volt. Plug it in – Ford says it can fully charge overnight on a household 120-volt outlet — and the Energi can putter around on electric power alone. Like all hybrids, however, doing so requires modest acceleration. Encounter a highway on-ramp or merging situation, and the engine will likely fire up to lend a hand. Like most plug-in hybrids, the Energi drives like a conventional hybrid with a higher threshold of EV operation.

As the battery loses its charge, the threshold comes down. Once the battery is fully depleted, the Energi’s driving experience would mirror the C-Max Hybrid. Ford promises a total range, with a full battery charge and a tank of gas, of more than 500 miles.

Aside from modified transmission oil and a new cooling circuit, little drivetrain hardware is different between the C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi. Both cars use the same Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder with two electric motors, rendering similar acceleration, Ford says. Both will almost certainly have regenerative braking. Overall power figures are not yet available.

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