Fusion Hybrid Gives Ford a Serious Comback Car

By dancurranjr On March 13th, 2009

ford-fusionLike a slow-moving motorized infantry battalion, the Ford Motor Co. has soldiered on through the recession chaos that devastated sales of automobiles and light trucks.

All vehicle manufacturers suffered severe casualties, but only Ford among Detroit’s Big Three had buttressed its force structure and did not require immediate reinforcement from the federal government.

Yet it faces the same challenges as everyone else: It must mobilize the vehicles needed for a massive turnaround. As anyone who knows anything about the car business can testify, it doesn’t happen overnight. An all-new vehicle can take up to four years to develop, and even modifications to existing models can take years.

Fortunately for Ford, it hasn’t been caught entirely unprepared. It has a number of products in the pipeline that should help it hold the line and even go on the attack.

Prominent among them is the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, which comes out of the box with a superior weapon: The best fuel economy of any perceived mid-size sedan. It has an EPA city/highway rating of 41/36 miles per gallon.

The reason for the “perceived” qualification is because, based on the U.S. government’s measurement of interior volume — the only across-the-board standard — the Toyota Prius hybrid is mid-size, and it manages 48/45 miles per gallon on the EPA’s city/highway cycle. But it is marketed and perceived by most consumers as a compact.

That leaves only the mid-size Toyota Camry (33/34), Nissan Altima (35/38) and Chevrolet Malibu (26/34) as the Fusion Hybrid’s direct competitors, along with the Fusion’s twin, the Mercury Milan Hybrid.

Honda had a hybrid Accord, but dropped it because of poor sales. It still sells the Civic Hybrid, a compact with a rating of 40/45, which beats the Fusion on the highway. But the Fusion has a higher city rating.

Because of the failed hybrid Accord, a question mark hangs over the Fusion Hybrid. So far, the most successful hybrid, the Prius, has had its own identity. Lesson learned. Honda is following that template with its new Insight hybrid.

Questions aside, the Fusion Hybrid is a complete car, with some advantages over the competition. Like the Prius and Camry, its hybrid system has an electric motor boosted by a gasoline engine — in this case, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder. With both motors working together, the output is 191 horsepower, driving the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission.

The way it’s programmed, the Fusion Hybrid can run up to 47 miles an hour purely on electric power. The threshold is lower on competitors’ cars. But it’s not an easy thing for a driver to do. Despite assertions that you can stay in electric power in neighborhood driving, you really have to maintain a feather foot. Even trying to stay up with ordinary urban traffic, it’s hard to keep the gasoline engine from kicking in.

Except for fussbudgets who focus on exacting the most mileage per drop of gasoline, most drivers likely will drive the Focus Hybrid fairly normally, so they’re not likely to achieve the 41 miles per gallon. Still, this is an economical mid-size family car.

In an attempt to encourage some of those ordinary drivers to become economy fussbudgets, the Fusion Hybrid comes with a gimmick called SmartGauge with EcoGuide. It’s an instrument cluster that uses illuminated graphics to display such things as instant fuel economy, battery charge status, and engine and battery power output. It takes a bit of learning.

Most unusual is a display that shows a bunch of leaves and vines that blossom and grow as a driver improves long-term fuel economy. It’s intended to encourage stingy driving habits, which might actually happen with certain picky personalities. But it also can be distracting, although Ford says that its research showed that the display did not affect safe driving.

Aside from the power train, the new Fusion Hybrid is virtually the same as a Fusion SEL, which is to say it’s been substantially upgraded from the original model. The exterior styling has been freshened to improve aerodynamics and give the Fusion a wider look.

Most noticeable are the interior styling changes, with redesigned seats and extensive use of upscale soft-touch materials, which together fashion a substantial, near-luxury ambiance. The front seats are big, deep and supportive and the outboard back seats also offer decent comfort, though not an excess of knee or head room. The center-rear position is impossibly cramped.

On the road, the Fusion Hybrid is serenely quiet and the drive train is so sophisticated that it’s difficult to discern when the gasoline engine kicks in and out. Handling is secure and the ride is comfortable.

The base price is $27,995, which is $3,295 more than a comparably equipped four-cylinder gasoline Fusion SEL. Full safety equipment, with stability and traction control, is included along with such items as Ford’s Sync voice-activated communications and entertainment system, leather upholstery, automatic climate control and 17-inch aluminum wheels.

With options that included a navigation system and a motorized sunroof, the suggested delivered price came to $30,685.

SOURCE: Scripps News

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