Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford hit a grand slam two years ago with the introduction of an all-new Ford Fusion Hybrid. It was awarded the North American Car of the Year prize at the 2010 Detroit auto show, named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, was one of Car and Driver magazine’s “10 Best Cars for 2010” and was given the inaugural Hermance Vehicle Efficiency Award by the publishers of HybridCars.com.

Why did the Fusion Hybrid rack up so many awards? Because the vehicle established a new benchmark in hybrid technology. Marrying a seamless, sophisticated hybrid powertrain to the outstanding Fusion platform – positioned solidly in the middle of the mainstream market – proved to be a winning combination. It’s fun to drive and speaks of refinement all around, from handling and braking through comfort and convenience. And then there was the icing on the cake – class-leading fuel economy of 41 city/36 highway and 39 combined.

Hermance Award: Essays about Fusion Hybrid

 

But Ford is not resting on its laurels. An all-new 2013 Fusion Hybrid will be in dealer showrooms this fall. It not only ups the fuel economy numbers to an expected 47 city/44 highway, it is blessed with the styling of the gasoline-powered Fusion that auto critics are calling the best-looking midsize car, bar none.

Given that the 2013 Fusion Hybrid arrives later this year, there are no changes for the 2012 Fusion Hybrid.

Correcting the Bad Rap Against Hybrids

“The Toyota Prius and other hybrids are great for eco-geeks who hold fuel efficiency, low emissions and high-tech auto technology as sacrosanct – and all other car features as sacrifice. But drivers looking for a smooth, comfortable ride – with a modicum of style and performance – might as well forget hybrids.” So went the opinion of many auto journalists who historically dinged hybrids for lackluster driving characteristics, squishy brakes, and clunky transitions between gas and electric power. But that was before the Ford Fusion Hybrid, a family sedan that offers 41 mpg in the city – and more importantly, some fun and refinement behind the wheel.

USA Today emphatically stated, “The Ford Fusion Hybrid is the best gasoline-electric hybrid yet.” And Car and Driver said, “High mpg is a hybrid must, but the Fusion interpretation adds a modicum of fun-to-drive, thanks to precise steering.”

From Gas to Electric and Back

Ford engineers did a remarkable job of eliminating the flutter-rumble that many hybrids make when transitioning from gas engine to electric mode. In the Fusion Hybrid, the gasoline engine seamlessly starts up and shuts down “with only the very faintest shudder” according to Automobile magazine. USA Today goes further: “There was no – none, nada, zip – vibration or shimmying in the test car when the gasoline kicked in to help the electric. No other hybrid – not even that $112,000 Lexus – can make that claim 100 percent of the time.”

Ford Fusion Hybrid

The Fusion Hybrid – and its sibling at the time, the Mercury Milan Hybrid – were the first vehicles to use Ford’s second-generation hybrid system. Hybrid-electric vehicle systems engineer Gil Portalatin told us that the control logic for the new hybrid system provides much tighter integration of engine operation and power delivery. The new logic goes as far as to vary the engine’s valve timing, fuel delivery, and spark timing to match the power delivered through the electric motor, permitting very aggressive fuel shutdown under light loads. As a result, the Fusion Hybrid’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine shuts itself off twice as often as the earlier hybrid design, with the electric system providing more power. In addition, new control logic for the regenerative brakes recaptures up to 94 percent of the braking energy and feeds it to the battery.

Zesty Drive

Enthusiasm from the auto press is also extended to the Fusion Hybrid’s road manners. Car and Driver said, “While most hybrids squeeze the fun out of driving, the Fusion has nicely weighted steering, a nimble chassis, and rides in a controlled, supple manner. You can hustle the car down a back road and get a smile on your face, which is not something one can say about the Camry hybrid.” Automobile magazine wrote, “Yeah, sure, there’s some of that artificialness in steering and braking responses that afflicts all hybrids, but it’s quite benign, and the car really does go down the road quite well. Anyone who’s shopping the Toyota Prius needs to check out this car also.” Nadaguides.com commented that the Fusion Hybrid’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine provides plenty of power for freeway ramps, while hugging the road and offering a comfortable ride.

The combined output for the Fusion Hybrid’s engine and motor is 191 horsepower. In addition to the Hybrid, the 2012 Ford Fusion lineup offers a choice of three different engines: a 2.5-liter inline-four with 175 horsepower; a 3.0-liter flex-fuel V-6 with 240 horsepower; and a performance-tuned 3.5-liter V-6 with 263 horsepower.

Ford Fusion Hybrid

The one consistent criticism regarding the Fusion Hybrid’s drive is that Ford exaggerated with its claim that the sedan can go 47 miles per hour, and as much as two miles, in all-electric mode. That requires just the right conditions for acceleration, load, battery charge level, weather – and proper alignment of stars. Unless you exert extreme care to stretch the electric drive, you shouldn’t count on more than a few blocks at relatively low speeds.

Exterior & Interior Design

The entire line of Ford Fusions – including the base S, mid-level SE, well equipped SEL, and the Fusion Hybrid – were spruced up for the 2010 model year. Car and Driver said, “The refresh makes the Fusion sharper looking, particularly since the weird headlamps of the original have been replaced.” Reviewers said the Fusion Hybrid looks like an uplevel Fusion SE or SEL. But not everybody likes the design. Bloomberg wrote, “From the lackluster rims, which look like they’re made of plastic, to the generic sedan shape, the Fusion has no flash whatsoever.”

The interior, especially the high-tech features, gets mixed reviews, but mostly positive. Detroit News said, “The new instrument cluster looks much more sophisticated, and the dash has an easy flow. The touch points are soft, and every inch of the cabin uses high-quality materials. Car and Driver added, “Inside, the Fusion also receives a new instrument panel, redesigned seats, and more stylish trim, although the quality of some of the materials isn’t yet on par with those of the class leaders.”

Ford Fusion Hybrid

The Fusion Hybrid offers Ford’s popular Sync voice-activated digital entertainment and integrated mobile phone system. Other options include blind-spot information mounted on the outside mirror, a backup camera screen cleverly hidden in the rearview mirror, cross-traffic alerts when reversing, and real-time traffic and weather through the Sirius Travel Link satellite radio system.

MyKey, added last year, will keep parents at ease when their teen drivers are behind the wheel. It chimes continuously when seat belts aren’t buckled, gives earlier low-fuel warnings, limits radio volume to 45 percent and can sound chimes at 45, 55 and 65 mph.

Standard features include bags, belts, 110-volt outlet, six-CD stereo (instead of the typical single setup), dual-zone climate control, auto on-off headlights, and auto-dimming mirror.

The Fusion Hybrid uses a new nickel metal hydride battery with 20 percent more power, in a package that’s 30-percent smaller. That means the Fusion Hybrid sacrifices only a negligible amount of trunk space compared to the standard version – but not enough to retain rear folding seats, which are not available in the Fusion Hybrid. The Camry Hybrid manages to keep folding back seats.

Fusion Hybrid Comes With Fuel Economy Nag

The 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid continues with Ford’s SmartGauge technology. Inspired by the Toyota Prius’ hybrid energy/consumption monitor, the SmartGauge goes further by helping the driver to learn specific techniques to achieve higher efficiency. The dashboard interface offers feedback to the driver – both visual and sound. In other words, it actually talks to you.

Ford Fusion Hybrid

The gauge cluster is comprised of dual hi-resolution LCD screens to display instantaneous mileage and fuel economy history – as well as key data including battery charge, engine output, and accessory power consumption. One animation depicts a vine of leaves that grows larger as the driver becomes more efficient over time. To prevent sensory overload, the system allows the driver to decide how much information to see, and what can be ignored. That’s critical, because many reviewers believe the fuel economy system is distracting. And others experienced “false alarms” from the cross-traffic alerts.

Economics

If you like the Fusion Hybrid’s more dynamic handling and performance, and smoother hybrid system, compared to the Camry Hybrid, then get ready to pay for it. The 2012 Fusion Hybrid, with a base MSRP of $28,700 is $2,800 more than the 2012 Camry Hybrid LE and $1,300 more than the top line XLE model. Depending on the model, the Camry gets either more or less city fuel economy than the Fusion. Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid is also several thousands less than the Fusion Hybrid and offers a sleek exterior plus generous interior features. The Sonata Hybrid has worse fuel economy than the Fusion Hybrid in the city, but its EPA-estimated highway fuel economy rating is better than the Fusion.

For reference, Ford’s other hybrid, the Escape Hybrid SUV, is comparably priced to the Fusion at $29,865 and offers fuel economy at 34 in the city and 31 on the highway. (Ford is dropping the Escape Hybrid in March.)

A dilemma is, should you buy a 2012 Fusion Hybrid or wait for the 2013 model with its stunning looks and improved fuel economy?

If you don’t place a premium on the latest styling or technology buy the 2012 Fusion Hybrid, it will serve you well. Plus, you can save money with the expected manufacturer incentives and dealer discounts as inventories of the 2012 model are cleared out to make way for the 2013 Fusion Hybrid.

Wait for the 2013 Fusion Hybrid if you want the advances in fuel economy, high-tech gear and safety features that accompany an all-new design. Waiting will also mean the car’s styling will look current for several years and it will be worth more at resale than the outgoing 2012 model.

Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of writing and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.

This review was originally posted when the Ford Fusion Hybrid was introduced in early 2009.