My Ford Fusion is sprouting leaves. The gauge starts with a branch, and as I drive along with my foot as light as possible on the throttle, the greenery starts to grow. Eventually, I’m rewarded with a forest for my fuel-miserly method.
Naturally, this is no ordinary Fusion. Ford’s midsize sedan is overhauled for 2010, with all receiving new engines and six-speed automatic transmissions. My ride, the Fusion Hybrid, is the first time it’s been offered as a gasoline-electric hybrid. Pricing will be announced closer to its on-sale date.
It uses a 2.5 L four-cylinder engine with electric motor, nickel hydride (NiMH) battery pack, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The combination produces 155 horsepower and 136 lb-ft of torque.
It’s a “full” hybrid and can run on electricity alone, something its only domestic competitor, the Chevrolet Malibu/Saturn Aura Hybrid, cannot. Ford says it’ll stay on battery power alone at speeds up to 75 km/h. As with every current factory hybrid, the Fusion Hybrid doesn’t get plugged in, but uses energy from braking to recharge the battery.
In the U.S., Fusion rates at 5.7 L/100 km in the city. Our testing methods will give slightly different numbers, but Ford says it’ll be the most fuel-efficient midsize sedan available.
Although the Hybrid’s exterior doesn’t look any different from its conventional siblings, save for its badges, the instrument cluster contains Ford’s new “SmartGauge,” including a system it calls EcoGuide. Two LCD screens on either side of the speedometer are configurable through wheel-mounted buttons to four levels. Each adds information, starting with the simplest display of fuel and battery charge status; from there, you can add items such as a gauge to show when the car’s running on electricity, power consumption from accessories, power output, and the foliage feature. It’s gimmicky, but it’s fun: drive more economically, and the branches sprout more leaves, while a lead foot makes them fall off.
The gauge I found most useful was the engine threshold, which shows how close the car is to switching to either gasoline or electricity. You can’t manually control it, in that there’s no button to go back or forth; rather, the system determines it by how much power is required. Knowing how close you are to the threshold lets you adjust your driving for maximum efficiency.
Still, there’s a down side: too often, I was watching the gauges instead of the road. Yes, you can turn them off, but I think few people will.
A hybrid has to work as a driving machine too, and for that, Ford’s done a very good job. The switch from gasoline to electric is seamless, and the car is very quiet. Steering is responsive, highway performance is fine, and when needed, it’s very peppy and has power for highway passing.
The new styling is handsome, and the interior is a considerable improvement over the outgoing model in quality of materials and workmanship. Expect this one to do well for itself when it arrives in Canada.
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Type: Mid-size hybrid sedan
Price: Not available
Engine: 2.5 L four-cylinder engine with electric motor, nickel hydride (NiMH) battery pack
• Eco-friendly and fuel efficient
• Improved interior
• Good highway performance