2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: The Highway Thing
June 14, 2010
We'd been offered an opportunity to drive the new BMW Alpina B7 up in the Bay Area over the same weekend as the Sonoma Historic Motor Races at Infineon Raceway, so I took the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid for the ride (you wouldn't call it driving, really) up there on Interstate 5. Why not, it's a car, isn't it?
And when I met up with Alpina's Andreas Bovensiepen, the son of Alpina's founder who now leads the company and a former BMW engineer of serious credentials, he asked me what kind of mileage I'd gotten while driving the 480 miles from Los Angeles.
Which is exactly the wrong question to ask about a hybrid.
It's the question everybody asks when they hear you're driving a hybrid, whether it's someone in Los Angeles who already owns a Prius or a German engineer (and part-time racer of some accomplishment) who is brand new to the whole hybrid concept. They ask, what's the highway mileage? That's because they're used to cars that do better while cruising than while driving short hops.
It's the wrong question to ask about a hybrid because the thing that boosts a hybrid's fuel economy is its ability to switch off the gasoline engine at stoplights and in stop-and-go traffic. When the engine is working full time during freeway cruising, a hybrid is just like any other car. The surprise comes not from its performance during cruising but instead from city driving. It's a reminder that a hybrid is a whole different thing, and it's not well understood by many, no matter that "hybrid" is a term in everyone's vocabulary.
Once we got past the fuel economy question, Bovensiepen loved the Fusion Hybrid. He loved the way the instrument display grew graphic leaves in response to a fuel-efficient driving style. ("Will they grow out of the dashboard once I get even better?" he asked.) He compared the quickness and smoothness of the engine start-up and engagement at stoplights to the new stop/start systems that now are featured on many small cars in Europe (only cars with manual transmissions, though). He was surprised to learn just how difficult it is to engineer a smooth transition between regenerative braking and mechanical braking. And we trundled around the paddock to discover just how fast the Fusion Hybrid would go on pure electric power before the engine kicked in (about 22 mph for us), and whether the car would climb a fairly steep incline under pure electric power (it would, though not very far).
Most of all, it was interesting to see that the challenge of driving a hybrid engaged even Bovensiepen, who has won overall at the Nurburgring 24 Hours. He recalled that as a young BMW engineer he had participated in the Michelin Bibendum Challenge with a BMW 3 Series, coaxing the most fuel economy he could from his turbo diesel and cheating like crazy by switching off the engine and coasting on downhills (and then wrestling with the suddenly unassisted steering). His reaction to the Fusion Hybrid demonstrated again that a hybrid appeals to its own kind of enthusiasts just like a BMW Alpina B7 appeals to its audience of enthusiasts.
Bovensiepen and I also agreed that the measure of a good hybrid is the refinement and efficiency with which it blends the transition between its two natures, the conventional car powered by a gasoline engine and the fuel-saving transportation module controlled (if not powered) by electronics. And I told him that the Ford Fusion Hybrid is the best of these that I've driven so far.
In case you're wondering, the Fusion Hybrid got 36 mpg on the Interstate on the way up to Sears Point and 38 mpg on the way back (it's downhill). It's a great car on the open highway in the Ford way, lively and agile without abusing you, very much in the character of the chassis setup that former Ford development engineer Richard Parry-Jones passed down to all his acolytes (much to our benefit). The sound ergonomics of the driving position overcome any compromises in sheer space within this stretched version of the last-generation Mazda 6. And even now there's still some green left in the pastures beside Interstate 5 and the cool morning air of late spring lets you see clear across the San Joaquin Valley to glimpse the snow-capped peaks that remain in the southern stretches of the Sierra Nevada.
The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid blends the personalities of car and fuel miser about as well as it can be done at this point. Why struggle with an electric car that has a limited, one-dimensional personality and forces you to own another car for serious travel when a hybrid can go everywhere and do everything?
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 6,028 miles.