Ford Splits Hairs Comparing C-Max Energi to Prius Models

By · August 09, 2012

C-MAX Energi EV button

In EV mode, Ford says the C-MAX Energi can hit speeds of up to 85 mph.

With each new press release about the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Ford takes great pains to show how it beats various Toyota Prius models. But I just don’t get it. The distinctions are so fine that everyday consumers are not likely to be moved by (or even understand) the differences. Of course, Ford should be applauded for putting its first plug-in hybrid on the market. But the success of the Ford C-Max Energy will depend much more on production numbers and sales execution, which has been less than stellar for the Ford Focus Electric.

The headline of Ford’s C-Max Energi press release from yesterday is the vehicle’s top electric-only speed. Ford claims that the C-Max Energi will travel 85 miles per hour purely on electricity—20 mph higher than the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid. The extra speed purely on electricity will apparently occur when drivers engage the “EV Now” button. But the fine print explains that the “gasoline engine will not operate unless…the accelerator pedal [is] full depressed.” It also states that the “drivers are given coaching cues to maximize EV mode.”

In my time behind the wheel of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, what annoyed me was not the engine coming on a speeds above 65 miles per hour. It was the engine coming on when I punched the accelerator at lower speeds—like when needing to jump across busy city traffic. When the engine came on, it stayed on until it went through a cycle for a few minutes. I only needed a burst of speed for three seconds, but the gasoline engine ran for a few minutes. In a blended plug-in hybrid, like the Ford C-Max Energi and Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the gas engine can be brought into action—burning a small amount of gasoline—at any point in the driving cycle when the accelerator is pressed hard enough.

EV purists won’t like having to change their driving style to dodge use of the gasoline engine. If avoiding the use of gasoline at any speed, but enjoying extended range via a gas engine, is your goal, then go with the Chevrolet Volt. That’s what it does. There is a larger point that gets lost in Ford’s attempt to take on Toyota in its marketing: It’s actually a good thing for the gas engine to be used at speeds above 65 miles per hour. I’m pretty sure Ford engineers recognize that at such high speeds, using the gas engine (for anything more than a few miles) will provide more overall efficiency, rather than draining the battery pack.

The Plot Thickens

Ford gets the facts completely wrong when it claims that the C-Max Energi is “more than triple the electric-only range (20-plus miles versus six miles)” of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid. The EPA rates that range at 11 miles—not six—and drivers are commonly reporting around 15 miles of pure electric range. (Again, gas and electricity are blended so it depends on how you drive.) Regardless, Ford has an advantage here with more energy storage, but blows it by getting the Prius Plug-in’s all-electric number wrong.

Ford is not yet talking about the efficiency of the C-Max Energi after the battery pack is depleted. I assume the MPG will be close to the non-plug C-Max Hybrid, which gets an impressive combined 47 MPG. That’s 7 MPG better than the Prius V, but 3 MPG less than what the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid gets after its batteries are drained. The Prius Plug-in Hybrid has the advantage here. But like the other stats, these differences are negligible, and will be outweighed by other purchase considerations, like styling, creature comforts, and brand.

Ford marketers get a bit loopy when they claim that the C-Max’s overall range of 550 miles beats the Prius Plug-in Hybrid’s 540 miles of range. That 1.8 percentage difference will be made up many times over by differences in how and where people drive. I also doubt that drivers in a double-blind test will see feel much difference between the C-MAX Energi’s 195 horsepower versus the 188 horsepower provided by the Toyota Prius.

Caveat: The C-Max Energi has not been made available for media test drives, so I reserve judgment on all these accounts until the two vehicles can be compared in real-world use. But my point is that the arguments made in a press release issued at this stage will be lost on most shoppers (certainly by the time the C-Max goes on sale in a few months). I suppose Ford marketers are looking for as many ways as possible to say that Ford is in the plug-in game.

Execution Matters

Just how serious Ford is about the game comes down to price and availability. Ford managed to nudge the post-incentive price of the C-Max Energi below $30,000—by five bucks. I’m not finding documentation for the federal tax credit amount, but the simple math puts it at $3,800. Meanwhile, the base price for the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, after its $2,500 federal tax credit, is $30,260—a modest $265 dollars more than the C-Max Energi. Trim options and financing numbers will erase that difference. The Chevy Volt, a four-seater with less space than its competitors but with a lot more electric capability—is $32,495 after its $7,500 federal credit. Shoppers also need to look at state incentives, and compare lease deals. (There are amazingly low lease deals offered on the Volt through early September.)

The C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid begins arriving this fall at EV Certified Ford dealers in 19 markets, followed by nationwide rollout in all 50 states in early 2013. How easy or difficult will it be to buy the C-Max Energi? It’s too early to say, but judging by the lack of availability and information at dealerships about the Ford Focus Electric, it might be tough. Let’s hope Ford will treat distribution of its first plug-in hybrid with a more results-oriented approach than its all-electric Focus. The Focus Electric went on sale in May—but through July, the company has managed on 135 sales (with only 38 sales reported in July).

Meanwhile, Toyota has sold more than 5,000 plug-in versions of the Prius since it went on sale in March. The year-to-date tally for Volt sales passed the 10,000-unit mark in July.


· rasworth (not verified) · 5 years ago

I have spent many hours studying the various hybrid, electric, and plug-in hybrid vehicles, both those available today and coming shortly. I believe you have somewhat under rated the Energi; it's the first vehicle that has met my requirements wrt form factor (I presently drive a Lexus RX-350) and options. Specifically, the Energi (as well as the base C-Max hybrid) offers leather trim, a power drivers seat and power liftgate, all of which I have found to be desirable after owning the RX. I test drove the Prius V, which is a much better vehicle IMO than the base Prius, but it does lack the creature comforts I want.

· CharlesF (not verified) · 5 years ago

According to the Toyota web site:
the plug in Prius (PIP) has 134 combined HP, not 188. I am not sure you will notice the difference because the C-Max out weighs the PIP.

Also from the web site the 11 mile EV range for the PIP is not a pure EV range: "2012 EPA electricity plus gasoline range combined estimate. Estimate based on fully charged battery."
The EPA site has the 11 miles as E+G. Ford is using the EPA sticker to get the 6 mile all EV range.

So Ford is correct about the 6 mile all EV range. I hope they are not comparing their guessed at 20 mile range of E+G with the PIP's 6 mile E only range. I hope we know very soon.

The top EV speed of 62 for PIP is not fast enough to keep up with freeway traffic, but the 85 for the C-Max is.

10 extra miles of range is just noise.

I really like the idea of a EV only mode that has a get me out of here over ride when the accelerator is floored.

· · 5 years ago

We have compliance EVs - electric cars that most people outside of California can't buy or even lease- and now we have Fake Range Extender EVs (FREEVs): basically, gas cars with electric range extenders that do virtually nothing.

I would hope that California won't (if it hasn't already) give these FREEVs any special preferences enjoyed by its Zero Emissions Mandate. Manufacturers need to be able to provide a car that can operate purely in EV mode for at least 40 miles and at all speeds up to the legal highway speed limit (the Volt providing the minimum benchmark.) Otherwise, it's a FREEV and needs to be regulated accordingly . . . like any other ICE car.

Meanwhile, I hear regularly from a friend here in Tucson who is still waiting on the delivery of his new Ford Focus EV. If they're really selling so poorly, perhaps Ford could at least fulfill one of their outstanding real EV back orders, instead of hawk these new, fake ones?

· Spec (not verified) · 5 years ago

"It’s actually a good thing for the gas engine to be used at speeds above 65 miles per hour."

No. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.

If you are 2 miles from home and you've got plenty of charge in the battery then it is not good to use the gas engine. Just drain the battery and plug in when you get home.

If you are driving 20 miles to the next down and then will drive around on the city street when getting there, then yes, it is good to use the gas engine. Use the gas engine for the 65 mph freeway driving and then turn off the engine and go EV driving around the city.

· · 5 years ago

@rasworth - If creature comforts are the selling point for C-Max, then by all means, Ford should emphasize them. But its marketing focuses on plug-in technology instead.

@CharlesF - The 6 mile part of the all-electric range is indeed confusing. It'll be fascinating to compare sticker-to-sticker. I've seen guesses that the C-Max Energi has an 8 or 9 kWh pack, but have they announced an exact size? PIP is 4.4 kWh. So can we say that C-Max has twice the energy storage? If so, that's really good. But it's not "more than triple" as Ford claims.

I pulled the 188 horsepower for PIP right from the Ford press release. I'm not easily finding the 188 hp number from Toyota--but the gas engine is rated at 134 hp and the electric motor is 80 hp. Total combined at 188 sounds about right. Hmm.

· Danpatgal (not verified) · 5 years ago

We are still, kind of, interested in what the Ford C-max Energi can do, but like Benjamin, the more I look into the details, it seems like a kind of fake out to get you to think their vehicle is more EV than ICE, when the converse appears to be the case. After the major delays and half-hearted promotion of the Focus EV, Ford hasn't won me over on their ability or desire to provide real electric transportation.

Since we couldn't be sure of delivery time, good EV range nor a decent cargo space (the specs on the Energi showed less cargo space with seats down than our current Focus Wagon), we decided we'd keep our ICE Focus and get the smaller i-Miev for most the rest of our driving. Message to Ford: You missed out. And so far, we feel we made the right decision.

· CharlesF (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Brad - I think you or Ford misread or misprinted the press release. The C-Max Energi has two HP ratings. In "Charge Sustain Mode" both C-Maxs are rated at 188HP. In "Charge Depletion Mode" the Energi (I really dislike that name) is 195HP. The Energi has a 7.5kWh battery and the normal hybrid a 1.4kWh battery. All info from:

@Danpatgal - Ford's desire is to make a profit. If Mr. Alan Mulally thinks that selling EVs will make a profit, Ford will build EVs. He seems to be a stickler for making a profit on every car, so do not expect the Focus EV to be sold at much if any of a loss.

As for how electric the three affordable plug ins are depends on your situation. The PIP is an EV only if you stay off of the freeways, and have a very short drive (like 6 miles). The Volt (and I agree with GM that calling it and EREV is truthful) gives you 38 all EV miles regardless of the speed you drive (to clarify, how you drive will effect the EV range, but as long as the battery has enough charge it will be an EV). The C-Max Energi is in between. If Ford is correct about the 20 mile all EV range as long as the accelerator is not floored, it is much more Volt like than PIP like for 20 miles.

EV Range
|----| PIP
|----|----|----|---- C-Max Energi
|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|-- Volt

I am hoping to replace my old Focus wagon with a new car within the next 9 months. The Prius v does not have the height to haul my typical cargo. I hope that one or both C-Maxs will. If so I will be buying another Ford. If not who knows.

· · 5 years ago

Thanks CharlesF. So battery size are 4.1 kWh, 7.5 kWh and 16 kWh for the PIP, C-Max Energi and Volt respectively. That's a useful comparison. (Bear in mind that the Volt only uses about half its energy.)

· · 5 years ago

I agree that "the success of the Ford C-Max Energy will depend much more on production numbers and sales execution".

But one thing Brad doesn't mention is the form factor. It is make or break for a lot of folks including my wife. She wouldn't even look at Volt or PIP. Energi she may get interested in.

Doubling of EV range is also very important. Thats where I differ with Benjamin. A lot of gas usage is because of driving closer to home (since avg miles driven is something like 40 miles). Between C-Max Hybrid and Energi - an average driver will see a sharp drop in gas usage. That makes a big difference to me.

· · 5 years ago

PS : I should note that Ford doesn't mention much about the form factor either. I think that is a big mistake.

· · 5 years ago

@EVNow - Totally agree on form factor. The challenge there is that Americans are unfamiliar with the European-style small utility hatch--or whatever you call the C-Max. Not only is it exotic technology, but U.S. buyers have never seen this kind of cross between different segments. It means that Ford has to explain what it is. Consumers will have to think. Not a van or a wagon, but a high-riding hatchback the size of a Focus but bulkier. It might be more work to understand it than average buyers want to put in. And it's really not that big.

· · 5 years ago

Brad, I have to disagree with your assessment (on paper since I have not actually driven the Ford yet). I apologize if I am repeating the same points as others have but.
First, 85 mph vs 62 is a big deal at highway speeds, especially if you can get there without use of the engine while accelerating to that speed. It also looks like you will be able to “force” the electric to stay on (or allow it to not) with the EV Only mode which may address Spec’s points.
Second, as noted, the PIP EV only number is 6 miles. The 11 is E+G on the label which mean the PIP can not drive the city drive cycle without the engine coming on (i.e. the acceleration in the city cycle exceeds the capability of electric only which forces the engine on). We don’t know if the Energi can achieve pure electric on the drive cycle yet but if it can’t, this will show up on the e+g number on the label. Bottom line is, if Ford is truly comparing the EV only number, they are 3 times better which is great for a vehicle that is heavier, higher capacity, and costs less. Costs less is a big point since they managed to beat the PIP (after incentives) with a significantly bigger battery, which at $500/kWh, should put the Energi several thousand over the PIP.
And finally, a point that nobody has made yet. That is the refinement of the Fords. Every Ford (hybrid) that I have driven hands down beats the competition in technology (I think they are the leaders in driver information since the introduction of the Fusion Hybrid), creature comfort, drivability and overall “fun to drive” factor. IMHO, the Prius is a box on wheels with lousy gauges and poor interior quality. The Volt isn’t much better with cheap plastic interior, slapped together and hard to read main instrument screen, and, I might add, Chevy should be embarrassed to have manual seats in a $38000 car. I have driven the Volt and based on overall driving experience, I would not pay $15000 for it if it weren’t a plugin.

· · 5 years ago


Only two things my wife cares about are high seating and good enough luggage space. Energi seams to meet the first criteria (which PIP and esp. Volt fail at). We have to check the second one ...

· · 5 years ago

My understanding is that the Focus EV is low volume and will stay that way, but the C-Max hybrid won't be. Ford will built it in 2 different places. In America for local demand, and in Valencia (Spain) for the European market.

· Giuseppe (not verified) · 5 years ago

Ford is dead wrong claiming only a 6-mile all-electric range for the Prius PHEV. In fact, strictly speaking, it seems that the Prius does not have a true all-electric range. The EPA (see states that 0.2 gallons of gasoline per 100 miles are used along with 29 kWh of electricity per 100 miles when running in the closest mode the Prius has to purely electric. This amounts to a mix of about 90% electricity and 10% gasoline. So about 10 out of the stated 11 miles of range are powered by electricity. I do not know why the Prius needs to use this tiny amount of gasoline, and I wonder what would happen if the gas tank were empty and the battery full: would the car refuse to move?

· CharlesF (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Giuseppe - I understand how you got your numbers. I did the same thing. I just found it hard to believe that Ford would put out a easily verifiable number that was bogus. So I looked some more and found the PIP's EPA/DOT window sticker. There it was 11 miles of E+G range and 6 miles if E only range. Not sure how the EPA came up with the value, but they did. So Ford is covered for saying 6 mile all EV range.

I also looked back at the Ford statements of EV range for the C-Max plug in. I am guessing the EPA sticker will be the following:

21 miles blended EV range
12 miles all EV range
97 MPGe
46 MPG city
44 MPG highway

BTW did you know the EPA/DOT has different window stickers for series and parallel hybrids?

· Giuseppe (not verified) · 5 years ago

CharlesF: Where did you find the PIP's EPA/DOT window sticker?

· CharlesF (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Giuseppe - Google and Google found:

· Allen (not verified) · 5 years ago

Don't forget that the Prius, whether regular or PIP is a very low emissions car. When the engine starts, it goes through a one minute warmup cycle if it has cooled off, collecting exhaust in a canister, running the engine at a special mixture setting, etc to keep the emissions down. The ICE on a normal car has its worst emissions at an idle, which the Prius avoids. BTW, the non PIP Prius (I have a 2005) goes about a half mile at less than 30 MPH or so on the battery only. I have the after market EV mode switch which has a mind of its own, sometimes refusing to go into EV mode even with a good charge and the engine running more than the one minute. Since a run into town and back is about 6 miles, I can never get there and back. Also, I don't know about other Prius owners, but my in town MPG is far less than my highway MPG. I am around 47 MPG overall with about 80,000 miles on the odometer. Winter is lower than summer, probably because of the extra alcohol content of regular fuel.

· · 5 years ago

@Brad, you are so correct that ultimate success of this car will depend on production numbers and sales execution. But, if I were Ford I would be trying to go after the PIP, too. Prius is an established brand with a huge customer base. One doesn't need to get too many of them to pick the C-Max instead to have a successful launch. And, while all of these split hairs don't mean much on their own, together they add (theoretically) to a better car for less money. I'm always more suspicious when I hear one very specific claim trumpeted by a car company - "best towing capacity of any mid-sized near luxury SUV made in America" or some such thing. But more EV driving range, faster EV driving, leather seats, lower sticker price etc start to add up to a a better car at a better price made by union labor in the US.
It's not as pretty as the Focus 5-door, though. I walked past one today while walking my dog and that is one handsome little car. Like if Tom Cruise were a car.

· Giuseppe (not verified) · 5 years ago

CharlesF: Thanks for the link. I guess I owe Ford an apology. However, the EPA numbers do not seem consistent to me. Of the 11 miles of "blended range", 90% are electric miles. At 0.29 kWh/mile, 2.87 kWh would be used, which is 65% of the full 4.4 kWh that the battery holds. On the other hand, 6 miles on nothing but electricity would use 1.74 kWh. What happened to the remaining 1.13 kWh? Perhaps EPA should revise their numbers -- or at least explain this inconsistency.

· Eve (not verified) · 5 years ago

I am a Prius owner (170,000 miles and counting on original battery, almost no repairs) but, trying to "buy local" and wanting a higher, more station-wagon like car, I have ordered a regular C-Max. I would really like to get the plug-in, but even though my town is about to install 4 charging stations, no local dealers are handling the Energi. They and other dealers I have tried seem to know little or nothing about it (or even the regular C-Max hybrid) and certainly aren't promoting it, unlike Toyota, which has been trying to sell me a plug-in hybrid since 6 months before they were available.

Can anyone tell me where these 19 markets where plug-ins are going to be available are -- and when they will have cars? Also, no one at Ford can seem to tell me what service I can get done from a dealership that does not sell the Energi. Ford is TERRIBLE at information and marketing of anything except trucks.

· · 5 years ago


Just wait - and slowly the information will come out. We can't be in too much of a hurry trying to get these new cars ...

The 19 markets are the same ones FFE is available at. Where do you live ?

· · 5 years ago

C-Max Hybrid is already on dealer's lots - ahead of schedule (originally they were suppose to come in fall):

May be we will see C-Max Energi soon too.

· Giuseppe (not verified) · 5 years ago

Yegor: The C-Max inventory at the local dealer of your link is not on the lot, but on order. No delivery date is given on the website, but Ford's notes say the cars are being built.

· JSAMP (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Brad, the HP numbers for the Prius are: Engine: 98hp, Elec. Motor: 80hp, Battery: 36hp, Combined = 134hp. The battery is the limiting factor on the amount of EV power available, so the combined is the engine+battery. I got this from Toyota's own web site: In EV only mode, the battery can deliver 51hp. I'm not sure why it can't do that in combined g/e mode.
Agreed that you often have to do some sleuthing to get to the real numbers.

Personally, I don't like the looks of any of them. I've got my eye on the Fusion Energi that is coming out just after the C-Max. That is a much more beautiful car in my (American) opinion. A mid-size sedan PHEV that can get ~100MPGe and 47mpg once the battery is depleted is a winner in my opinion. I just wish the battery got more than 20-21 miles EV only mode.

· Ed (not verified) · 5 years ago

Bloggers and testers are seeing 60 MPG instead of the rated 47 MPG for the hybrid C-Max. If this is common and typical, which we'll find out soon, then this alone will nullify your biased "article".

Time will tell.

· · 5 years ago

@Ed - I've been driving a loaner C-Max Hybrid for the past few days. Sorry, but I'm not getting anywhere near 60 mpg. More like low 40s, in real-world driving--which is a typical kind of difference between EPA label numbers and driving without a conscious effort to maximize mileage.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

@ Ed - Low 40's is good for the loaner C-Max Hybrid. The EPA is 47mpg. Until the vehicle passes it's 6k mile break in there can be a 5mpg impact. Actual others are posting mpg of 32-55mpg on Compared with Prius v drivers with a range from 35-52mpg. It's all about learning to drive a hybrid like a hybrid.

· · 4 years ago

Why Ford C-Max Hybrids are getting low MPGs analysis.

I have posted my report here:

My math substantiates my test condition findings.  Should I have made a mathematical error, please let me know.  I reiterate, the C Max should be getting around 61 mpg at 60 mph...the math proves it.  Ford...if your reading this...please lower my RPMs in the next CVT firmware release!  I will also volunteer to test your beta version for free.  Thanks in advance!

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