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2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid Review

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Getting Accolades from Everyone
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

“The most fuel efficient mid size sedan in America” is Ford’s tag line for the Fusion Hybrid. Rated at 36-mpg on the highway and 41 in the city by the EPA, the Fusion is certainly ahead of the pack. You might get a little better mileage with the Jetta TDI (diesel), but that’s a smaller car costing a tad more. Or other hybrid fans out there might note that Prius has the same interior volume and better mpg numbers. But Prius is a quirky, and small, hatchback, not a main stream sedan.

So, is all this just picking nits?

Who really cares. It’s just nice to know Ford is building an attractive, affordable, fuel-efficient car that people really want to buy. And, isn’t that the goal everyone is promoting?

We reviewed the basic 4-cylinder Fusion a few weeks ago and found it quite an impressive family sedan with good performance, fine road manners and excellent quality. Fusion (starting under 20-grand), and it’s Mercury and Lincoln siblings, continue to garner accolades for quality and design. In fact, last week the folks at Consumer Reports released their most recent picks with Fusion right at the top. They also noted that hybrids in general did amazingly well in their quality surveys, allaying fears that so much technology might result in problems.

The Fusion itself was introduced by Ford in 2005 as a 2006 model. While competent and well built it was a bit tepid in performance and appearance. Each year has brought incremental improvements in both, but for 2010 a substantial freshening of the Fusion brought it right up to date, particularly in the appearance department. Of course, the other big news for 2010 is the Hybrid version we’re reviewing this week.

Fusion Hybrid is a substantial leap forward from Ford’s Hybrid Escape. This one can go much longer distances and more reasonable speeds using just electric power, depending on the driver’s touch. Escape’s four-banger engine had to run just about the whole time and as a result the potentially excellent mileage was compromised.

Fusion Hybrid’s 156-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder features what is known as an Atkinson cycle calibration. That means greater mileage can be gained by keeping the intake valve open longer during the intake cycle. Power is compromised but with electric boost (making the equivalent of about 190-hp combined) that’s not a problem. The 3,800-pound Fusion Hybrid will still do 0-to-60-mph in a reasonably quick 8.5 seconds. For most Fusion Hybrid buyers that probably won’t be tested often. Hard acceleration, by the way, results in a lot of wheezing because the CVT transmission allows the small 4-cylinder engine to rev high and stay there. This is not a car that is gratifying to drive hard.

In the trunk hides the advanced nickel-metal-hydride battery pack that does not require auxiliary cooling. It packs 20% more electrons than does the Escape Hybrid’s pack. Of course that means there is considerably less room for cargo back there than the non-hybrid sedan - 11.8 cubic-feet as opposed to the standard 16.5.

We find a very pleasant environment inside. The instrument panel is one of the most interesting elements of the Fusion Hybrid. We can select any of four modes with a varying level of information. The “Inform” mode displays only speedo, fuel and temp gauges, battery charge level and the leafy efficiency display. The “Empower” mode adds a bunch of other electronic displays that help us see exactly what’s going on instantly with our driving style that helps enable enhanced driving techniques. Two other modes in between add the features a few at a time. Ambient lighting, improved materials and freshened design overall makes the inside a comfortable and interesting place to be.

In spite of running all week in the Empower mode, where we see our instantaneous efficiency, I find that I wasn’t able to drive in a maximum efficiency style. I only managed 37.5 mpg. Still not bad. Of course my driving involves very little city traffic which is where hybrids are most efficient. With the 17-gallon fuel tank our range is still over 600 miles.

The base price on this Fusion Hybrid is $27,270 and comes equipped about like the SEL sedan. If you carefully parsed the numbers you’ll find that the hybrid system adds about $3,500 to the cost of the car. Standard equipment includes 17-inch aluminum wheels, automatic headlights, capless fuel filler, 8-way power seats, dual zone climate controls, that fantastic LCD instrument cluster, SYNC voice activated system, Sirius satellite radio, regenerative braking, up-to-date electronic chassis controls, and all the other stuff you’d expect.

Our test cars has the optional leather trimmed, heated front seats costing $1,190 and a $2,250 package that includes blind spot warning system, a slick and clear rear view camera in the mirror, power moon roof, and premium Sony sound system. With the $725 destination and delivery charge this one bottom-lines at $31,435.

So, is a hybrid for you? And, in particular, is the Fusion Hybrid for you? Those are not simple questions, particularly if you want to consider the total carbon implications of your decision. That is, the environmental impact of the production of everything that goes into the car as well as the efficiencies. You might also want to run the numbers to see if saving 25 to 30% on fuel costs will justify the extra cost of the car itself. The calculations are not as favorable as they were a few months ago before the Federal government subsidy expired.

Warranty coverage is 3 years or 36,000 miles bumper to bumper and 5 years or 60,000 miles on the powertrain. The hybrid components are warranted for 8 years or 100,000 miles. Some folks have expressed concern about battery pack failures in hybrids generally, but that has not been a problem for any of these cars yet.

Many choices confront the customer who wants a hybrid family sedan - Camry, Malibu, Altima and others. If you’d like a competent, comfortable, new green car from an American company, this might be your baby.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved