People love to talk about plug-in hybrids these days, but the 2014 Ford C-MAX Energi could be the first one that typical families actually want to buy. The C-MAX Energi is good for a class-leading 550 miles of range between fill-ups, and its all-electric mode is tuned for real-world driving, so there's plenty of power and a top speed of 85 miles per hour. Throw in family-friendly seating for five and you've got one of the most well-rounded hybrid vehicles on the market.

The technology can be confusing in these cars, so let's start with the basics. As a plug-in hybrid, the C-MAX Energi is basically two cars in one, featuring both an electric motor and a gasoline engine. Like the Chevrolet Volt, but unlike the plug-in Toyota Prius, it has a true EV mode that keeps the gas engine off, even when you floor it. The beauty of this dual-mode system is that if you run out of battery power on the road, the gas engine automatically wakes up and turns the Energi into a normal car.

Of course, the Energi isn't for everyone. If you want to commute in EV mode, for example, the Volt is a better choice, as it offers nearly 40 miles of electric range to the Energi's 20. And if you're drawn to the Energi for its practical tall-wagon body style, you should take a look at the massive battery-pack housing in the trunk area and see if there's still enough cargo space for your taste.

Nonetheless, the C-MAX Energi delivers a unique combination of Volt-like engineering and real-world practicality, and that should be enough to put it on the radar screen of plug-in fans and everyday car shoppers alike.

What's New for 2014?

The 2014 C-MAX Energi is essentially unchanged.

What We Like

Drives like a tall Focus (that's a good thing); 550-mile driving range; quiet interior; five seats; usable EV mode in real-world driving

What We Don't

Electric range limited to 20 miles; compromised cargo capacity; not a great value; noisy gas engine

How Much?

$33,745 - $39,000

Fuel Economy

The front-wheel-drive C-MAX Energi is motivated by a 2.0-liter gasoline engine and an electric motor. A sophisticated continuously variable transmission (CVT) gearlessly connects these sources to the pavement. Total system power is a healthy 188 horsepower.

The Environmental Protection Agency had to come up with a new unit of measurement for electric vehicles to capture the average distance traveled per unit of energy consumed. It's called "mpge," and the C-MAX Energi is rated at 88 mpge, which falls short of both the Volt (98 mpge) and the plug-in Prius (95 mpge). On gas power alone, the Energi gets 38 miles per gallon combined, nearly matching the Volt?s  37 combined mpg and falling far short of the Prius? 50 combined mpg.

Standard Features & Options

The 2014 Ford C-MAX Energi is offered in one well-equipped trim level that's essentially the equivalent of the regular C-MAX Hybrid's SEL trim.

Notable features include 17-inch alloy wheels, an external 120/240V plug with cool LED perimeter illumination, push-button ignition, SYNC with the MyFord Touch interface (including Energi-specific EV displays), two USB ports and compatibility with a Ford-developed smartphone app that lets you keep tabs on your Energi's vital signs while you're away.

Options include a navigation system with premium Sony audio and HD Radio, a rearview camera, a hands-free lift gate with a foot sensor and an automated parallel parking system.

Front-seat comfort in the C-MAX Energi is satisfactory, with tons of height adjustability for the driver's seat. The back seat isn't exactly spacious, but two adults can ride back there without issue, and the middle seat makes the Energi a more viable option for growing families.

Cargo space, however, is an issue, thanks to the enormous battery pack housing that resides on the trunk floor. The official measurements are 19.2 cu ft behind the back seat and 42.8 cu ft with the rear seat backs folded down, but if you do fold them, there's a big drop-off from the battery shelf down to the seat backs.

Safety

The C-MAX Energi comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and seven airbags (front, front side, driver knee, full-length side curtain).

The 2014 C-MAX Energi scored four stars out of five in government crash testing, including four stars for frontal impacts and five stars for side impacts.

Behind the Wheel

The C-MAX Energi drives almost exactly like a normal car. The only real clue that you're in something extraordinary comes in full EV mode, when all you can hear is the wind whooshing past. Concerning noise, there really isn't much of it at highway speeds (in marked contrast to the plug-in Prius). The ride quality is better, as well, and the confident C-MAX Energi gives the surprisingly athletic Volt a run for its money in handling.

As for power, the Energi can definitely get out of its own way. That's true even in full EV mode, but the gas engine adds a palpable jolt for passing maneuvers. Our only objection is to the intrusive drone of the gas engine during acceleration.

Other Cars to Consider

Chevrolet Volt -- A must-drive if you're considering a plug-in hybrid, the Volt still offers the most EV range in this category.

Ford C-MAX Hybrid -- You can't plug it in or drive it in pure EV mode, but the regular C-MAX Hybrid is otherwise similar, and it's more affordable.

Nissan Leaf -- If you already have a gas-powered car for long trips, the all-electric Leaf could be a great choice for commuting, as its EV range more than doubles that of the Volt.

Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid -- Limited to 62 mph, the Prius EV mode isn't as impressive, but Toyota's been doing the hybrid thing for a while now, so most of the major boxes are checked here.

AutoTrader's Advice

There's only one version of the 2014 Ford C-MAX Energi, and we recommend it. Ford has done a great job of transforming a run-of-the-mill people mover into a cutting-edge green machine.

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