Hybrids look right at home parked outside frilly townhouses in San Francisco, ready to save the world from SUVs and Republicans.
After all, Leonardo what’s-his-name and lots of very important blond actresses in Hollywood sometimes drive the stolid little sparkies, stepping stylishly from them for their weekly People portraits.
But it’s really hard to imagine one sailing gleefully along at 85 mph, wearing a wicked late-night grin.
Let’s be brutally blunt here, kids: Most hybrids are about as much fun as a libertarian sock-hop.
I’m just glad Ford didn’t get the email.
Ford already builds several credible hybrids, including a well-received version of the Fusion sedan.
For some reason, the company — which still relies heavily on big, hairy-chested pickups — decided to go even further, sending us the wonderfully odd 2013 C-Max Energi, a plug-in hybrid station wagon/crossover thing.
Let me interpret some of that for you: The C-Max is based on Ford’s highly European Focus platform and is kind of a cross between a tall minivan and a Euro station wagon.
As I’m sure you’ve read, plug-in hybrids start with a conventional gas-electric hybrid powertrain — in this case, a two-liter, four-cylinder engine tied to an electric motor.
Plug-in hybrids get a stouter battery pack so you can drive them in fully electric mode for a relatively short distance.
That supposedly equates to 20 or so miles at speeds up to 75 mph in the C-Max.
Once the juice is gone, the C-Max reverts to a conventional hybrid that’s able to speed along until it runs out of gas — though you’ll have to recharge the battery if you want to buzz around in all-electric mode again.
I suggest you save that mode for ferrying old hippies and Democrats in the inner city, and rely mostly on the C-Max’s lively 188-horsepower gas and electric motors, rated at 44 miles per gallon in the city.
You won’t feel deprived. When I got my first look at the tall, somewhat thick C-Max, I thought “pig that plows."
At about 64 inches, my silver C-Max was too tall for me to see over easily — sadly.
Up front, the $33,745 C-Max wore a Focus front end with a single-bar grille up high and a toothier six-bar grille beneath it.
Unlike the homely Toyota Prius, it rolled on real wheels and tires — 22 5/50 tires on turbine-style 17-inch wheels, which helped offset some of its body bulk.
A short, raised hood and enormous swept-back headlamps flowed crisply into a huge, dramatically raked windshield.
Four big doors framed windows that might fit in a Greyhound bus, providing fine visibility.
They opened onto a black interior with immense leg- and headroom — though the vehicle’s specialized electronics consumed a portion of the cargo space behind the rear seats.
If you like highly contemporary style, you’ll appreciate this environment. A stylized black hood over the instrument panel rolled into a larger hood over a prominent center stack with a 5-by-7-inch navigation screen up high.
It was flanked by large climate-control vents and slid down into a sleek silver plastic console with a rally-style shifter for the C-Max’s continuously variable transmission.
Best of all, the steering wheel and seats were wrapped in smooth black leather, with the rich-looking seats providing reasonably good support.
The seating position was almost as upright as in a minivan. And like all Citizen Skippy hybrids, the C-Max started silently, with a lighted instrument panel the only clue that things were percolating beneath the hood and floor.
At 3,900 pounds, the C-Max seemed too porky to be perky. But its electric motor gave it a good shove away from stops, whirring to 30 mph or so under my heavy foot before the gas engine stepped in to do the real lifting.
And once the gas engine awakened, it responded enthusiastically to prods, emitting healthy four-cylinder sounds as it accelerated to 60 in 9 seconds flat, according to Car and Driver.
That is seven-tenths of a second quicker than the Prius or Nissan Leaf, and it ties President Greenjeans’ favorite sparker, the Chevrolet Volt.
Although its CVT droned under long acceleration runs, it was programmed to kick down into a passing “gear" of sorts, giving a nice little lunge when you needed a burst of power.
Even better, the C-Max offered quick and fairly lively steering — a rarity in a front-wheel-drive hybrid — that helped give the thing pretty aggressive turn-in.
Though it leaned initially, the C-Max firmed up some as it moved pretty crisply through moderate-speed curves, encouraging some slightly irresponsible drivers to flog it a bit.
I kind of enjoyed it, and I rarely say that about any mainstream hybrid.
But unlike me, hybrids continue to progress.
At some point in the near future, I bet we’ll be driving lightweight vehicles with clean, torquey diesel engines tied to highly efficient electric motors — those of us who aren’t still banging around in old outlaw V-8-powered cars.
And maybe hybrids will finally be more than political symbols then.