For various reasons, I�ve been driving three hybrid vehicles during the past couple of weeks. Honda Insight, Toyota Prius, and Ford Fusion.
You may be as surprised as I was to learn that the Fusion is actually the most useable of these three. It�s smoother, more powerful, quieter, roomier, and better on the highway. That said, it also costs the most, which I�ll get to shortly.
Let�s get the drivetrain out of the way first. The Fusion Hybrid has a 2.5 litre four cylinder gas engine mated to a pair of electric motors and a constantly variable transmission. The electric motors are housed in the vehicle transaxle and are fed by a nickel metal hydride battery pack. This system is similar to that found in the Escape Hybrid, but has been tweaked and is more compact in size. It also allows the Fusion Hybrid to qualify as a "full" hybrid…ie, it will run on battery power alone, unlike the Insight, for example.
When you start the vehicle, it doesn�t actually fire up, per se, as the internal combustion engine doesn�t kick in until you get moving…..most of the time. Depending upon the situation, you can take the vehicle up to at least 40 km/h on the electric motor, at which time the engine will cut in if you want to increase your speed. The system is keyed to throttle input and how much of a leadfoot you are. Give it some welly, and you get both the electric motor and gasoline engine at the same time. Take it easy and the car hums along on the electric motor. However, you can modulate the throttle pedal and – so Ford tells us – remain on pure battery power up to speeds of about 75 km/h. That�s easier said than done; I never managed to get it up to that speed, and the best I could do was just a tad ove 50 km/h on pure battery power. And honestly, during most driving conditions, it�s kind of tempting to just floor it and let the engine do its thing. The system also keeps the vehicle on battery power while backing up and during parking. Like virtually all other hybrids, it also shuts off when you stop and features regenerative braking to keep the batteries charged.
One thing I really did like about the Fusion Hybrid was its instrumentation. A full set of gauges front and centre tells you things like your current fuel consumption, how much electric juice your accessories are using, engine rpms, and when the internal combustion engine is about to cut in. This latter display is quite useful if you want to glean optimum fuel economy out of the system and I found myself using it a lot. There is also a cluster of leaves that "grows" and "sheds", depending upon how you drive. Be environmentally sensitive and you�re rewarded with a nice full bouquet of leaves; put the pedal to the metal and you get nothing but a stalk.
And the Fusion Hybrid will move right along. It�s much snappier than either the Insight or the Prius…..especially the former, and the entire hybrid drive system is seamless and virtually undetectable. Total power output is 155 horsepower and 136 foot-pounds of torque, and its Transport Canada fuel consumption ratings are an impressive 4.6 L/100 km in town and 5.4 L/100 km on the highway. Ford is claiming a range of some 1127 kilometres on a full tank of fuel for the Fusion Hybrid, and if you ran out, you could probably baby it for another 100 km or so on battery power.
About pricing. Base price for the Fusion Hybrid is just a whisker under $32,000, which puts it above both the Insight and Prius…..by several thousand dollars. But you get a full whack of features for the money, including power driver�s seat, Sirius satellite radio (for six months), air conditioning, ABS, one-touch power windows, remote keyless entry, and a full complement of front and side airbags. My tester also had a power moonroof ($1600), voice-activated navi system ($2100) and the "Driver�s Vision Group", which includes a blind spot side detection system, and rear video camera. I�d pass on the first two extras, but go for the third. Other options include leather upholstery, heated front seats, and remote start.
The Fusion also has all kinds of elbow room. Both the Insight and Prius are kind of cramped, and there�s 334 litres of luggage space in the trunk. That said, the Fusion�s main rivals are the Camry, Altima, and Malibu Hybrids, despite the fact that the Prius is in the same vehicle category (mid-size).
Although the Fusion Hybrid does return outstanding fuel economy, it�s rivals do as well. I think what appeals most to me about this vehicle is the fact that there have been no compromises made in terms of practicality and driveability. It�s completely user-friendly and not as quirky as the Prius, for example.
Let�s see how it stands the test of time.
AT A GLANCE
Type: Five-passenger mid-size sedan
Base Price: $31,999; as tested: $38,149
Engine: 2.5 litre four cylinder w. AC permanent magnet electric motor
Horsepower/Torque: 156 hp @ 6000 rpm/ 136 foot-pounds @ 2250 rpm
Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 4.6 city; 5.4 hwy, regular gas.
Alternatives: Toyota Camry Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid, Chev Malibu Hybrid, Toyota Prius, VW Jetta TDI, Honda Insight.
Likes: Great fuel economy, lots of interior elbow room, easy-to-get-along-with instrumentation and drivetrain.
Dislikes: Still a bit of an unknown quantity.