• The all-new plug-in hybrid arrives this fall.
  • C-MAX Energi qualifies for $3,750 of federal tax credit.
  • California buyers can take an additional $1,500 rebate.

Ford has announced that its new plug-in hybrid qualifies those who buy or lease the vehicle for a minimum of 3 years for up to $5,250 in tax breaks. The 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi, which has a starting price of $33,745 before any tax incentives, qualifies for both federal and, in California, state rebates. The fuel-efficient plug-in drivetrain also gives Californian owners of the C-MAX Energi access to the state's carpool lanes.

The amount of the federal tax credit for plug-in hybrids is based on battery capacity for a given vehicle. The C-MAX Energi qualifies for $3,750 in federal incentives, and California's program offers another $1,500 in rebates to buyers in that state. Factoring in both incentives, the starting price of the C-MAX Energi drops to $28,495 for buyers in California.

Plug-in hybrids are typically pricier than more conventional hybrids that use gasoline exclusively. But these incentives level the playing field for buyers outside the Golden State as well. Its sub-$30,000 starting price, including the federal tax break, makes the C-MAX Energi's price competitive with some hybrid hatchbacks and sedans without plug-in capability.

The option of plugging in can make a big difference in efficiency. First, powering a vehicle with electricity is often considerably cheaper than using gasoline. The C-MAX Energi's 21-mile electric-only range means drivers can use no gasoline on short trips. Furthermore, drivers in California--and possibly those in other states soon--can access high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to save time and avoid traffic.

Purely electric vehicles (EVs) like the Nissan Leaf are also permitted to use HOV lanes, but EVs suffer from range limitations that make them impractical for longer highway trips. Plug-in hybrids have a backup gasoline motor to solve the range issue. In fact, with a full charge and a full tank of gas, the 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi can travel a staggering 620 miles before recharging or refueling.

Two other mainstream vehicles offer the advantages of a plug-in hybrid drivetrain and potential tax breaks, too. A plug-in version of the popular Toyota Prius is already available in the Northeast and on the West Coast. The Chevrolet Volt--also a plug-in hybrid--is in stock at Chevrolet dealers nationwide. The U.S.-built C-MAX Energi will arrive at EV-certified Ford dealerships late this fall. The limited launch to 42 markets will be followed by the plug-in hybrid's arrival at Ford dealers nationwide early next year.

What it means to you: Those considering the C-MAX Energi--or another plug-in hybrid, like the Chevrolet Volt or Toyota Prius Plug-I--should remember to factor in any rebates or tax incentives before making a purchase decision.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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