With several friends and family members shopping for cars this summer, I perused the various wish lists they sent for this issue’s column. My sister made the best proxy case- she and her husband are always on the road as photojournalists; between that and their nearly two-year old daughter, her priorities include practicality, cargo room, and efficiency- but not at the cost of fun and coolness- so when she asked what I thought of the latest hybrid (one that is refreshingly not the Prius) I decided to get my hands on one for a couple days of “real world driving” to see just how well it would meet a young family’s needs.
The Ford Fusion hybrid (and its clone, a hybrid version of the Mercury Milan) is on the lips of many these days- it’s recent facelift with chrome grill and accents and 17-inch aluminum wheels renders it more athletic than most hybrids, while clean lines and restrained embellishments keep it more contemporary looking than most midsize sedans. Doesn’t hurt that it also comes from an American car company at a time when there’s been little in Detroit to cheer about. Bigger than the Prius, the Fusion aims at larger hybrids like the Camry and Altima- rated at 41mpg in the city, 36 on the highway, it bests them both in the gas-sipping department.
Hybrids are known for their reliance on the electric motor at lower speeds- in the Fusion’s case, up to 47mph. Given that, I figured it would excel in my little town, whose residential section boasts one square mile, one stoplight and two streets above a 25mph speed limit. Turns out, however, that my town might be just a bit too small- in the 3-mile roundtrip to take my own son to school, the engine stayed on nearly the whole time (to heat the catalyst and avoid emissions from a cold engine), resulting in a disappointing 29mpg.
Determined to better that, I ran some other local errands, aided by what is really the best instrument display I’ve seen in a hybrid. Ford’s SmartGuage provides the requisite information on mileage, battery power and fuel use, as well as power use by each the accelerator and accessories, all thoughtfully displayed and easy to interpret. And I learned from experience that the graphic branch of leaves that appear (or not) to encourage gentler driving is a big hit with kids; between my son’s back seat coaching and the sort of driving that gives hybrid folks a bad name, I did manage to get the mpg meter up to 53mpg, though my average over a couple days’ driving rooted itself right around 38mpg.
Range games aside, the Fusion is fun to drive- the chassis provides a cushier ride than I expected, and it’s responsive and agile in the handling department. Despite a curb weight of nearly two tons, it accelerates from 0-60 in under nine seconds thanks to its 2.5 liter, 4-cylinder engine that puts out 156 horsepower (191 when combined with the electric motors) and is mated to a continuously variable transmission that remains sure of itself as the system blends between electricity and gas. It should be noted, however, that the highway mileage is only 2mpg better than the non-hybrid Fusion- so if you’re a heavy highway commuter, it’s worth comparing both versions.
The Fusion hybrid starts at $27,270 though the currently-available Federal tax credit of up to $1,700 eases that a bit (and if you’re replacing a vehicle that gets less than 18mpg, do check out cars.gov). Even the base model is nicely equipped, however, with a light and airy interior featuring recycled cloth seating for five (heated leather available), power accessories, and the Sync system, which allows voice control of bluetooth enabled phones, mp3 players, etc. Ford doesn’t scrimp on safety options- even in the basic Fusion hybrid comes standard with front, side, and head curtain airbags, as well as stability and traction control. A rearview camera (which while parking is more chastising than the “Aww, mom!” when I drive hard enough to lose my leaves), blind spot alert, and navigation system with real-time traffic are also available. The only downside that I found in the practicality department is that the rear seats in the hybrid version of the Fusion don’t fold down, which is certainly helpful in a family car. But the 12 cubic feet of cargo will more than handle your average trip to Costco- or at least, it did mine.
Without question, I can see why people are excited about the Fusion hybrid. Safe, practical and fun, with a myriad of thoughtful touches, it has both street cred and eco cred while screaming about neither. A smart choice for young families, it might be an even smarter move for Ford.