One of the most popular hybrids amongst auto critics, the Ford C-Max, was named one of the worst quality cars by J.D. Power this week. What's happening?

A report in USA Today points out that drivers have complained that the hybrid version often doesn't deliver the kind of fuel economy that people expect.That kind of disappointment has led some buyers to sue Ford, arguing the automaker is overstating the fuel economy on the hybrid version of the C-Max. J.D. Power also said the voice recognition system was also buggy, and was one of the biggest complaints from drivers who'd owned the car for 90 days.

Still, we loved driving the Energi version of the C-Max. A week of driving the Energi was sheer driving pleasure. There isn't much that would keep us from making this our daily driver.

To those who feel indifferent or even hostile to electric vehicles (and there are some who are), this is a complete car. It has comfort and adequate cargo for family needs, and wonderful performance -- terrific off a standing start and for passing on the highway.

The C-Max is an all new car model and brand from Ford for the U.S. The C-Max Hybrid was introduced last fall. That car does not operate on battery power alone. It has an onboard battery along with an internal combustion engine -- similar to Toyota Prius and Ford's own Hybrid Fusion and Lincoln MKZ and the former Escape Hybrid crossover, which has gone out of production in favor of the C-Max.

Then, Ford introduced the C-Max Energi, which will take a driver about 17-18 miles on a battery charge. When the juice is gone, a gasoline powered motor kicks in to power -- but not recharge -- the battery.

For those who think of these cars as being in the same hippie realm as hemp suits and eating bark, lighten up and pay attention. Read on to see what Editor-in-Chief David Kiley thought of the car:

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Sticker Price: $32,950
Invoice Price: $30,726
As Tested Price: $35,845
Engine: 2.0-liter I4 with an 88 kw lithium-ion battery
Transmission: Electric CVT
Performance: 195 hp, 129 lb-ft of torque
Fuel Economy: 44 mpg city, 41 mpg highway
Seating: 5 people

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The C-Max is a tall multi-activity-vehicle with a modern, clean, tailored look. If you want a really hot color -- red -- that'll cost you another $395. (Annoying, I know.)

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The front seat was more than ample for my broad body. I found backseat comfort and leg-room perfectly adequate for myself, and got no complaints from two 11-year olds. The cargo space rear of the back seat may alarm some buyers. About six inches of the vertical space is gone, owing to the positioning of the battery. I can see this being a problem for folks who carry a lot of gear and go on a lot of trips. But I was able to pack a normal shopping trip's worth of groceries -- six bags -- just fine. Passengers get more room than those in the Prius plug-in or the Volt for sure.

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Ford keeps the battery weight close to the ground, which enhances handling of the car. The steering is responsive, and the car feels exceptionally well balanced. This is no MINI Cooper, but it's not supposed to be. It's an extremely well-mannered family car, perhaps a second car for a family if not the first, with a lot of pop in the accelerator.

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Not only does this small car offer the best of the company's MyFord Touch infotainment system, but it can also be had with a hands-free lift-gate, active park assist and full leather. Our test car had an option package that included a premium audio and voice-activated navigation system, Sony nine-speaker system, hands-free Bluetooth tech, power liftgate that activates with a foot wave under the bumper, rear-camera and park assist.

J.D. Power said drivers complained about the voice activated technology. Ford told USA Today that it plans to update that technology later this year, making it better at comprehending different voice patterns.

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The fuel economy of an extended-range EV like the Energi can be quite a discussion. In one week, I put 331.3 miles on the Energi. I consumed 6.01 gallons of gas for fuel economy equivalent to 55 mpg.

That fuel economy was achieved with true mixed driving. I had several trips of less than 17 miles around town in Ann Arbor, Mich., where I live. Each time I returned to my driveway, I hooked the car up to my 120-volt house current. I also had a round trip to the airport, which was about 50 miles. The charging spaces at the airport were taken by a Chevy Volt, as well as five cars that were not EVs. That's another story. I also drove twice to my office, which is a 100-mile round-trip, but we have a free charging parking space at the building, so I was able to juice up at work.

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If we limit the competitors to other plug-ins like the Volt and Prius, this C-Max Energi stacks up really nicely. All three vehicles are eligible for different Federal tax incentives, with the most generous going to the Volt ($7,500), second biggest to C-Max ($3,750) and a still-significant $2,500 to the Prius. The net result is a Ford, which has a base starting price of $32,950 (but is showing up retailing for as little as $31,800 before the tax credits) that starts at just under $30k, a Toyota that asks just over $30k and a Chevrolet for about $32,500.

The regular C-Max Hybrid is about $5,000 cheaper, and purports to get 47 mpg, but when we tested it we could only manage 34 mpg in mixed driving. There is a lot of controversy over the real-world fuel economy of the C-Max Hybrid. But the fuel economy a driver gets with the C-Max Energi has a lot to do with how one drives.

There are times when I wished the Energi had a 35 mile electric range like the Chevy Volt for greater electric-only range. But after a week, I was pretty happy with the Energi range, quickness of recharging the battery and ample packaging of the car. This is not only a car I culled live with. It's a car I would relish owning and making a daily driver or at least part of my family fleet. Driving electric in a friendly useful package like the Energi feels like the future of smart driving to me.

The key will be continuing to develop the re-charging infrastructure in the U.S. against political opposition to funding that investment, and bridging the cost of the batteries down to make the build-cost of the cars more competitive with the cost of operating a gas-only fed internal combustion vehicle while gasoline costs well below $4 per gallon.

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The Energi is one of several electric and extended-range electric vehicles I have driven. Buying one and living with one is a commitment, and very much a lifestyle. When you have a car that will run on electricity, you find yourself wanting to re-charge as often as possible. But there are a lot of drivers who don't really want a relationship with their car. They just want to turn the key and have it start reliably and be done with it.

The nice thing about the Energi is that while its range is only about 17-18 miles on the battery before the gas motor kicks in, it means re-charging the battery takes a shorter period of time. Charging fully from empty off the 120-volt charger in my garage took about 7 hours. If I had a level-two charger (about $1,500 or less depending on incentives from the local power company) installed, it would take about 2 hours. I topped up my charge whenever I could, so I only had to do the 7 hour charge a couple of times, and I did that overnight when electric rates are cheapest.

I find whenever I test drive an EV, I wind up tailoring some of my movements, meetings and such to score a public charging space, so that I can work, say, at a Starbucks or other venue with free-wifi and take advantage of free electricity. There are dozens of such spaces in Ann Arbor, where I live. Scoring free charge-ups for your car is a great feeling, like stumbling on a pair of shoes you want to buy and the clerk telling you they are two-for-one.

The Energi is quiet, fun to drive and easy to live with. At about $30,000, though, the $5,000 premium over even the regular C-Max is hard to earn back while gasoline is well below $4. But if your typical weekly driving is made up mostly of a lot of turps that are 20 miles or less, and you have access to charging stations, this could indeed be the car for you.

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