Published November 16, 2012
Ford’s new Fusion could sell on its good looks alone, but there’s plenty going on under the skin.
Four different versions are available, including the hybrid tested here, and a plug-in model is on the way next year.
Aside from badges, all of the cars are virtually identical and let their spec sheets do the talking. In the case of the Hybrid, it’s the 47 mpg combined fuel economy rating that will draw your attention.
That figure represents a jump of 8 mpg over last year’s Fusion Hybrid, is 6 mpg more than the current Toyota Camry Hybrid and hot on the tail of the once and perhaps not future efficiency champ, the 50 mpg Prius. Ford pulled this off by giving its third generation hybrid powertrain a smaller internal combustion engine, a bigger electric motor and a more potent lithium-ion battery pack.
It’s basically the same system found in the also all-new Ford C-Max Hybrid crossover, which is also rated at 47 mpg. For just two grand more than that cute but anonymous little bubble car, the $27,995 price tag on the Fusion Hybrid buys you all of the goodness of the rest of the Fusion lineup, starting with its head turning style.
It’s very American in that it is a melting pot of foreign design cues, but would look as dramatic at twice the price. With its bold grille, steely-eyed headlights and strong profile, all you have to do is park one next to any midsize European luxury car and watch which one gets gawked at. You’ll feel much better about your purchase if you do.
The cabin is a visual delight, cribbing from Volkswagen’s “less is more” playbook, but with enough snazz to remain familiar to anyone who just stepped out of a Ford Explorer. Largely constructed of top notch materials, there are a couple of pieces of cheap plastic that you only notice because the overall impression raises the bar so high.
The Fusion’s biggest shortcoming is that it’s a little on the tight side for an American car compared to some of its U.S.-made ‘furrin competition these days, in particular the Nissan Altima and Hindenburgesque Volkswagen Passat. Ford sells the Fusion all around the world and, unfortunately, when it comes to size the mean in other countries isn’t very extreme. Lucky for it, the new global Chevy Malibu erred even further in this direction.
Fold down rear seats are afforded by the new battery pack, which is much tidier than the enormous old tech nickel metal hydride unit that it replaces. A small step in the back half of the trunk is the only evidence that it exists, so it doesn’t kill the Fusion’s cargo carrying ability. Ikea is no longer off limits.
With its newfound proton power, the Fusion Hybrid spends much more time in electric only mode at speeds up to 62 mph. On several trips, the computer indicated that the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine was idle more than 30 percent of the time.
With a combined output of 188 hp, the Fusion Hybrid has about as much power as most standard midsize sedans, but isn’t quite as quick. It was clearly programmed to eek out more mpg than mph and to do it with as little fuss as possible.
Put your foot to the floor and the engine will still do that droning motorboat impression that all continuously variable transmission-equipped cars are known for, but between the Doc McStuffins job in the engine bay and an electronic noise reduction system, the sound levels are mostly on the QT. You’ll need to refer to one of the configurable feedback screens in the instrument cluster if you really want to track what’s going on under the hood.
Skip that exercise, and just soak in the Fusion Hybrid like any old car, and you’ll quickly learn to appreciate its fine driving dynamics. It takes turns like a champ, doesn’t float or wander, and is mostly quite comfortable, although either the suspension or stiff low rolling resistance tires could stand to be softened up a notch or two for good measure.
The Fusion Hybrid definitely enjoys a smooth, winding road, but can also be geared up for to attack impossibly long, straight boring highways like the one featured in the videogame Desert Bus. The entire Fusion lineup is well-endowed with electronic driver aids, and the Hybrid’s options list didn’t get the short shrift. There’s radar cruise control, automatic braking, blind spot warning and a camera based lane keeping system that autonomously helps steer the car between the lines as you’re fiddling to operate the touchpad climate and audio controls on the center console.
More aggressive than brake based systems of this sort, it can be very assertive, and often beats you to the punch even if you’re paying full attention to the road. When activated, it adds an artificial feeling to the electric assist steering that’s not otherwise present, but does keep you honest. Rely on it too much, however, and the Fusion will assume you’ve fallen asleep and sound an alarm.
Given a potential range of 635 miles per tank, you may actually find yourself in this position on occasion, but perhaps not as often as that number suggests. Even though I intentionally left my lead shoes at home and light-footed the Fusion Hybrid as much as possible (proving once and for all that I can, in fact, drive 55 mph) it took a lot of work to get it anywhere near 40 mpg, let alone that magic 47 mpg mark.
I’m not surprised. Compared to a Prius, the Fusion Hybrid is a big, powerful plush car, and while I expect that it’s been tuned to deliver the goods on the very specific EPA testing cycle, it’s hard to imagine it doing so well in the real world very often. Nevertheless, even the kind of fuel economy that I experienced is an unsurpassed achievement in the class and shouldn’t disappoint owners of the outgoing Fusion Hybrid or any of its competitors.
If it does, one look into those pretty eyes will get them over it.
2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Base Price: $27,995
Type: 5-passenger, 4-door hybrid sedan
Powertrain: 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder plus permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motor
Power: 188 hp
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
MPG: 47 mpg city/47 mpg combined