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Ford Fusion Hybrid

7th February 2010

Ford Fusion Hybrid in Atlantis Green

Ford Fusion Hybrid in Atlantis Green

The Ford Fusion has been around since the 2006 model year, and has always been considered a very good, nice looking car that is fun to drive. For the 2010 model year, introduced last year, the styling was updated to be more aggressive, and also given upgraded engines and a new interior. As mid-cycle freshenings go, this was fairly extensive and well-received. So well, in fact, that it was named the 2010 Motor Trend Car of the Year®.

The Fusion also added a hybrid model, which received the latest generation of Ford’s hybrid system, previously available on the Escape and Mariner SUVs. The new version is smaller, lighter and costs less than its predecessor. The main (maybe only) reason people buy a hybrid is to save fuel. There are different reasons to save fuel (lessen reliance on foreign oil/national security, to save $, curb global warming, other environmental concerns), but everybody is looking to save fuel. So how does the Fusion Hybrid stack up? As you can see in the table, the EPA rates the hybrid at 39 MPG combined, compared to 25 in the regular 4-cylinder Fusion. As the EPA calculates it, that will save you about $575/year (assumes 15,000 miles and $2.66/gallon). Not bad, but at that rate, it would take you 6¼ years to get your money back. This is based on a $3600 MSRP premium for the hybrid system, after adjusting for major equipment differences. As noted above, there are other reasons than simply dollars and cents that go into purchasing a hybrid, but if you are looking at it in only those terms, the investment doesn’t really work well.

When I picked up the Atlantis Green (a beautiful very dark green) Hybrid with 8915 miles on it, the first thing you notice is that it has what Ford calls the “Silent Start” system. As you can figure out on your own, this means that there is no “cranking” of the starter or “turning over” of the engine like in conventional cars. Instead, you twist the key (key? that’s so 20th century, Ford), and you take it on faith that the car has actually started. The only way I really knew it was ready to go is I put it in gear and it went.

The next thing you notice is the video game-like graphics populating the various infotainment screens –

SmartGauge with EcoGuide

SmartGauge with EcoGuide

one on either side of the central speedo (Dual LCD SmartGauge™ Cluster with EcoGuide) and the larger navigation screen on the center stack. The screen on the left side of the speedo contains various combinations of information that indicate how the engine and battery are working together. You can choose from 4 levels of information called Inform, Enlighten, Engage or Empower.

Inform is the most basic, and it only shows you the battery charge level. Next up is Enlighten, which adds a tach and an indication of the battery power being used. Engage adds the engine power being used to go with the battery, so you can try to maximize the battery usage vs. the engine. Empower offers the highest level of information. It shows you how much power you are using for the accessories (radio, climate control, lights, etc.) and also shows you how close you are to the gas engine on/off threshold vs. total power demand. This can help you to feather the accelerator to stay in the battery-powered area as long as possible if you are looking to maximize fuel economy. when you are in electric-only mode, you get rewarded with a green section at the bottom of the screen that says “EV”. At all levels except Inform, arrows on the battery charge graph show if the battery is being used or charged at any given time. It also shows green circular arrows when the regenerative brakes are active.

At this point, I should point out that the regenerative brakes are a bit of a problem. All 17,600 units built before 10/17/2009 have a software glitch that can result in a perceived loss of braking power as it shifts unnecessarily from regenerative brakes to regular. There is no actual loss of power, but the driver will have to apply extra force to obtain the necessary braking. No injuries have been reported. I experienced no brake issues of any kind.

The right side of the display shows instant fuel economy and either “efficiency leaves” or the recent efficiency as a bar graph. The leaves grow and produce more leaves as you drive efficiently, and loses them when you don’t. It’s fun to try to grow as many leaves as possible. I think that’s the point. It also shows you a trip summary every time you turn off the car, including trip fuel economy, distance traveled, gallons used and long-term fuel economy.

So how does it drive? For the most part, just like a “regular” Fusion. Which is to say, very well. The combined 191 horsepower is plenty for normal, even spirited, driving. It isn’t going win you any pinks at Thunder Road, though. But if that’s what you want, you can opt for one of the 2 different V6s (3.0L or 3.5L) that are available on the petrol Fusion. It also handles very well in the curves and the brakes, especially with the regenerative system (which uses the braking energy usually lost as heat to recharge the battery) are very good.

The Fusion Hybrid can drive up to 47 MPH in electric-only mode. I was “only” able to achieve 42 MPH. For comparison, a Toyota Prius can go 25 MPH on the battery alone. When I turned off the fan and the radio, the Fusion was so quiet in EV mode that when it came to a stop, you could clearly hear the various fluids sloshing around in their respective receptacles. It’s a bit like drinking a big glass of water and then doing jumping jacks. I never heard that in a car before.

Issues? A few. The EV mode doesn’t seem to be available when you first start driving. This is unfortunate, because emissions and fuel economy are both much worse when the engine is cold. If the battery could be utilized (assuming it is charged enough) to power the car and heat up the engine at start, both fuel economy and emissions would improve. By not having battery power available until the engine is heated completely, you also don’t get much help from the battery on a very short trip. Because my test was done in Michigan in February, the cold weather is at least partially responsible for this. Batteries simply don’t function as well in the cold.

Usually, as the computer shifts between gas, battery power and both, you do not notice it at all. As I found out testing the car, this is because you are normally applying the throttle at the time (when it shifts from battery to gas), or maybe not at all (when it shifts from gas back to battery). However, if you are attempting to maximize your economy by using the accelerator very lightly, the car shutters noticeably when shifting from EV to gas. It isn’t a violent shutter, but it is noticeable.

One other nit. As shown in the table, the hybrid gives up almost 30% of its trunk space, due to the hybrid systems. I guess this is to be expected; the battery has to go someplace, but it comes at a price.

In a variety of driving – stop & go city, highway, very gentle to full throttle, I came away very impressed with the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Overall, this is a solid performer. It gets better fuel economy than the Toyota Camry Hybrid (41/36/39 vs. 33/34/34), and the Fusion overall is more reliable than the Camry, according to Consumer Reports.

Rating: 8½ out of 10. Excellent, but not perfect.

Fusion Hybrid

Fusion I4 SEL

Base Price (MSRP)

$28,675

$25,380

Engine

2.5L I4 w/HEV

2.5L I4

Horsepower

191

175

Torque

136

172

Transmission

CVT Automatic

6-speed automatic

EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy/combined)

41/36/39

22/31/25

Curb Weight (lbs.)

3725

3342

Fuel Tank Capacity (gallons)

17

17.5

Range (city/hwy/combined)

697/612/663

385/542/437

Trunk Capacity (cubic feet)

11.8

16.5

Major Equipment Differences:

Reverse Sensing System

Standard

Optional

110-volt Power Point

Standard

NA

Ambient Lighting

Standard

NA

Dual LCD SmartGauge™ Cluster with EcoGuide

Standard

NA

6CD Changer instead of Single CD

Standard

NA

Fold down Split Rear Seat

NA

Standard

Eco-Friendly Cloth Seating

Standard

NA

Leather-trimmed and Heated Seats

Optional

Standard

Dual Exhaust

Standard

NA

Regenerative Braking System

Standard

NA

Driver’s Knee Airbag

Standard

NA

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