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Ford Fusion Hybrid 1,000 Mile Challenge - High Mileage Tips

Rex Roywriter

In a world that seems bent on taking away all responsibilities from the individual, Ford Motor Company conducted a PR/fund-raising event in Washington, D.C. that proves how important individual choice is.

For example, if an attentive driver wants to, he or she can exceed the EPA estimated mileage for their vehicle. Just like graduating from school with good grades, resisting the temptation to steal, or not punching out your annoying relative at the family's annual summer BBQ, improving your vehicle's mileage is a choice.

Under the title of The Fusion Hybrid 1,000-Mile Challenge, a team of seven drivers circumnavigated a route through Mount Vernon, VA and the nation's capitol. The team started their drive on a Saturday morning and drove 69 straight hours, encountering three bouts with rush hour traffic. The route included faster speeds attained on the George Washington Parkway plus surface-street driving that included approximately 30 traffic signals. On average, speeds were around 29 mph with drivers obeying local speed limits.

The bone stock 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid averaged an astonishing 81.5 mpg. By the time its fuel tank ran dry, it had traveled 1,445.7 miles. This performance is nearly double the Fusion's 41 mpg city, 36 mpg highway EPA ratings. One weekend afternoon segment of the drive yielded over 88 mpg, while the lowest was recorded at night during a thunderstorm (about 70 mpg).

Achieving this type of mileage didn't come without sacrifice. Daytime temperatures were in the 90 range, but the ventilation system remained off to reduce the electrical load. An interior breeze was generated by narrowly opening the driver's front and passenger-side rear windows. The Fusion's radio was also silent, again to reduce the car's consumption of electrons.

According to one driver Gil Portalatin, whose official title is Ford Hybrid Propulsion System Applications Manager, getting good mileage out of any vehicle goes well beyond maintenance basics like making sure your tires are aired up. Gil believes that the driver is the key to great mileage. (Drivers control the car, not the other way around.) Portalatin and six other drivers utilized driving specific techniques to achieve their hypermiling numbers, and we've listed some of them below.

We first met Portalatin-a twenty-five year veteran at Ford-in Los Angeles when testing the 2010 Fusion Hybrid late in 2009. In a fuel-economy competition against the media, Gil (an engineer by trade) effortlessly triumphed by racking up economy numbers that significantly bested the journalists and EPA estimates. On some runs, Gil's Fusion returned nearly 47 mpg over hilly areas just outside Los Angeles. We immediately wanted to know Gil's fuel economy secrets.

Portalatin's summarized secrets are:

  • Slowing down
  • Maintaining even throttle pressure
  • Gradually accelerating
  • Smoothly braking
  • Maintaining a safe (and even generous) distance between vehicles to allow for coasting
  • Anticipating traffic conditions
  • Coasting up to red lights and stop signs to avoid fuel waste
  • Minimize use of heater and air conditioning to reduce the load on the engine
  • Closing windows at high speeds to reduce aerodynamic drag
  • Applying the "Pulse and Glide" technique while maintaining the flow of traffic
  • Minimize excessive engine workload by using the vehicle's kinetic forward motion to climb hills, and use downhill momentum to build speed
  • Avoiding bumps and potholes that can reduce momentum

Going into more detail, Portalatin said, "Most people accelerate way to hard from a stop. This wastes huge amounts of energy. You'll get much better mileage accelerating gently up to the speed limit. Once you're at the limit, then you need to glide." By this, Portalatin means releasing most of the pressure on the accelerator so you're using the bare minimum amount of power to maintain your speed. In most cars, this will enable the automatic transmission to shift into its highest, most efficient gear.

Portalatin is a keen observer, "I watch people drive and waste gas every day. Most drivers don't pay attention to the flow of traffic. If you're in traffic, you know you're going to stop again, so anticipate that stop by easing off the accelerator pedal early and coasting as much as you can. Looking way down the road helps you anticipate traffic flow because you can see when traffic lights are going to change and how other cars are behaving." Coasting and light braking help the Fusion Hybrid's mileage considerably because the physical brakes do not engage; all braking is done by the regenerative braking system that is recharging the car's battery pack.

Noting that slowing down makes a difference, Portalatin says, "I drive 50 miles each way to work, so I've had plenty of time to study and test techniques for getting the best highway fuel economy." The advice is not complex. Gil notes, " Unless you work in an aerodynamic lab, you don't understand how much more energy it takes to push a car through the air at 75 mph than at 65 mph, but it's huge." The engineered noted that most cars have a "sweet spot" of efficiency between 65-70 mph, so you don't have to drive at snail-like speeds to improve your mileage ... although driving between 55-65 mph will improve mileage even further. The Fusion Hybrid will run on electric power at speeds up to 47 mph.

Stating a recommendation aimed at hybrid drivers that may seem counter-intuitive, Portalatin says, "This is something that trips up hybrid drivers; in their excitement to use only battery power, they accelerate too slowly from a stop. While super-gentle acceleration keeps the vehicle in electric-only mode, it also drains the batteries quickly, often causing the gasoline engine to come on just to recharge the battery pack." Gil recommends this; instead of accelerating so slowly, accelerate with a bit more vigor, and then lift off the throttle. Once at speed, the gasoline engine will often shut completely off, leaving propulsion to the battery powered motor to maintain cruising speed. This technique yields maximum mileage.

The Ford engineer also pointed out that all hybrids have two fuel tanks; one holds gasoline and the other electrons (the hybrid battery pack). Both "tanks" need to be kept full to go the farthest distance, but the process for filling up on electrons is a bit different than stopping at the gas station. Portalatin recommends "Coasting and gentle braking are the fastest and most efficient way to recharge your hybrid's batteries. On our Fusion, you can see by the gauges that when you coast or apply the brakes that the hybrid system is using the car's kinetic energy to recharge the batteries. The longer you can coast or gently slow down, the more energy you can store. Keeping the batteries above 50-percent full extends the distance you can run on battery power, saving fuel."

These techniques applied consistently helped Ford's team set a new world's record for a gasoline-powered midsize sedan. The team also raised more than $8,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in the process. Using their techniques may not enable you to double your mileage, but don't be surprised at a 10-15 percent increase.