The New York Times
For the next few hundred words, I am going to detail all the great attributes of the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and explain why you might want to buy such an economical car with so many cool features. Then I’m going to explain why you will probably ignore me and decide not to buy one.
First, let’s talk fuel economy: it is stellar for a car this large and useful. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Fusion Hybrid at 41 miles a gallon in the city, 36 on the highway and 39 in combined driving. That is an incredible 8 m.p.g. better than the similar-size Toyota Camry Hybrid in city driving and 2 m.p.g. better on the highway.
The Fusion Hybrid is also refined and comfortable. Like most of today’s hybrids it combines a gasoline engine with electric motors, but it drives and performs pretty much like a conventional car, without many of the quirks — squishy brakes, abrupt power transitions, odd noises — that hybrid owners take for granted.
Indeed, the new gas-electric Fusion is not only a standout among hybrids, it may well share honors — with the redesigned 2010 Toyota Prius — as the most well-rounded hybrids yet. At last, consumers have a choice of no-excuses hybrids that leave little to be desired.
What message does this Detroit-bred standout send us about the American auto industry — you know, the one that reportedly can’t build high-mileage cars, the one that supposedly can’t compete with foreigners or take a lead in high technology, the one whose hybrids are routinely dismissed as years behind Honda’s and Toyota’s?
Perhaps the Fusion Hybrid suggests that Ford really can deliver the advanced fuel-saving technology that it has been promising for years.
The Fusion Hybrid and its mechanically identical cousin, the Mercury Milan Hybrid — which, for simplicity’s sake, I won’t mention again — sit atop the midsize hybrid segment. All right, that’s true only if you don’t count the redesigned 2010 Toyota Prius hatchback, which recently went on sale and is rated at 51 m.p.g. in the city. (The Prius is smaller, but because its interior volume has expanded a bit, the new model is classified as a midsize car by the E.P.A.) But beating the Camry Hybrid is what really matters to Ford.
The Fusion Hybrid is powered by a 156-horsepower 4-cylinder 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle gasoline engine mated to a continuously variable transmission without fixed gears. The electric boost from two battery-driven motors raises net horsepower to 191, compared with 187 for the Camry Hybrid.
The system is similar to the one in the Escape Hybrid, but is tweaked to produce 20 percent more power from its nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. Variable timing for the engine’s intake cam helps the system transition fairly seamlessly (no clunks!) between electric and gas modes.
While most hybrids can operate on electric power alone only up to about 25 miles an hour, the Fusion Hybrid can be coaxed up to 47 m.p.h. before the gas engine kicks in. But all-electric mode will take you only a mile or so before the batteries need a recharge.
In my test-driving, I was able to beat the mileage estimates for both city and highway by 3 to 5 miles a gallon. But the Fusion Hybrid proved less capable of racking up the hypermile-type numbers (65 to 70 m.p.g.) that I managed through careful manipulation of the new Prius and the 2010 Honda Insight. Ford seems to have engineered the Fusion Hybrid for consistent mileage in real-world conditions, rather than the stellar results that can be obtained only from gimmicky driving techniques.
Outside, to differentiate the Hybrid from other Fusions, there is a small road-and-leaf badge and multispoke 17-inch wheels. Inside, the Hybrid has distinctive displays meant to coach a driver toward better economy. Gauge-minders are rewarded with mileage, like mine, that can exceed E.P.A. ratings. But some people may tire of the driving style required to achieve the best results, reverting back to their old, fuelish jackrabbit starts and abrupt stops.
The gauge screens can be configured to show different levels of information, including fuel use, battery power, average economy and instantaneous m.p.g. There’s also an animation of vines that grow representational leaves as the driver’s efficiency improves.
But beyond the array of economy readouts, the Fusion Hybrid can masquerade as a regular car.
Despite its 3,805-pound curb weight, the car accelerates from a stop to 60 m.p.h. in a little more than eight seconds. Though the chassis is tuned toward providing a cushy, Crown Victoria-caliber ride, the Fusion Hybrid is reasonably responsive and still entertaining to drive. That is refreshing among hybrids, because most in the genre sacrifice driving fun on the altar of minimalism.
That reminds me: an eco-friendly fabric seat made from recycled materials is standard.
Heated leather seating is an option, but if you start adding upgrades like that, along with a sunroof, a powerful stereo and a navigation system, the price zooms from $27,995 to more than $33,000.