20 Mar 2009

First Drive: 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford’s new 2010 Fusion Hybrid is the latest introduction to the word of hybrid electric cars and we’ve had a chance to jump behind the wheel. How does it drive? Is it evolutionary or revolutionary? Does the SmartGauge system really work or is it just a gimmick? Here’s the details and our impressions of the 2010 Fusion Hybrid. You don’t want to miss this.

20 Mar 2009

Ford’s new 2010 Fusion Hybrid is the latest introduction to the word of hybrid electric cars and we’ve had a chance to jump behind the wheel. How does it drive? Is it evolutionary or revolutionary? Does the SmartGauge system really work or is it just a gimmick? Here’s the details and our impressions of the 2010 Fusion Hybrid. You don’t want to miss this.

First Drive Verdict

A real, no compromises sedan that takes the hybrid movement to the next level. The Ford Fusion Hybrid is smooth, sophisticated, and extremely easy to drive. Ford’s new SmartGauge display is revolutionary- providing the information you need to drive the Fusion Hybrid most efficiently. On a couple mile city loop we achieved an impressive 59.4mpg. (FastCompany.com has even noted our eco-impressive figure)

Related: Zane’s driving the 2010  Toyota Prius on Monday and Tuesday (March 23rd/24th). We’re taking your requests- what do you want to know?

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid – the details

First Drive: 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

From the outside, we’ll concede, the 2010 Fusion Hybrid could very well be mistaken for a regular Fusion Sedan. Aside from the Hybrid badges and some slight styling tweaks it does not stand out as the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight do.  There’s no odd shape and zero tacky hybrid decals plastered everywhere.

Even inside you’d be hard pressed to find where Ford might have skimped for weight savings.  Heated leather seats, a full navigation system, and all the options you’re used to can still be had with the Fusion Hybrid. Only the SmartGauge system in the dash gives any hint of the technology and fuel economy hiding under the bodywork- and that technology is impressive.

Ford made sure to avoid the “me too” Hybrid approach that General Motors has taken with the Chevy Malibu “lite”  Hybrid.  The Fusion Hybrid is a 100%, full fledged eco-machine. Like the Escape Hybrid- the Fusion Hybrid can run under electric motor only propulsion. Only when needed does the 2.5L 4-cylinder gas engine seamlessly start.

The Hybrid powertrain found in the Fusion Hybrid is the next generation of the system Ford has been using in the Escape Hybrid for the past few years. It features a 155-horsepower 2.5L Atkinson cycle four-cylinder gas engine mated to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. Also attached to the CVT is a 250-volt,106-horsepower AC electric motor.   The Fusion’s smaller and lighter nickel-metal hydride battery is 20% more powerful than its predecessor and features a revised chemistry that allows it to be run at a higher temperature. The combined output of the gas engine and electric motor is 191-horsepower. Other upgrades to the hybrid powertrain include an electric A/C compressor and an improved regenerative braking system that can recover energy that would have otherwise been lost through brake pad friction.

Through these enhancements Ford was able to achieve an EPA estimated highway rating of 41 miles to the gallon. That’s an impressive 8mpg better than the Toyota Camry Hybrid in the city. On the highway, the Fusion Hybrid is rated at 36mpg, nearly 2mpg better than the Camry Hybrid. All told, a full tank of gas will take you over 700-miles. Most impressive of all is that the vehicle can travel under electric-only power at speeds up to 47-mph. This is a huge improvement over many other hybrids which automatically turn on the gas engine at speeds over 30-mph, even if you don’t need it.

Behind the wheel

First Drive: 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Turn the key and not much happens. If the car is up to temperature the gas engine will not even fire. The Fusion Hybrid is so quiet Ford had to add a light in the gauge cluster telling the driver it’s ok to get moving. After the SmartGauge display has cycled on and you’re buckled up, only light pressure on the accelerator is needed and  the Fusion silently glides ahead.

Under electric-only power the gauges immediately begin updating. The power (PWR) gauge readout gives an instantaneous measurement to the amount of acceleration you’re requesting.  Think of it as a smart tachometer. Press the throttle and the needle-line floats up. Coast and the needle-line drifts back down. Under electric power part of the power gauge is shaded green.  If the needle is in the green shaded area the Fusion Hybrid stays in electric-only power and uses no gasoline.  The higher the speed, the larger the EV shaded area becomes. Simply put- the “PWR” gauge alone allows the driver to accurately control the transition between electric-only and hybrid-gas operation.

But when you do need the extra boost from the gas engine it’s possible you’ll never realize it. The transition and start-up of the gas engine is so smooth and seemless it’s hard to tell when its running.  Reading  gauges for confirmation may be the only way to truly know in most situations.   We’ve driven nearly every hybrid system on the market today and even we had troubles detecting when the gas engine came to life.

Driving the Fusion Hybrid on city streets outside Boston, MA we noticed Ford has really worked hard to mainstream the hybrid driving experience. The electric motor puts out more than enough torque to get the Fusion up to speed easily.  With a little bit of effort we found no problem keeping the gas engine off during most of our time driving. Only when leaving a stoplight or moving uphill did we find the gas engine kicking on for assistance.

The Fusion Hybrid is also outfitted with a refined regenerative braking system. A big complaint of the Escape Hybrid we’ve driven in the past was its numb on or off brake peddle. The upgraded system in the Fusion is surprisingly precise and linear, much like a conventional car.  During easy driving conditions its possible the mechanical brake pads will never engage, instead leaving the work of slowing the vehicle up to the regenerative system. A big plus with this approach is that the Fusion’s brake pads are used less and thus last longer.   Ford estimates that 94% of braking force can be recaptured through the system, leaving only 6% for the conventional pads to deal with.

All told after taking the Fusion Hybrid out for a couple miles in city driving we averaged an impressive 59.4mpg.

Ford’s revolutionary SmartGauge with EcoGuide

First Drive: 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid - SmartGauge

So while the hybrid technology is impressive it’s only part of the equation. Last October, Ford introduced the brand new SmartGauge system and you’ll find it on the Fusion Hybrid. It’s a huge technological leap in driver information, comprised of a large center analog speedometer flanked by two high-resolution LCD screens. The display can be configured to show varying amounts of information. The driver can choose from one of four configurations.

Inform: Fuel level and battery charge status
Enlighten: Adds electric vehicle mode indicator and tachometer
Engage: Adds engine output power and battery output power
Empower: Adds power to wheels, engine pull-up threshold and accessory power consumption

During our drive (and as displayed above) we used “Empower”.   Aside from being visually pleasing SmartGauge is extraordinarily useful.  The LCD screens show exactly the information you need to drive Fusion Hybrid to its fullest. We especially appreciated the “PWR” gauge, which adapts as the vehicle changes between electric-only and hybrid-gas modes. As throttle is applied the power line moves up accordingly. While in electric-only mode, part of the gauge is shaded green, giving visual representation to how close or far away you are from kicking on the gas engine or returning to electric-only power.

Hybrids have notoriously taken a lot of skill to get the best fuel economy out of them. Being light on the throttle at low speeds usually means you can get by without kicking the gas engine on saving precious fuel. The caveat however is that, until now, you never knew exactly how much throttle was too much. Ford’s SmartGauge smartly fixes that issue.  Give the Fusion Hybrid some “gas”  in electric mode and the “PWR” meter adaptively floats up and down inside its green shaded “EV” range.  The faster you’re traveling, the wider the range the Fusion Hybrid will stay under electric only propulsion. By watching the meter you can give the Fusion just enough throttle to accelerate without kicking on the engine, effectively eliminating the guess work out of hyper-milling your hybrid.

While originally we were concerned the SmartGauage system would be garish or hokey, after using it in real life we walked away extremely impressed.  The LCD displays allow for a lot of information to fit in a compact space and still be readable.   Better yet- there’s no lag.  All the data, gauges, and readouts update smoothly and in real time. Not just a cool toy- Ford’s SmartGauge is a tool for the driver that delivers massive benefit.

Not exactly informative but none the less rewarding is the green leafy vine that grows on the right hand side of the gauges. The concept is simple- the better fuel economy you can achieve the more leaves grow and the bigger your virtual vine becomes. Slack off and your vine wilts away. Check out this example below.

First Drive: 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid - SmartGauge

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid Photo Gallery

Photos credit: Zane Merva

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  1. Cliff March 20th, 2009 11:02AM

    I don’t know how you managed to hit almost 60 mpg…impressive, but how slow were you going? Good work, guys

  2. Zane Merva March 20th, 2009 12:05PM

    Cliff- it was hard. We traveled between 25-45mph for the loop. A Ford representative was with us for the drive and verified the number at the end. Is it sad to say I get a kick out of this sort of thing? haha

  3. Tom McAvoy April 2nd, 2009 11:44AM

    Thanks for the great review. I am down to the Jetta diesel wagon or the Fusion Hybrid (Their respective prices are pretty close) for my hyper mileage errand and commuter car. Most of my day to day mileage is 45 MPH (the Hybrid Fusion electric motor engagement threshold) and under, so driven gently, I might be able to exceed the 41 MPG figure sometimes.
    Buying American from the only one of the US Big 3 automakers that did not ask for a US taxpayer handout really appeals to me. I was never a fan of Ford until they refused the cash, and the outstanding reliability of the non hybrid Fusion platform over its 3 or 4 year life bodes well for this car. Way to go Ford!

    • Zane Merva April 2nd, 2009 12:08PM

      Tom- thanks for the comment! You’re in luck because we’re driving a Jetta TDI this week. We’ll have the Road Test up early next week.

  4. L JONES May 11th, 2009 10:19AM

    Kudos to Ford for what they’ve achieved with the Fusion Hybrid. Unfortunately, it doesn’t meet my needs for luggage capacity. Stacking the batteries behind the rear seatbacks not only took a large chunk of the trunk, it also eliminated the possibility of expanding the luggage space by folding the rear seatbacks.

    Now that you’ve developed a first-rate hybrid system Ford, give us a car that competes with the versatility of the Prius with batteries beneath the floor, an expandable luggage area with folding rear seatbacks and a hatchback to allow loading large items (like the gas grill I recently bought – I had to unpack it in Target’s parking lot because the box wouldn’t fit through the trunk opening or side door of my 2003 Taurus).

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