DETROIT (AP) -- Ford's newest C-Max is the ultimate plug-in gasoline-electric hatchback for fuel- and environmentally conscious drivers yearning for something new.
Introduced for 2013, the C-Max Energi is an electric plug-in, tall, five-seat car that has a four-cylinder, gasoline engine as a backup. A driver can typically travel for up to 21 miles on all-electric power before the gas engine seamlessly takes over.
Or, the driver can push a button to select gas-engine propulsion only — say, if he or she is headed directly onto a freeway — and save the electric power stored in the onboard battery pack for later, in-city driving where lower speeds maximize the electric power range.
These smart, selectable choices and fresh, attractive styling plus easy charging and an impressive, potential 620-mile range on one tank of fuel and one battery charge come in one well-equipped model — the 2013 C-Max Energi SEL.
Also not to be missed: The federal government rating of 100 miles-per-gallon equivalent for the C-Max Energi tops the 98 mpg equivalent of the 2013 Chevrolet Volt as well as the 95 mpg equivalent of the plug-in hybrid version of the 2013 Toyota Prius.
The only vehicles with higher mpg equivalent numbers are all-electric cars with much lower overall travel range, such as the 2013 Leaf with a 115 mpg equivalent rating and a travel range of up to 75 miles.
Pricing for the C-Max Energi is in the middle of the pack.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $34,140 and includes continuously variable transmission (CVT) that a driver operates like an automatic.
This compares with the $39,995 starting retail price for a 2013 Volt and the $32,795 starting retail price for a 2013 Prius Plug-In Hybrid.
Note the C-Max Energi comes standard with features that can be extra on competitors, such as leather-trimmed seats, dual-zone climate control, hands-free calling system, wireless Bluetooth audio for access to music on a smartphone, heated front seats and three years of free, personalized news, sports and business news.
But while the Volt qualifies for a federal income tax credit of $7,500, the C-Max Energi's tax credit is $3,751.
This amount is not subtracted directly from the C-Max Energi's purchase price. Rather, the tax credit goes on income tax forms of the purchaser to help reduce that year's overall federal tax.
It's also worth noting there is a non-plug-in hybrid version of C-Max that has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $25,995, which is $8,145 lower in price than the Energi. No wonder, then, that so far in calendar 2013, the non-plug-in C-Max Hybrid is outselling the pricier C-Max Energi by a wide margin.
Still, the test C-Max Energi was a car that delighted with its styling, comfortable interior, sprightly power — both electric and gas engine — and agile handling.
Especially attractive: The styling lines on the sides, the good proportions of the body and the expressive front grille that give this fuel-sipper an upscale look.
It also helped that the Energi comes standard with good-sized, 17-inch wheels. In comparison, the base Prius Plug-In rides on smaller, 15-inch wheels.
Inside, the C-Max Energi can feel spacious, thanks to its 5.3-foot-tall height. This provides a full 41 inches of front-seat headroom — roomy even for 6-footers. In the back seat, headroom is shaved just a bit, to 39.4 inches.
Meantime, the Prius Plug-In stands less than 5 feet tall and has less headroom in front and back seats. The Prius is a couple inches longer, however, from bumper to bumper, and has a slightly longer wheelbase. So, front-seat legroom of 40.4 inches in the C-Max Energi is less than the 42.5 inches in the Prius Plug-In. But the Ford's back-seat legroom of 36.5 inches is a half inch greater than the back-seat legroom in the Prius.
Perhaps the least competitive space is the Energi's 19.2 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats, which is less than what's in the Prius. It's also 22 percent less than the cargo room in the non-plug-in version of C-Max Hybrid. The lost space is taken up in the Energi by a larger lithium ion battery pack.
The test Energi impressed with fuel economy on the very first drive which was all-electric and thus, zero gasoline.
And charging was easy. Even a regular electrical outlet in a circa 1970s garage charged this car up, albeit over a slow seven hours for a full charge. It was much faster, though, at a dedicated, 240-volt charging station, where a full charge took just 2.5 hours.
With all the displays inside the Energi that Ford provides to show instant miles per gallon, miles traveled on electric power alone, total gallons of gasoline used and total kilowatts of electricity used, it's easy for a driver to get addicted to efficient travel.
But it may take some practice to eke out every single efficient mile.
As an example, an aggressively driven round trip of 355 miles — some of it in mountain roads, some in highway congestion and with air conditioning on — used 9.25 gallons. This equals 38.4 mpg.
The 2-liter, four-cylinder engine generates a decent 141 horsepower on its own and uses regular fuel as opposed to premium in the Volt. Combined horsepower, with electric assist: 188 horses. Instant torque from the electric power squealed the tires at startup in the test car.
Standard safety equipment includes frontal, side and curtain air bags, traction control and reverse-sensing system. A rearview camera is optional.
The C-Max Energi earned four of out of five stars in federal government crash tests overall, excelling in side-crash protection, where it earned five stars.