With all the attention Toyota and Honda are getting for their hybrid programs, it’s worth reminding you that Ford introduced the first hybrid SUV, the 2005 Escape Hybrid, and that the hybrid Escape won the prestigious North American Truck of the Year award in 2005. Ford used knowledge gained from the Escape Hybrid project to construct a hybrid-powertrain Fusion sedan with class-leading fuel economy and refinement.
The entire 2010 Ford Fusion line receives a makeover. Up front, the grille and the hood’s power dome grow larger for the 2010 model year. Everything from the back of the hood to the trunk remains the same, but a pair of honeycomb lenses set the taillights apart from those of earlier Fusions. Surprisingly, the hybrid badges are rather small and discreet. Most manufacturers design hybrid vehicles to look like spaceships, or they cover such cars’ exteriors with badging to celebrate their greenness. Ford, on the other hand, wisely chose to let the Fusion Hybrid look like a regular Fusion. One visual giveaway is the hybrid-specific wheels – they may look like hubcaps, but these rims are actually made of lightweight aluminum and help reduce aerodynamic drag. If you’re more concerned about saving the environment than looking like you’re saving the environment, the Ford Fusion Hybrid is one of the best choices on the market.
Like the rest of the Fusion lineup, the Fusion Hybrid has a well-thought-out interior and many useful options. You’ve probably read about Sync and all of its technological features by now, so we won’t bore you with the details. One of the other highlights inside the Fusion is its ergonomics – everything you need to use while driving is within easy reach. Some mid-size cars are getting extraordinarily wide, and it’s difficult to accomplish simple tasks, like tuning the radio, without stretching and moving in your seat. In the Fusion, this isn’t the case. It would have been easy to ignore the distance to the tuning knob with Sync’s voice-recognition abilities, but Ford isn’t snubbing people who can afford only a base car. The Fusion’s seats are surprisingly comfortable and supportive, something we can’t say about all mid-size hybrids. The trunk is large enough to swallow a week’s worth of luggage for four people – a feat the ginormous, $100,000-plus Lexus LS600hL would find quite difficult. In short, there’s no compromised, de-contented interior to remind you of Al Gore every mile you’re behind the wheel.
The 2010 Fusion can also be equipped with an excellent twelve-speaker Sony surround-sound system. Ford recently started putting branded audio systems in its cars, and we applaud the move. Everything from satellite radio to CDs sounds clear, and the interior is quiet enough to help your ears pick out the most subtle musical sounds.
Drivers will likely fall in love with the SmartGauge, a pair of 4.3-inch, high-resolution LCD screens, flanking the analog speedometer, that can display various information to the driver. There are four default views, which can provide information to help new or veteran hybrid drivers understand how to get the best fuel economy from their Fusion Hybrid. Most of our testing was done with the “engage” setting, which is a level below the most advanced “empower” setting. We found the engage display to be informative and easy to understand, plus the vines and leaves that appear on the right-hand screen are easy to comprehend at a glance – the more vines and leaves you see, the less fuel you’re using. It’s likely this display will become a sort of in-car video game where drivers try to beat their last “score” of leaves and vines. Let’s just hope they concentrate on the road more than the display.
The powertrain is where the Ford Fusion Hybrid really stands out from the other Fusion. Obviously this Fusion features a hybrid powertrain, but a less obvious fact is that the car can travel at speeds up to 47 mph on electric power alone. It’s theoretically possible to accelerate to 47 mph without using the gasoline engine, but if there are any other cars on the road, that’s not a practical solution. It’s better to accelerate normally and then let the EV mode take over at cruising speeds. We regularly attained EV mode during cruising sessions and sometimes were able to maintain speed up small hills without the four-cylinder kicking in. Save slight whirring sounds from the motor, the Fusion is completely silent in EV mode.
The 2.5-liter I-4 gasoline engine, which runs on the Atkinson cycle, provides most of the thrust in normal driving. The transition between the EV and internal-combustion modes is almost impossible to detect. Ford truly leads the class in refinement when the gasoline engine transitions on and off. With an output of 156 hp and 136 lb-ft of torque from the gasoline engine and 106 hp from the electric motor, the net output is 191 hp. Although the Fusion wasn’t designed as a performance hybrid, the car is certainly quick enough to be easy to live with. And, after all, most buyers likely will be more concerned with squeezing the maximum mileage from each gallon of fuel than merging with highway traffic.
We’ve been happy with the suspension settings on the regular Fusion since it came to market in late 2005, so it’s no surprise that the Hybrid feels quite good on everything from city streets to broken country roads. The Fusion always feels solid, and our preproduction test car only raised a few complaints about excessive motions over smooth roads-an issue that could be attributed to its preproduction status or the increased weight associated with a hybrid powertrain. Once we drive a regular production Fusion Hybrid, we’ll share a final verdict on the suspension tuning (not that the target demographic will likely care, since its effect on fuel economy is negligible).
The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid is quite an amazing achievement. It’s ironic that Ford launched this Fusion, its first hybrid car, just as the Detroit Three automakers were being grilled in front of congress for building gas guzzlers and other “cars nobody wants.” Well, the Fusion Hybrid is far from a gas guzzler and is at least the type of car that people in Washington, D.C., think everyone wants. As if those achievements weren’t enough, the Fusion Hybrid also manages to be the most involving and fun-to-drive hybrid on the road. The Blue Oval was certainly under the microscope for a while, but this Fusion is proof that Ford can build class-leading cars without any outside assistance.
As a bonus, anyone who purchases a Fusion Hybrid by March 31, 2009 will be eligible for a $3400 federal tax credit. Buyers who wait until April 1, 2009 will be eligible for only a $1700 credit. From October 1, 2009 until March 31, 2010, the credit will be reduced by half again, to $850. Anyone buying a Fusion Hybrid after March 31, 2010 will not be eligible to receive any tax credits unless there is a change in the tax code.
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Price: $27,995 (base)
Engine: 2.5-liter DOHC I-4
Power: 156 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 136 lb-ft @ 2250 rpm
Type: 400v permanent magnet AC motor
Power: 106 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 166 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Type: 275v Nickel-Metal Hydride
Output: 35 hp
System Total Power: 191 hp
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Wheels, Tires: 17-inch aluminum, 225/50VR17
L x W x H: 190.6″ x 80.1″ x 56.9″
Legroom F/R: 42.3″/36.7″
Headroom F/R: 38.7″/37.8″
Trunk capacity: 11.8 cu ft
Curb Weight: 3720 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 41/36 mpg