Nobody asked me but . . .

Hard to believe but Ford’s midsize competitor to the likes of the Camry, Accord, Malibu, Altima and Sonata has been around since the 2006 model year.  It first appeared in these pages in 2007, November 27th to be precise, in the guise of two 2008 SE models, one with a 4-cylinder and the other with a V6.

Spool ahead to 2010 and we’re got a substantially updated Fusion, one with revised front and rear styling, an even nicer interior and new powertrain offerings including the hybrid model reviewed here.

Ford’s continued evolution of its hybrid technology results in a hybrid system that  transitions between gasoline and electric power and back more efficiently and seamlessly.  The overall system upgrade allows the Ford Fusion and its Mercury Milan counterpart to operate longer at higher speeds in electric mode. The hybrid vehicles can operate up to 47 mph (I saw 43 mph) in pure electric mode, approximately twice as fast as some competitors. Plus, the city driving range on a single tank of gas is expected to be more than 700 miles.  EPA ratings for the Ford Fusion Hybrid are 41-mpg city and 36-mpg highway, better than its Camry, Altima and Malibu hybrid counterparts.

The Fusion is a full hybrid, meaning it can be driven at low speeds for a few blocks without running the 4-cylinder engine, subject, of course, to the usual disclaimers regarding speed, heaviness of the right foot on the e-throttle, flatness of the terrain and the battery’s state of charge. It also employs regeneration (capturing “braking” energy) to put juice back into the batteries during braking.  And depending upon a variety of conditions, including how warmed up the engine is, the engine shuts off to save fuel when you come to a stop.

If you are a hybrid techie, you’ll find lots of Ford technical info on the hybrid at the end of this blog.

I’m not a hypermiler, but when I’m tooling around in a hybrid, at some point I will spend some time trying for mpg.  That means a feather foot on the throttle, keeping an eye on the eco gauges to make sure I don’t break out of the all-electric window and driving at or slightly below the speed limit (Don’t ask what I do at other times.).  I also stay in the far right lane (political leanings notwithstanding) to prevent blocking traffic.  But frankly, this is probably the scariest part of driving for mileage: I feel like a target for every other vehicle on the road.

Hybrids should have their own special CHMSL that flashes green to alert other drivers when the hybrid driver is purposely going slow instead of going with the flow.  Using a no-highway route that consisted of several miles of stop-and go, 25-60 mph speed limits and areas of up and down hills, I averaged almost 48.5 mpg.  In a normal mix of city and highway driving that average dropped to 24 mpg, which probably tells you more than a little about my usual driving habits.

The Fusion’s electronic CVT is smooth and responsive.  When the engine transitions from off to on following a stop, an attentive driver will notice a slight bump as the engine starts running again.  And there is a bit of electric whining from the regen brakes near the end of a stop.  But the brake pedal feels normal, meaning the regeneration does not result in nonlinear effort as the car slows to a stop, which can occur with some regen systems.

The Hybrid’s 155 bhp/136 lf-ft, 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine never feels overwhelmed by the 3800 pounds it has to motorvate, assisted as it is by the instant torque of the Fusion’s electric motor when extra juice is required.

The Fusion Hybrid, like its more conventional brethren, also scores highly in the fun-to-drive category with a taut yet supple ride/handling balance and nicely weighted steering that provide the Fusion owner with a competitive advantage versus most of its midsize competitors when the road changes from straight and wide to tight and twisty.

There is an element of education and entertainment to the Fusion’s Smart Gauge with EcoGuide, an instrument cluster that helps drivers optimize performance of their hybrid.  You’ll find a detailed explanation under Ford Stuff.  Essentially, you can set the system to KISS or Tell All and track your economy via green leaves or a bar chart.

SYNC is Ford’s name for the voice-activated hands-free in-car communication and entertainment system developed by Ford and Microsoft.  These days you can order SYNC in most Ford models.  The system fully integrates most Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and digital media players.  Great.  But like many Bill Gates products it is still not as intuitive as I like.  For example, certain climate control functions can be set by voice, but some can’t.  And there are two separate areas on the center stack for HVAC functions.

Ditto for the audio.  Here you have four separate control areas: steering wheel, on screen, on center stack and voice.  And the voice recognition software is still only a 50-50 proposition when you ask for a phone number, temperature setting, etc.  Road and wind noise and varying accents and voice inflections do not make the electronic lady happy.  This despite the fact that the new-gen Fusion incorporates numerous noise reducing features earning it the title of best-in-class for road and wind noise.

I am, however, quite pleased with the Hybrid’s seating adjustability and comfort, the quality and feel of most interior surfaces and the attention to detail paid to the overall fit and finish.  The Fusion is first rate in all these areas.

Several elements help differentiate the Ford Fusion Hybrid from its gasoline-powered siblings, including unique hybrid “road and leaf” badging on both sides and the rear of the car; unique 17-inch, alloy wheels; eco-friendly seat fabric made from post-industrial 100 percent recycled materials; and a standard 110-volt power outlet.

MSRP on the Fusion Hybrid is $27,270, not including destination charges of $725.  But with various options including nav, BLIS, rear view camera, moonroof, Sony sound system and leather trimmed front seats, the out-of-the-showroom cost of the Hybrid I tested was $31,940.  The Fusion Hybrid qualified for a hybrid tax credit of $3,400 prior to March 31, 2009. The credit dropped to $1,700 if purchased by September 30, 2009, and to $850 if purchased by March 31, 2010. This credit is scheduled to phase out by April 1, 2010.

The Ford Fusion offers class-exclusive features, including Ford SYNC™, SIRIUS® TravelLink™, BLIS™ (Blind Spot Information System) [Ignorance is no longer BLIS.] with Cross Traffic Alert and Sony-branded audio that set Fusion apart from other mid-size sedans.  And the Fusion Hybrid proves that Ford is more than ready for Hybrid Prime Time.   I’m not quite ready to choose a hybrid as my daily mode of 4-wheel transportation, but conventional gasoline model or hybrid, the Fusion is a formidable competitor that needs to be seriously considered when you are shopping for a midsize sedan.


The next-generation hybrid system features:

New 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine (155 horsepower/136 lb.-ft. of torque) running the proven Atkinson cycle mated to an electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission or e-CVT.

Intake Variable Cam Timing (iVCT), which allows the vehicle to more seamlessly transition from gas to electric mode and vice-versa. The spark and cam timing are varied according to the engine load to optimize efficiency and emissions.

Enhanced electronic throttle control reduces airflow on shutdowns, reducing fueling needs on restarts.

Wide-band lambda sensor analyzes the air-fuel ratio and adjusts the lean/rich mixture accordingly to keep the system in balance and to minimize emissions.

A new smaller, lighter nickel-metal hydride battery has been optimized to produce 20 percent more power. Improved chemistry allows the battery to be run at a higher temperature and it is cooled using cabin air.

An added variable voltage converter boosts the voltage to the traction battery to operate the motor and generator more efficiently.

A new high-efficiency converter provides 14 percent increased output to accommodate a wider array of vehicle features.

Smarter climate control system monitors cabin temperature and only runs the gas engine as needed to heat the cabin; it also includes an electric air conditioning compressor to further minimize engine use.

The regenerative brake system captures the energy normally lost through friction in braking and stores it. Nearly 94 percent energy recovery is achieved by first delivering full regenerative braking followed by friction brakes during city driving.

A simulator brake actuation system dictates brake actuation and delivers improved brake pedal feel compared to the previous generation braking system.

The Fusion Hybrid also offers drivers a way to be more connected to the hybrid driving experience thanks to Ford’s SmartGauge with EcoGuide, a unique instrument cluster execution that helps coach them on how to optimize performance of their hybrid.

SmartGauge with EcoGuide features two, high-resolution, full-color liquid crystal display (LCD) screens on either side of the analog speedometer that can be configured to show different levels of information, including fuel and battery power levels, average and instant miles-per-gallon.

EcoGuide uses a multi-layered approach to coach the driver to maximum fuel efficiency.

A tutorial mode built into the display that helps the driver learn about the instrument cluster and the hybrid in a whimsical way that does not overpower. Technical enthusiasts will love the detailed gauges that will help them learn to become more efficient in their driving. Everyday drivers will love another new feature in this same gauge cluster. Called “Efficiency Leaves,” the system “grows” leaves and vines on-screen to reward customers for efficient driving.

Drivers can choose one of four data screens to choose the information level displayed during their drives. They are:

Inform: Fuel level and battery charge status

Enlighten: Adds electric vehicle mode indicator and tachometer

Engage: Adds engine output power and battery output power

Empower: Adds power to wheels, engine pull-up threshold and accessory power consumption

All levels can show instant fuel economy, fuel economy history, odometer, engine coolant temperature, what gear the car is in and trip data (trip fuel economy, time-elapsed fuel economy and miles to empty). The engine coolant temperature indicator turns green when engine conditions are warm enough to allow engine pull-down.

Exclusive technologies keep consumers connected

New technology features available on the 2010 Fusion include:

Blind Spot Information System (BLISTM) with Cross Traffic Alert, which can help provide extra confidence to drivers in parking lots by alerting drivers sooner of nearby traffic while backing out. It uses two multiple beam radar modules, which are packaged in the rear quarter panels. The radar detects moving objects within a 65-foot range from either side of the vehicle. The radar identifies when a vehicle enters the defined blind spot zone and illuminates an indicator light on the corresponding side-view mirror providing a warning that a vehicle is approaching. An audible alert is sounded as well.

SYNC: The voice-activated hands-free in-car communication and entertainment system developed by Ford and Microsoft. The system fully integrates most Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and digital media players, providing customers hands-free cell phone and music selection capabilities – plus new 911 Assist and Vehicle Health Report provided with no monthly fees.

911 Assist: When a phone is properly paired, turned on and connected to SYNC, the system is ready to assist in placing a call directly to a local 911 emergency operator in the event of an air bag-deploying accident. The key advantage of SYNC 911 Assist is speed, as calls are placed directly to local 911 operators.

Vehicle Health Report (VHR): SYNC gathers relevant information from the major vehicle control modules and packages diagnostic data into a usable format in a matter of minutes. That data packet is sent to Ford via an 800-number automatically dialed using the customer’s paired and operable mobile phone.

Voice-Activated Navigation, which integrates several functions including voice recognition destination entry, climate control and SIRIUS satellite radio into one easy-to-use system [Remember, this is Ford and Bill Gates speaking, not me], displaying them on an 8-inch touch-screen display. The navigation system’s text-to-speech function calls out street names while in route to a destination and reads incoming text messages when the system is linked to SYNC. The integrated DVD player is capable of reading CD-Audio, MP3 CDs, DVD, DVD-Audio and DVD-ROM (for digital map updates). A music jukebox function stores more than 150 hours of music. The screen even can be customized with personal photos.

SIRIUS Travel Link™, an industry-leading technology that, when combined with the voice-activated navigation system will provide users with real-time traffic data with accident and incident information, coast-to-coast weather data including current conditions and five-day forecasts, and fuel price information for over 120,000 gas stations. Travel Link also offers sports scores and schedules and a listing of more than 4,500 movie theaters with movie times, theater addresses, movie synopses and more.

Reverse Camera System, which mounts a small camera on the decklid that is activated when Fusion is shifted into reverse, giving the driver a clear view behind the vehicle. The video image is displayed in the optional navigation screen on Fusions equipped with that option or in the self-dimming rearview mirror vehicles without navigation.

Ambient Lighting System allows drivers to customize the interior lighting to suit their mood through seven base colors – ice blue, purple, blue, orange, red, white and green.

Sony-branded audio system. The Ford Fusion is the first mid-size sedan in North America to offer a Sony-branded audio system with surround sound and Sony DSP processing as a factory option. The Sony-branded audio system features 390 watts and 12 speakers that make substantial use of high-quality speaker materials, including polypropylene cones, three-layer soft dome tweeters and large neodymium magnets for most speakers in the system.

EasyFuel™ Capless Fuel-Filler System also is standard. This industry-exclusive feature eliminates the need to touch dirty gas caps and helps to reduce evaporative emissions that create smog and global warming. When fueling is completed and the fuel pump nozzle is removed, the system automatically seals shut.

Cabin Air Filter is standard for the first time on the Ford Fusion. The filter removes respiratory irritants and toxins caused by traffic and industrial pollution. The filter also provides an additional safeguard for the climate control system.



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