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2013 Ford C-Max Energi SEL has 33 kilometres of all-electric range, when fully charged. (Dan Proudfoot for The Globe and Mail)
2013 Ford C-Max Energi SEL has 33 kilometres of all-electric range, when fully charged. (Dan Proudfoot for The Globe and Mail)

City Drive: 2013 Ford C-Max Energi

Electric car makes Toronto traffic (almost) bearable Add to ...

No vehicle can compensate for the special hell that is the Don Valley Parkway during rush hour, not on a bad day like this with an hour and 17 minutes of bumper-to-bumper anxiety crawling from Port Union Road to the Gardiner Expressway.

But there’s a moment of grace, noting from a digital readout that the Ford C-Max Energi SEL has used only 1.87 litres of gasoline in the mind-bending trek.

Knowing the Energi will use no gasoline at all while driving through the heart of downtown Toronto, even better.

You need to know the full story, with explanations and qualifications that come up in the course of today’s City Drive.

Ford charges a sizable premium for the all-electric capability just mentioned. Our C-Max Energi SEL lists at $36,999, whereas a regular, C-Max Hybrid starts at $27,199 rising to $30,199 in SEL trim.

The Energi advantage is 33 kilometres of all-electric range, when fully charged. (The government of Ontario offers a rebate of $5,808 as a pro-electric incentive. Ontario rebates range from $5,000 for a Toyota Prius Plug-in to $8,231 for a Chevrolet Volt.)

Once the Energi’s juice is consumed, operation reverts to a combination of gasoline and lithium-ion battery propulsion as in the less-expensive C-Max Hybrid, until the car is plugged in for another charge (requiring six hours in our experience, but two to three hours will do for those with premium 240-volt outlets, also subsidized by the province).

Fully charged, and fully gassed just before entering Highway 401 at Port Union Road, the commute to The Globe and Mail from the edge of Pickering begins at 8:24 a.m. I’m late already.

The Energi’s power impresses while accelerating through the on-ramp, but the corner introduces three quibbles: excessive leaning due to the car’s height and heft; my tendency to slide off the seat because of its lack of side bolstering; the realization these seats are really narrow.

You might be driving a street car the windshield is so big and far ahead of you. The view is panoramic. It’s great. Vision to the sides and rear also is extraordinary, easing the squeeze right as traffic density tightens with the approach of the DVP. It’s been 31 minutes just getting this far.

Now the radio traffic report warns of two lanes closed at the Bayview/Bloor exit. As though there’s any escape. Traffic is already choked. Shuffling to York Mills consumes another 10 minutes.

Full stop. Go. Stop. Time to play with the voice-controlled Sync audio/communication system. Procedures that so befuddled me when reading the owner’s manual last night become easier when communicating with the genie within the dashboard.

Saying “What Can I Say” introduces a list of suggested prompts on the screen on the centre stack. “I’m hungry” is always to my taste – and, almost instantly after saying so, the navigation is instructing me to exit at Lawrence for a nearby Italian bistro. Except I opt not, committed to the commute.

York Mills to Lawrence, another 12 minutes. Things slow down then. The long view up the hill to the Wynford exit is a ribbon of red – thousands of brake lights illuminated, everyone in a rush at a full stop.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi SEL has 33 kilometres of all-electric range, when fully charged.

Surprise, surprise, momentum starts building at Eglinton, 13 creepy-crawly minutes following Lawrence. All lanes are clear at the Bayview/Bloor accident scene and suddenly it’s a sunny day at 90 km/h. Only eight minutes after passing the Bloor exit, I’m exiting the Gardiner for The Globe. I arrive at 9:47, having covered 36.5 km in an hour and 23 minutes.

And now 21 kilometres of gasoline-free fun is at hand. I’d intended to reserve all 33 km of the electric capacity for city-centre driving, by pushing the EV-later button when starting out. I forgot that turning the car off when stopping for gasoline negated the EV-later function – I needed to push the button again after the fill-up – and so my first 12 km on the 401 were in electric mode, depleting my intended reservoir for downtown.

You can’t tell which mode you’re in at highway speeds. But the car’s near-silence pulling away from The Globe is immensely appealing. The U-turn takes all four lanes, revealing one C-Max shortcoming as a city car, but in no time at all, I’ve arrived at The Gladstone Hotel for its all-day breakfast.

Heading east on Queen afterward, the Energi is a joy in traffic, satisfying in so many ways. An electric car cannonballs away from traffic lights. In stop-and-go driving, block after block on Adelaide, where normal cars guzzle fuel, there’s satisfaction knowing it’s consuming no gas and precious little electricity. Climbing the steep ramp up into the Eaton Centre parking garage, silently, fumelessly, is pleasing as well.

Downtown is more compact than I imagined – I’ve eaten on the west side, shopped in the middle, and driven across the Don River into the east-side, and still only totalled 13.6 km since stopping at The Globe.

The readout indicates 7 km of electric driving remaining as I enter the DVP for the drive home.

The DVP isn’t through with me yet. Northbound traffic comes to a standstill at Eglinton, and this time the shuffle continues all the way to York Mills, where a tractor trailer has mounted a Mercedes-Benz SUV.

Distance covered for the day, 96.1 km. Final fill-up, 5.3 litres, plus six hours of plug-in after arriving home. Some day this sort of fuel efficiency, and this 33-km electric capability, will be viewed as baby steps in the march toward green motoring.

Tech Specs

2013 Ford C-Max Energi SEL

Type: Four-door hatchback

Base price: $36,999; as tested, $40,679 including options and $1,550 destination/pre-delivery charges, but not taxes

Engine: 2.0-litre, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder and electric motor

Horsepower/torque: gasoline engine 141 hp/129 lb-ft; electric motor 141 hp/129 lb-ft; combined, 188 hp

Transmission: CVT

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Natural Resources Canada rating, 1.9 city/1.9 highway. In our city drive, 5.3; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Prius Plug-in, Chevrolet Volt

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