The original Honda Accord Hybrid — one of which averaged an underwhelming 23.8 mpg during its 29,960-mile long-term stay at Edmunds — certainly was a quick car, but it taught Honda a painful lesson: People buy midsize hybrid sedans for fuel efficiency, not for brisk acceleration.
Ford understands this, a point underscored by the new 2013 Fusion Hybrid and its class-leading EPA fuel-economy ratings of 47 city/47 highway mpg. That's nearly as efficient as a Toyota Prius, and significantly better than the first-generation Fusion Hybrid's 41 city/36 highway mpg. Moreover, it's a substantive step up from competitors such as the Toyota Camry Hybrid (43/42) and the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (35/43).
With that in mind we had to wonder: Might the amazingly efficient new 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid sacrifice every shred of driving enjoyment at the altar of fuel economy?
Let's find out.
More Normal Than You Might Think
As drivers of the previous Fusion Hybrid can attest, it's much like driving a standard car with a gasoline engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Twist the conventional ignition key and you won't hear a starter crank the engine, but the instruments illuminate to indicate the car is ready for use. No engine is running, but when the gear selector is pulled back into Drive, the car will want to creep forward on battery power.
Acceleration from a stoplight is good, given the inherent torque of the electric motor. The car is also remarkably quiet inside, aided by triple-sealed doors and an active noise-cancellation system that works via the car's sound system. The transitions from electric power to gasoline and back (and any combination thereof) are seamless, although astute drivers can sense the gasoline engine kick in through slight vibrations in the steering wheel and pedals.
More Fuel-Efficient and Faster, Too
Even though it has slightly less combined power than the outgoing car (188 horsepower versus 191), our tests show the new 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid to be a slightly quicker car, able to hit 60 mph in 8.0 seconds (with a 1-foot rollout), as opposed to the previous Fusion Hybrid's time of 8.4 seconds.
The 2013 Fusion has an edge in the quarter-mile, too, with a run of 16.1 seconds at 88.7 mph, which is a few tenths quicker than the previous car's 16.4 at 87.8 mph. In real-world terms, this means that both Fusion Hybrids are able to merge onto fast freeways without problems, but the new car does so with more ease.
And even though the new 2013 Fusion Hybrid is slightly larger than the car it replaces (1.2 inches longer, wheelbase increased by 4.8 inches), it tips the scales at a reasonable 3,636 pounds, some 165 pounds less than the outgoing model. This reduced mass pays dividends in the slalom, enabling the Hermosillo, Mexico-built front-driver to weave through the cones at 64.3 mph — more than 2 mph more quickly than the first-generation Fusion Hybrid.
What's more, the electric-assist steering, although heavily boosted, retains enough feel to give our tester a welcome confidence in the fast transitions. The handling limits of the 2013 Fusion Hybrid are on the low side, for sure, but the predictable nature of the chassis makes this a rewarding hybrid to drive.
The brakes feel about the same as before, which is to say that they're a little too sensitive and not as firm as we'd like. Nevertheless, the stopping distance of 132 feet from 60 mph is respectable and at least enough to garner the Fusion Hybrid an average brake rating, the same as before.
The new car does a bit better on our skid pad, mildly understeering its way to a decent 0.79g. That's not a stellar level of grip, but the light and responsive feel help the car achieve a good overall rating from our test staff. This is particularly impressive given that the stability control can't be shut off, and the all-season Michelin Energy Saver tires are more about mileage than grip.
EPA MPG vs. Real-World MPG
With regard to fuel efficiency, the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid averaged 40.2 mpg in our 818 miles of varied driving. Yes, that's below the combined EPA figure of 47 mpg, but much of our driving took place on freeways at speeds between 65 mph and 75 mph, where the electric assist seldom kicks in. That leaves the 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine to do all the work. This new power plant, which produces 141 hp at 6,000 rpm, is said to be 10 percent more efficient than a traditional 2.0-liter, but it's working relatively hard to sustain the Fusion Hybrid at those freeway speeds.
So is the EPA highway figure of 47 mpg inflated? We think not. Had we driven the Fusion Hybrid more in the neighborhood of posted (as opposed to actual) highway speeds, the 118-hp permanent-magnet electric motor — which can now bring the car up to 62 mph without the help of internal combustion — would have kicked in more often and consequently improved fuel economy to be more in line with actual EPA figures. A higher ratio of around-town driving would have had a similar effect.
Of note, the engine, which mates to a new Ford-built CVT (the previous car had an Aisin CVT), has no accessory drive belt...because it doesn't need one. The water pump, power steering pump and air-conditioning compressor are all electric, reducing parasitic drag on the high-compression (12.3:1) engine. At red lights, when the engine automatically shuts off, the air-conditioner can still function because of the electric compressor.
If you try to accelerate to 62 mph solely with electricity to please your hypermiler heart, don't, because you'll annoy all the traffic behind. You're much better off being more aggressive with the accelerator to engage the engine and electric motor early and simultaneously for a more acceptable rate of acceleration. Once up to cruising speed, you can lift the pedal abruptly to shut the gasoline engine off and then rely on the electric motor to sustain your speed, which the Fusion Hybrid can do quite capably for long distances on a level road. If you're gentle with the accelerator, the gasoline engine won't kick in.
It's a fun technique to maximize economy, and it's easy to keep track of the power flow via the Fusion Hybrid's Smartgauge EcoGuide instrument cluster, which has LCD displays on both sides of the analog speedometer. The Engage pictogram (one of several available screens on the left side of this multiple-menu information display) quickly becomes a favorite, as it graphically shows the power flow of the gasoline engine and the electric motor, plus the state of charge of the Fusion Hybrid's lithium-ion battery, which is contained in a vented stainless-steel case mounted at the forward edge of the trunk.
The Fusion Hybrid's onboard electronics also features a driver "coach" that grades how effectively brake energy is captured to recharge the battery. Anything less than a 100-percent capture becomes disappointing as you improve in this exercise, and even though the system is a bit of a green gimmick, it does remind us of how kinetic energy in a non-hybrid car is just wasted in the form of brake heat. Green leaves, as before, magically multiply on the LCD screen as you drive in a fuel-saving manner.
More Than Merely Efficient
All environmental friendliness aside, the new 2013 Ford Fusion shines as a comfortable car with a nicely damped suspension, well-controlled body motions and an accommodating interior. It features a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, abundant soft-touch materials, super deep door pockets and supportive seats covered in a pleated black fabric derived in part from recycled plastic soda bottles.
It's spacious for a midsizer, too. A 6-foot-tall person can ride behind an equally tall driver, with no constraints on leg- or headroom, making the new five-seat Fusion a viable alternative to the larger Taurus.
A proper discussion of the multitalented MyFord Touch system would take several pages. Suffice it to say it works reasonably well once you get the hang of it. It's easy to sync an iPhone or play tunes from your iPod, although the voice commands occasionally misinterpret words. And as we've noted before on various Ford models with this system, the screen tends to get covered with visible fingerprints that obscure the graphics in certain light conditions.
What Doesn't Work
There are a few issues that come along with the hybrid version of the Fusion that you don't have to worry about in the standard model. For starters, there's the battery pack and its location in the trunk that eats up 4 cubic feet of cargo space. That leaves the Fusion Hybrid with a 12-cubic-foot trunk, an odd-shaped one at that.
Another aspect of the Fusion that gets downsized in the process of hybridization is the fuel tank. At 13.5 gallons, it's 3 gallons smaller than a standard tank. Granted, the increased mileage means that the overall range doesn't change much, but it would be nice to get the advantage of stopping less often to go along with the better mileage.
Other hybrid-specific issues include an overly loud air-conditioning compressor, touchy brakes and a low front end that scrapes on any driveway that isn't dead flat. None of them are deal breakers, but bear in mind that there are still drawbacks to driving a hybrid that go beyond the initial cost.
What's the Hybrid Premium?
While not exactly a sport sedan that begs to be driven hard, the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid we tested — an Ice Storm green model that starts at $27,200 but leaves the lot at $30,975 (thanks to options such as the $795 navigation system, the $895 SE Technology package and the $995 adaptive cruise control) — impressed us with its composure on twisting roads.
Sure, it was a bit softer than we might have liked, but we're glad to report that Ford hasn't let lofty fuel economy goals completely suck the life out of the Fusion. It's about as sporty as a hybrid sedan gets for $30K both in how it looks and how it feels from behind the wheel. Add in its impressive fuel economy numbers and this Fusion is a legitimate alternative to the standard Fusion as much as it is a better, more fun-to-drive competitor to the Prius.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.