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Ford, CMAX Energi, Ford CMAX Energi, plugin hybrid, hybrid car, green car, green transportation, hybrid vehicle, test drive, Laura Cowan, Laura K. Cowan

The first thing we checked was that all-electric range. The CMAX Energi claims 21 all-electric miles on a full charge, but we tested the CMAX in cold weather, and even with an overnight charge could still only get 12 miles. This was a consistent number for the week of our test. Always 12 miles to start, then head down from there. If you live near a city, no big deal. You can run errands on all-electric power, quick-charge the CMAX Energi in your garage, rinse and repeat. And if you run out of juice, the backup engine will give you an average of mid- to high-thirties gas mileage (our real numbers: estimates are 41-44 mpg) for an estimated 620 miles more. The full range on this vehicle is no compromise at all, and it will never leave you with range anxiety.

So how does it drive? Handling was surprisingly good for a plug-in hybrid. You’ll remember our tests of the Chevy Volt and plug-in Prius resulted in some slip-ups on dirt roads. That’s because plug-in hybrids increase gas mileage and electric range by using ultra-slippery low rolling resistance tires. But, the CMAX Energi managed to hold its own fairly well even on icy roads. It had a tendency to skid or get stuck in really icy conditions, but for a plug-in it really wasn’t bad. Compare it to a small compact for winter driving performance, and at low speeds it really stuck to the road.

The engine noise, though. Oh boy. And we do mean oh boy. Because this 188-horsepower engine is more than adequate for decent acceleration, but push it hard and it wails like a boy who just ran over his cat. The CMAX Energi is pleasantly smooth at highway speeds when you’re cruising, whisper quiet in all-electric mode, but don’t poke it with a stick. It moans. However, the CMAX Energi is affordably priced starting at just $25,000, and you really will be surprised how smooth and quiet the ride is under most conditions. And who drives a plug-in hybrid like an automotive journalist? Only nutcases, probably. Skip through our photo gallery to see just how muddy we can get these things.

+ Ford