When it comes to hybrids, there are remarkably few options that acknowledge that some people would like to enjoy the driving experience and get good fuel economy. It seems that for the most part, impressive fuel economy in a hybrid has been equated with ho-hum driving dynamics and yawn-inducing interior design. And while greenies may argue that hybrid drivers might not care about fun, as hybrid technology becomes less exotic and more ubiquitous, there's a certain percentage of car buyers who wish they didn't have to give up driving enjoyment just to own a fuel-sipping car. Luckily for them, the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid has come to the rescue.
Though a brand-new vehicle, the hybrid is based on the Ford Fusion, already a popular non-hybrid midsize family sedan that we've found to be roomy and sporty to drive. We previously had a few complaints about the Fusion, but almost all of them have been addressed by the 2010 model-year redesign, which introduced new sheet metal that kicks up the Fusion's visual presence, more powerful engines, a new six-speed transmission and extensive interior improvements.
Essentially a Fusion SEL fitted with a hybrid drivetrain and the slick Smart Gauge with Eco Guide driver information system, the Ford Fusion Hybrid carries a $3,300 price premium over the non-hybrid version. But if you buy your Fusion Hybrid before September 2009, you'll be eligible for a $1,700 hybrid tax credit, which closes that gap to $1,600 over the non-hybrid Fusion. That's still pretty steep, especially when you consider a Toyota Camry Hybrid is only about $600 more expensive than a comparable non-hybrid Toyota Camry XLE. But to many, hybrid ownership isn't always about how much it costs them up front. If that's true for you, read on.
Like every 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, our test car featured a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine good for 156 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque paired with an electric motor that raises those numbers to 191 hp and 166 lb-ft, respectively. Its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), though great for fuel economy, was a little rattly and slow to respond to more aggressive driving. Ford claims that the Fusion Hybrid can run solely on electric power up to 47 mph even with the air-conditioning on, provided you adhere to the strict circumstances required in order to accomplish that feat, including a battery that's at least half charged, impossibly feather-light pressure on the gas pedal and no inclines in the road ahead. During our time with the car, we didn't achieve the glorious all-electric 47 mph, but the Fusion Hybrid was so good in so many other ways, we didn't mind.
While a little off the pace from its Camry Hybrid and Nissan Altima Hybrid rivals, the Fusion Hybrid still boasts respectable acceleration. Our test vehicle accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds, a few tenths off the Camry Hybrid's time. In normal driving, we were perfectly happy with the Fusion Hybrid's merging and passing power, as long as we planned ahead a bit to make our move. And we were pleasantly surprised by the inconspicuous electric-gas transition; the Fusion's drivetrain doesn't scream "I'm a hybrid and I'm switching modes!" at you.
The brakes on our Fusion Hybrid performed well at the test track, at least initially. Our test car's best 60-0-mph braking distance was its first run: a class-topping 126 feet. However, by the fifth try, the brakes showed significant fade and turned in a shockingly poor 160-foot braking distance. But unless your daily driving requires frequent, repeated hard-braking situations, this likely won't be much of an issue for the average Fusion Hybrid driver. In all scenarios, pedal feel and feedback were adequate for what you'd expect from a hybrid's regenerative brakes: not extraordinary, but not dangerously disconnected or overly grippy, either.
The Fusion Hybrid outshines most other midsize hybrid sedans in handling (the exception is the Nissan Altima Hybrid, which is not available in every state). It's generally well controlled, with limited body motion around corners, and manages not to feel terribly heavy, despite tipping the scales at 3,800 pounds (a bit more than its competitors). The electric power steering is responsive and provides lots of feedback to the driver.
The EPA estimates that the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid will return fuel economy of 41 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway. During a fuel consumption test in rainy conditions we managed to get only 35.7 mpg on a 178-mile loop of urban driving, though the car's trip computer claimed we got 37 mpg. Over the rest of our time with the Fusion Hybrid (still in mostly rainy conditions), we averaged about 37 mpg in mixed driving.
The cabin of our Fusion Hybrid test car was a comfortable and pleasant place to be, thanks to interior improvements across the Fusion model line for 2010. Our test car's optional heated (front-only) leather seats were supportive without feeling hard, and were wrapped in charcoal black leather that was soft to the touch, though quite slippery. Underneath the leather, the seats themselves are made from 85 percent recycled post-industrial materials. Staffers of various sizes had no problem finding a suitable driving position thanks to the six-way power driver seat (lumbar adjustment is manual, but the knob is easy to reach), decent headroom and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. On a longer trip, rear-seat occupants praised the rear seat's firm cushions, but taller passengers complained about a lack of headroom.
Thanks to the soft suspension damping that gives the Fusion Hybrid its easy, comfortable ride, we found it to be quite smooth and stable, even from the backseat. Additionally, the midsize sedan's limited body roll around corners, quiet ride and a relatively light feel make it one of the more agreeable hybrids in the midsize segment.
The big functionality news about the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid is what Ford calls Smart Gauge with Eco Guide, an interactive gauge system that offers detailed fuel economy information and also coaches the driver to maximize fuel-efficiency. You select from four different levels of information (named "Inform," "Enlighten," "Engage" and "Empower") depending on how much data you want on display. Choose Inform and it's just the facts, ma'am: fuel and battery levels only. Empower adds electric vehicle mode indicator and a tachometer. Engage ups the ante with engine and battery output indicators. Finally Empower is a constant stream of real-time data including instantaneous fuel economy and how much battery power accessories like the headlights and A/C are using.
One of our favorite elements of Smart Gauge is the "Efficiency Leaves," an eye-catching and user-friendly graphic of a plant with elegantly curving branches and green leaves of many sizes. With more fuel-efficient driving (for instance, a light touch on the gas pedal from a stop or coasting while at higher speeds), you can "earn" more leaves and branches on your plant. Stomp the gas or the brakes too hard and fast, and your hard-earned leaves and branches start to disappear. It's a brilliant, though potentially distracting, way to give drivers a quick snapshot of how fuel-efficiently they're driving.
Like many hybrid sedans, the Fusion Hybrid has limited luggage capacity because of the placement of the drivetrain's batteries, which not only makes for a small trunk, but also rules out the possibility of a split-folding rear seat for additional cargo-carrying. At 11.8 cubic feet, the Ford has slightly more room than the Toyota Camry Hybrid but 4 cubes less than the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid. Our moderately sized test suitcase took up most of the usable space in the Fusion Hybrid's trunk.
Though mounted quite low in the center stack (and therefore difficult to see at a glance), the dual-zone automatic climate controls are simple and easy to use thanks to large knobs and dedicated mode selector buttons (that is, a separate button for each air direction). Likewise, the audio system's controls are intuitive and simple overall. A minor complaint is that the center stack's audio preset buttons are all the same size and shape, and without distinguishing characteristics to help our groping fingers, though with redundant steering wheel buttons and Sync voice activation, this is less of an issue.
The Fusion Hybrid's interior storage options are average: a couple small spots for parking cards and cell phones, two cupholders, a medium-size bi-level center console, small door pockets with bottle holders and a clever pop-up compartment on the top of the dash. A pull-down armrest in the backseat houses cupholders for rear occupants; the rear doors feature small door pockets and bottle holders, too.
As you'd expect in a midsize sedan, we had no trouble installing our child safety seat, and there was plenty of room for the front passenger with it installed rear-facing.
Design/Fit and Finish
The freshened exterior design elements for all 2010 Fusions (including this brand-new hybrid version) aim for a sportier, sleeker and edgier effect and include a new front end with a chunky chrome grille, larger foglamps and new headlights. Inside, the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid has an upscale but subdued interior courtesy of brushed aluminum-look plastic and lots of soft-touch surfaces that accent the cohesive dash, with small amounts of chrome to brighten things up. Though our test car was a pre-production model, we found the materials and build quality admirable for a car in this price range, and we detected neither squeaks nor rattles.
Who should consider this vehicle
Midsize hybrid sedan shoppers who prize segment-leading fuel economy, an engaging drive and an elegant user interface — but don't mind paying a premium over the non-hybrid Ford Fusion.
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