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JOLT OF VOLTS: Ford’s C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid makes the exotic normal

2015 Ford C-MAX EnergiIt’s just a small sliver of a niche at this point, but it’s bound to grow.

The ever-increasing quest for fuel economy and its companion, environmental awareness, are driving automakers to greater lengths to squeeze ever-more miles out of a gallon of gas. Hence the expansion of so-called hybrid vehicles featuring gasoline engines combined with electric motors and battery packs.

Toyota kick-started the trend with the iconic Prius, but the frugal drivetrain design has spread across the Japanese giant’s offerings, from compacts through luxury Lexuses.

It was just a matter of time before its competitors joined in the march.

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Among the hybrids is a specialized contingent, the plug-in hybrid. These vehicles are not true electric cars (such as the Tesla), but an outgrowth of regular hybrids with expanded battery packs that can be recharged through a standard electrical outlet at home.

Ford has jumped into this area with a handsome compact hatch called C-Max, available in a standard Hybrid model and a plug-in version, dubbed C-Max Energi.

With the Energi, an owner can drive around 20 miles on electric power alone. In theory, then, if he (or she) works less than 10 miles from work, he could commute to and from the job, plug in the car at home to recharge, and not use a drop of dinosaur drippings.

After 20 miles, the car reverts to typical hybrid behavior, that is, propelled by combined gasoline and battery power.

Other than the somewhat-exotic propulsion system, the C-Max’s standout feature is simply how thoroughly normal the car behaves.

Wheels_j06Sept_InteriorIt’s a comfortably roomy five-seater, although the cargo hatch is compromised by the expanded battery pack. Passengers sit up high, affording excellent visibility.

The stylized interior is fashioned from agreeable materials, with lots of soft-touch plastics and satin metallic trim.

The hefty doors impart a sense of solidity, as does the 3,900-pound curb weight. The smooth-acting switchgear adds to the sense of quality construction.

The car glides quietly down the road, with excellent steering and confident cornering. And the 188 total horsepower delivers generous propulsion.

The Energi exacts a healthy price premium over the standard Hybrid. But greenies won’t regret the added cost.

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