• BY DANIEL PUND
  • MULTIPLE PHOTOGRAPHERS
    • ROY RITCHIE AND
    • MARC URBANO

    When we tested the 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid against its blended-power brethren (Toyota Camry hybrid, Nissan Altima hybrid, and the weak-sauce “mild-hybrid” Chevrolet Malibu) in early 2009, we gave the nod to Ford, noting that the company “hit all the marks with this hybrid…” This was not a lie. But neither was it the whole truth.

    True, the Ford achieved the best fuel efficiency over our 300-mile test.  And true, it was the only one among the four that we claimed had “car-guy soul.” With the first Fusion hybrid, Ford sailed happily past the hybrid king, Toyota, in the race toward normal-car drivability.  And it did so using a style of hybrid powertrain made familiar by Toyota. That this variety of blended gas/electric propulsion was conceived by neither Toyota nor Ford, but by aerospace giant TRW back in the late ’60s is probably not material to our business here. But now you know.

    The problem with the “hit all the marks…” line is that, for all its soul, the first Fusion hybrid was an almost entirely left-brain exercise. Oh, its styling was tidy enough, we suppose, but save for the huge horizontal bands of chrome on its nose that lent it an odd sort of character, the Fusion looked like Standard Sensible Sedan, 1B.

    Now have a look at the 2013 Ford Fusion hybrid (indeed, any new Fusion). Nice, right?  When we gathered a gaggle of conventionally powered family sedans together last month, we inadvertently re-created the Nixon-Kennedy debate. Those who read the story know that the Honda Accord took the win. But if you looked at only the pictures, it’s likely that all you saw was the Fusion. Even as one of three silver cars in that four-car comparison, the Fusion’s Aston Martin–like grille and long, lean profile stole the show.

    The Fusion now draws our car-ignorant neighbors from their houses to check out this ritzy sedan. Blend that with a hybrid system that was already a winner and what could possibly go wrong?

    Well, not much, really.

    One could complain that the new Fusion hybrid is slower than the car it replaces. Yes, you read that correctly. The previous model got to 60 mph in a respectable 8.5 seconds on its way to a 16.5-second quarter-mile run. The new car drops about a half-second in both measures (9.1 and 17.0 seconds, respectively). That puts the new Fusion hybrid ­further off the acceleration benchmark set by the 2012 Toyota Camry hybrid (7.3 and 15.7 seconds) than the old one.

    Doesn’t really look like it, but there is a gas engine in there.

    The slackened pace is not likely to be a major demerit with prospective customers who surely aren’t expecting a drag racer. And the Ford Fusion hybrid doesn’t feel especially slow.

    It’s not that the new Fusion hybrid, ­bigger in every dimension than the car it replaces, is a fatty. At 3682 pounds, our well-equipped test car was actually 123 pounds lighter than the previous-generation car we last tested. The issue is that with this go-round, Ford rebalanced the hybrid driveline’s power/economy equation. Out went the 156-hp, Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter four-cylinder of the previous effort. In its place rests the more fuel-efficient Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter making 141 horsepower that’s 15 pounds lighter than the 2.5. Total-system power drops from 191 horsepower to 188.

    The other major equipment change to the powertrain is a trunk-mounted lithium-ion battery pack, which replaces a similarly situated nickel-metal-hydride pack. Ford took advantage of lithium-ion’s greater power density not to increase the capacity of the pack, which is down slightly from 1.5 kWh to 1.4 kWh, but to shrink its size and weight. The old unit weighed 150 pounds and formed a tall wall tucked up against the backs of the rear seats. No fold-down rear seats in that car. The new pack weighs 106 pounds, opens up a bit more trunk space, and allows for folding rear seats.

    Specifications >

    VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

    PRICE AS TESTED: $35,265 (base price: $27,995)

    ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter inline-4, 141 hp, 129 lb-ft; permanent-magnet AC synchronous electric motor, 118-hp, 117-lb-ft; combined power rating, 188 hp; 1.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack

    Displacement: 122 cu in, 1999 cc
    Power: 141 hp @ 6000 rpm
    Torque: 129 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm

    TRANSMISSION: continuously variable automatic

    DIMENSIONS:
    Wheelbase: 112.2 in

    Length: 191.8 in
    Width: 72.9 in Height: 58.2 in
    Curb weight: 3682 lb

    C/D TEST RESULTS:
    Zero to 60 mph: 9.1 sec
    Zero to 100 mph: 24.9 sec
    Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 8.9 sec
    Top gear, 30–50 mph: 4.3 sec
    Top gear, 50–70 mph: 6.1 sec
    Standing ¼-mile: 17.0 sec @ 85 mph
    Top speed (governor limited): 105 mph
    Braking, 70–0 mph: 177 ft
    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.85 g

    FUEL ECONOMY:
    EPA city/highway: 47/47 mpg
    C/D observed: 32 mpg

    TEST NOTES: The available traction is more than enough to handle all that the hybrid powertrain has to offer at launch, so wheelspin is not an issue. To fully charge the battery between launches, put the car in park and depress the gas pedal.

    Continued…

  • BY DANIEL PUND
  • MULTIPLE PHOTOGRAPHERS
    • ROY RITCHIE AND
    • MARC URBANO

    The electronically controlled, continuously variable, planetary-gear transmission—central to this variety of hybrid—is also new, as are the car’s all-important power electronics.

    The result of all this downsizing and massaging are towering EPA fuel-economy ratings of 47 mpg city and 47 mpg highway, numbers it shares with the C-Max hybrid, which carries the same powertrain. It’s unusual for a hybrid to earn a highway-mileage rating as lofty as its city figure. Ford’s big highway number is made possible by the hybrid’s ability to cruise on electric power alone up to 62 mph and its reduced aero drag (0.27 Cd compared with the old model’s 0.31).

    We typically drive faster than 62 mph on the highway. We also did not even try to achieve the EPA’s numbers, opting instead to drive the Fusion hybrid as we would any other car. And so we achieved an average of 32 mpg. That might not sound all that impressive, but consider that, in our hands and under our feet, the newest Camry hybrid achieved 30 mpg, the Hyundai Sonata hybrid averaged 27 mpg, and conventionally powered four-cylinder sedans of the Fusion’s ilk typically return about 24 mpg.

    Our fuel economy would drop to 32 mpg.

    For that 33-percent improvement in fuel economy, you sacrifice only about 14 percent of the Fusion’s driving pleasure, by the highly subjective measure that this writer just pulled out of the ether. We value linearity in the controls of our cars. We sing the praises of responsiveness and the sense of connection between the driver and the vehicle he is operating. Hybrids, in their short, modern histories, have been woefully lacking in these regards. The near-seamless pass-off between gas and electric power sources and a reasonably well-tuned CVT allowed the previous Fusion hybrid to jump to the front of  the drivability pack.

    The new car makes a less significant leap, but inches closer to an ideal still defined by a good, conventional car. The rudeness with which the gas engine comes alive and is kept droning away at power-maximizing high revs has been reduced. Make no mistake: You will hear the 2.0-liter at work when you demand regular-car acceleration, but a better NVH package helps to muffle its din. It is now merely one step more noticeable than your refrigerator kicking on. Ford has also employed active noise cancellation to phase out the most objectionable booms and thrums.

    The one remaining drivability failing is the brake pedal, which, as in many a hybrid, is springy and disconcertingly nonlinear. The pedal is so spongy that the tape switch we use during braking tests at the track refused to trigger. Despite the terrible feel, once engaged, the brakes bring the hybrid to a halt from 70 mph in 177 feet, shorter by several feet than most of your lighter, conventional family sedans.

    No hybrid maker has fully untied that Gordian knot of brake feel (although VW has come closest). The issue as ever is the hand-off between the regenerative braking system that’s activated at the top of the pedal travel and the conventional friction brakes that come alive at some point deeper in the travel. It might be time for Ford and others to have a look at Tesla’s approach of having very aggressive regeneration once you ease off the accelerator, leaving the brake pedal solely in charge of  the friction brakes.

    Specifications >

    VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

    PRICE AS TESTED: $35,265 (base price: $27,995)

    ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter inline-4, 141 hp, 129 lb-ft; permanent-magnet AC synchronous electric motor, 118-hp, 117-lb-ft; combined power rating, 188 hp; 1.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack

    Displacement: 122 cu in, 1999 cc
    Power: 141 hp @ 6000 rpm
    Torque: 129 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm

    TRANSMISSION: continuously variable automatic

    DIMENSIONS:
    Wheelbase: 112.2 in

    Length: 191.8 in
    Width: 72.9 in Height: 58.2 in
    Curb weight: 3682 lb

    C/D TEST RESULTS:
    Zero to 60 mph: 9.1 sec
    Zero to 100 mph: 24.9 sec
    Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 8.9 sec
    Top gear, 30–50 mph: 4.3 sec
    Top gear, 50–70 mph: 6.1 sec
    Standing ¼-mile: 17.0 sec @ 85 mph
    Top speed (governor limited): 105 mph
    Braking, 70–0 mph: 177 ft
    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.85 g

    FUEL ECONOMY:
    EPA city/highway: 47/47 mpg
    C/D observed: 32 mpg

    TEST NOTES: The available traction is more than enough to handle all that the hybrid powertrain has to offer at launch, so wheelspin is not an issue. To fully charge the battery between launches, put the car in park and depress the gas pedal.

    Continued…

  • BY DANIEL PUND
  • MULTIPLE PHOTOGRAPHERS
    • ROY RITCHIE AND
    • MARC URBANO

    But according to chief engineer Eric Kuehn, Fusion hybrid buyers don’t want aggressive deceleration on throttle lift. In fact, they don’t even want any sort of Econ button that would allow them to choose a higher rate of regen on coasting, like the B mode in the Prius. So no such button exists.

    There’s nothing in the handling of the hybrid that reveals its blended-power nature. Thanks to the optional 18-inch Goodyears (low-rolling-resistance 17-inch Michelins are standard), the Fusion hybrid clings to the skidpad more tenaciously than almost anything in the segment. And it retains the solid and well-controlled chassis, accurate steering, and general sense of repose that allowed the nonhybrid Fusion to nearly beat the Accord.

    Save for some powertrain-monitoring screens in the instrument panel, a couple of “hybrid” badges on the doors, and model-specific wheels, no obvious differences ­distinguish the hybrid from other Fusions.

    The screens are updated versions of  those in the previous car. Cheery, glowing icons dance and spin and are swept in and out of view with a sort of digital weightlessness. The screen to the left of the central speedometer tracks instantaneous engine and motor usage and coaches the driver on how best to recoup energy under braking. (Tip: Apply light pressure to the brake pedal over a long period to be awarded a good regeneration score.) The screen to the right of the speedo rewards the driver with glowing little leaves for driving that it calculates as efficiency minded. There’s a saccharin-sweetness to the whole arrangement that is, frankly, slightly creepy. But we admit we were lured in by its system of rewards and genuinely annoyed when our nice, full bush dropped all of its leaves during a traffic jam. Thanks, Ford, but we were already aware that sitting in seemingly endless traffic congestion is a variety of death.

    The rest of the interior experience is consistent with nonhybrid Fusions, which is to say it’s an excellent vehicle for people who hate buttons. The touch-sensitive controls for audio and climate give the center stack a clean, monolithic vibe. And while this smoothness suits the Fusion’s tidy cabin, we found using the controls to be a two-step process. Because the non-buttons provide no feedback, we ended up checking, say, the temp readout on the nav screen to see if the car had honored our request for a temperature increase.

    Ford really hates buttons.

    Like all other Fusions, the hybrid’s rear quarters are cramped for a vehicle with a wheelbase a couple inches longer than anything else in the class. And that sexy, sloping roofline takes a bite out of rear headroom. At 12 cubic feet, the hybrid’s trunk is four cubes down on nonhybrid Fusions. On the upside, Kuehn says the trunk was “shrink-wrapped” around the battery bulge, resulting in a roughly six-inch-tall platform on the front half of the cargo compartment’s floor. This will complicate stowing big items, but the platform proves an excellent stage for Barbie-doll productions of Death of a Salesman.

    Our test vehicle, loaded with optional navigation, adaptive cruise control, automatic parallel parking, 18-inch wheels, and other niceties, came with a stiff $35,265 price tag. The model starts at $27,995. That base price slots nicely between the two versions of  the Toyota Camry hybrid.

    So, yes, Ford has hit all the marks with this hybrid.

    Specifications >

    VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

    PRICE AS TESTED: $35,265 (base price: $27,995)

    ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter inline-4, 141 hp, 129 lb-ft; permanent-magnet AC synchronous electric motor, 118-hp, 117-lb-ft; combined power rating, 188 hp; 1.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack

    Displacement: 122 cu in, 1999 cc
    Power: 141 hp @ 6000 rpm
    Torque: 129 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm

    TRANSMISSION: continuously variable automatic

    DIMENSIONS:
    Wheelbase: 112.2 in

    Length: 191.8 in
    Width: 72.9 in Height: 58.2 in
    Curb weight: 3682 lb

    C/D TEST RESULTS:
    Zero to 60 mph: 9.1 sec
    Zero to 100 mph: 24.9 sec
    Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 8.9 sec
    Top gear, 30–50 mph: 4.3 sec
    Top gear, 50–70 mph: 6.1 sec
    Standing ¼-mile: 17.0 sec @ 85 mph
    Top speed (governor limited): 105 mph
    Braking, 70–0 mph: 177 ft
    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.85 g

    FUEL ECONOMY:
    EPA city/highway: 47/47 mpg
    C/D observed: 32 mpg

    TEST NOTES: The available traction is more than enough to handle all that the hybrid powertrain has to offer at launch, so wheelspin is not an issue. To fully charge the battery between launches, put the car in park and depress the gas pedal.

    View Photo Gallery

    By DANIEL PUND

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