Plug-in cars save gas and cut pollution, but at a cost. The Nissan Leaf has a maximum driving range of about 75 miles. The Chevrolet Volt seats just four people. And at nearly $40,000 apiece, neither is cheap. The Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, by contrast, seats five and combines gas power and a grid-charged lithium-ion battery to reach the EPA-certified equivalent of 108 mpg. It goes 620 miles on a full gas tank and battery. And at $29,995 (after tax credits), it is by far the most affordable plug-in on the market. It’s the kind of car that could, just maybe, take automotive electrification mainstream. Here are five reasons why.
1. Gas-Electric Powertrain
The C-Max Energi combines a pair of electric motors and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine (the same ultraefficient design used in the Toyota Prius). Together, they can push the car to a top speed of 102 mph; the C-Max can hit 85 mph on electricity alone.
2. Affordable, Compact Battery
Engineers gave the C-Max a relatively small 7.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, which Ford assembles in Michigan. The Chevrolet Volt, by comparison, runs on a 16-kilowatt-hour battery. As a result, the Energi gets 21 miles of all-electric range to the Volt’s 38—but it’s $10,000 cheaper.
3. Custom Power Control
Using a button mounted on the center stack, the driver can mix and match electric and gas power with three settings: EV Now (electric-only driving), Auto EV (combined gas and electric power), and EV Later (gas engine only).
4. Breathing Room
The five-passenger hatchback has 10 more cubic feet of interior space than the Chevrolet Volt and nearly double the cargo area.
5. Quick Charger
Like Ford’s Focus Electric, the C-Max uses a 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger to fill its battery. Plugged into a 240-volt outlet, the charger fills the battery at a rate twice as fast as the Nissan Leaf, going from empty to full in two and a half hours.
Power Train: Gas-electric plug-in hybrid
Fuel Economy: 108 mpg equivalent
Electric-Only Range: 21 Miles
Price: From $29,995
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.