The compact wagon is a well deigned and equipped plug-in hybrid that's fun to drive

FORD MOTOR COMPANY - The 2017 Ford C-Max Energi is an attractive small wagon that will travel about 20 miles in electricity along before switching over to hybrid power.Although electrified vehicles represent less than 1 percent of all auto sales, they are evolving so fast that innovative models that are just a few years old now seem dated. Such is the case with the plug-in version of the 2017 Ford C-Max Energi. When it first debuted in 2013, the compact wagon was one of the first hybrids that was actually fun to drive. And the 20 miles of pure electric power from a full battery charge was good enough for many if not most daily trips.

Fast forward to 2017 and the competition is a lot more serious. Spurred on by the EPA's higher fuel economy standards enacted under former President Barack Obama and the very real possibility that China and Europe will ban gas and diesel powered cars, manufacturers have introduced many new hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric over the past four years. The newest plug-in hybrids have more all-electric range that the plug-in Energi, and get better mileage after switching over to convention hybrid mode, too.

FORD MOTOR COMPANY - The 2017 Ford C-Max Energi can be loaded up with luxury feature, including leather seat a sun roof.But that doesn't mean the 2017 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid isn't worth considering by those wanting to lower their carbon footprints. For starters, with a base price of less than $28,000, it is still one of the least expensive plug-in hybrids on the market. It is also still among the most fun to drive and features a surprisingly roomy, well designed and equipped interior.

And 20 miles of electric-only transportation is still enough for many if not most daily trips. Over a week of test driving, I almost always made it home before completely running out of electric-only power. Longer weekend trips were different, of course, but even then, the C-Max Energi switched over to conventional, fuel saving hybrid power after 20 miles.

FORD MOTOR COMPANY - Battery levels and other information for monitoring the performance of the 2017 Ford C-Max Energi are displayed on the dash.My test SE version was priced at $28,220. A more fully loaded Titanium version starts at $30,120 and includes such upscale features as push button start, leather trimmed seats and more.

One downside was the size of the battery pack, which is mounted in the cargo bay behind the rear seats and significantly reduces the carrying capacity back there. I consider that another consequence of a four year old design. Ford recently announced it has formed a "Team Edison" group that will help produce 14 new electrified models in coming years. I predict that, with all the recent advances in battery technologies, cargo space will not be compromised in them.

FORD MOTOR COMPANY - The battery that provides electric-only power in the 2017 Ford C-Max is easy to recharge.Personally, I've been impressed by Ford's commitment to electrified vehicles in recent years, including its all-electric Focus and hybrid Fusion models. I first began reporting on such technology in 2010 when Nissan was preparing to release its Leaf, the first mass production all electric vehicle sold in this country. Nissan partnered with PGE and an EV research group at Portland State University as part of the introduction.

A Ford executive asked to speak during a Nissan-focused panel discussion at PSU back then. I can't remember his name, but he promised that Ford was also committed to EVs. As proof, he brought a prototype of an all-electric Focus we could test drive. It was a jerry-rigged project, with a chopped up dash to accomodate different monitoring equipment and a big red button on the center console that he said to hit if it caught on fire. The converted Focus drove well, but didn't seem like a serious effort. Seven years later, I see that it was.

2017 Ford C-Max Energi SE plug-in hybrid

Base price: $27,120

Price as tested: $28,220

Style: Compact wagon

Engine: 2.0-liter inline 4/electric motor (188 hp, 129 lbs-ft)

Transmission: Continuously Variable

EPA fuel economy: 104/87 MPGe

Length: 173.6 inches

Weight: 3,899 pounds

Final assembly: Michigan

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