C-Max Energi vs Jetta Hybrid vs Mazda6

Ford C-Max Energi review

When the C-Max Hybrid came out in late 2012 it rapidly became Ford’s best-selling hybrid. With the C-Max Energi, Ford adds plug-in rechargeable capability to the lineup. Battery capacity is 7.6 kilowatt-hours and good for a 21-mile EPA range and an 85-mph top speed on all-electric power.

Like the plugless C-Max Hybrid, the plug-in Energi handles and behaves much like the tall-wagon version it is of the admirable Focus. Performance is very unhybrid-like, with its 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder and AC motor yielding a combined 195 hp (up 7 hp from the C-Max Hybrid).

The bigger battery and the accessories add almost 260 pounds to the car’s total weight and reduce the total cargo capacity by 5 cubic feet. In gas-operated mode, the Energi is rated at 44 city/41 highway—respective drops of 3 and 6 mpg compared with the lighter Hybrid. We got a reading of 80 mpg after a 40-odd-mile run where we traveled over half that distance on battery power alone, including some miles at highway speeds.

Ford C-Max EnergiThe Energi only comes in the top SEL trim level, at a $4750 premium over the equivalent C-Max Hybrid, but a $3751 federal tax incentive brings the added cost down to $999. That makes the Energi one of the least expensive plug-ins on the market. The fact that it’s still fun to drive, though, is an incentive that’s priceless.

BASE PRICE: $33,745

Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid review

Like most gasoline-electric parallel hybrids, this addition to the Jetta lineup features an internal combustion engine with an electric motor available to add extra power without using extra gas. Unlike the others, though, the Jetta’s gas engine is turbocharged, a 1.4-liter four-cylinder with pretty good punch: 150 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque.

Jetta HybridCombined with the electric motor, total system output climbs to 170 hp. Another distinction: The Jetta integrates the hybrid system with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, a preferable arrangement with its smooth shifts and the option of manual operation (though in this application VW omitted paddle shifters). VW anticipates a o to 60 time of 8.6 seconds, and the EPA ratings are 42 city/48 highway, though the former might be a bit conservative.

In the enchanted high country around Taos, N.M., where turbocharging mitigates the power-sapping thin air, the Jetta provided plenty of thrust for two-lane passing. Inevitably, hybridization adds cost. Starting at $25,790, the Hybrid is $1050 more than the high-performance Jetta GLI. The entertaining drivetrain and extra mpg provide some compensation for this premium, but is it enough to lure consumers? We’ll see.

BASE PRICE: $26,155

Mazda6 review

Mazda has a habit of building cars that outshine the competition but don’t sell terribly well. The 2014 Mazda6 should avoid this fate.

The new Mazda6 leads with striking and aggressive exterior styling and follows through with impressive engineering. An all-new chassis saves 200 pounds due to the extensive use of high-strength steel. The stiff structure provides an excellent foundation for a suspension that is sporty without being punishing. Mazda spent a lot of time tuning the electronic power steering, and it shows in what’s easily the best feedback and feel in the segment.

Mazda6The powertrain comes in two four-cylinder flavors: a 184-hp 185 lb-ft 2.5-liter gasoline engine and an excellent, low-compression 173-hp 310 lb-ft 2.2-liter diesel. Both engines are backed by six-speed automatic or manual transmissions. The 6 also introduces a new trick to increase overall efficiency: An optional start/ stop system in the gas engine called i-ELOOP is the first mainstream application of supercapacitors, which run the car’s electronics when the engine is off instead of the battery.

The capacitors bank charges from a variable-output alternator that draws more juice when your foot is off the gas. An excellent chassis, great styling, two very capable engines, and advanced tech make the new Mazda6 one satisfying family sedan.

BASE PRICE: $21,675

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