The problem with some hybrid cars is that they're often more hybrid than they are car. The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid doesn't have that problem. Even without considering the gas and electric tag team happening under its hood, the Fusion is a well-put-together vehicle with an excellent cabin tech package.
But let's be honest: you really can't deny the Fusion's flexible hybrid power train, its clever application of dashboard technology, or the oddly long time periods between visits to the pump. Consider the Fusion's low sticker price and high value, and the hybrid goes from being a good car to being a darn great car.
Flexible hybrid power train
Under the Fusion's hood is Ford's 2.5-liter Hybrid Powersplit drivetrain. Cutting through the marketing-speak, this means that there's a 156-horsepower 2.5-liter lean-burning, Atkinson cycle gasoline engine sharing motivational duties with a 106-horsepower AC electric motor. The two power sources are joined by a planetary gear set that transmits the blended torque to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT) and onward to the front wheels.
Differences in the power curves of the two motors mean that the system only outputs a maximum of 191 horsepower before the drivetrain loses, but that's still a fairly decent amount of power for a midsize sedan. Torque numbers for the electric engine are unpublished, but the gasoline engine outputs 136 pound-feet by itself.
The eCVT is an unassuming unit. It has no Sport mode or paddle shifters like the Honda Insight and there are no special Power or Eco modes like those of the Prius. There's simply the classic PRNDL configuration that has been the standard of automatic transmissions for the last decade. But that doesn't mean that the Fusion's power train isn't flexible; in fact with the help of the SmartGauge instrument cluster, the driver is given a tremendous amount of influence over the power delivery with only the gas pedal.
As a parallel hybrid, the Fusion Hybrid is able to run under pure-electric (EV) power, gasoline power, or a blend of the two. Around town, we noticed that as long as the road remained relatively flat (or on a downward grade) and we feathered the throttle, the Fusion was quite willing to remain in EV mode all the way up to the speed limit on most surface roads. In fact, Ford claims that the Fusion can maintain EV mode up to 47 mph, which we're sure goes a long way toward achieving its lofty fuel economy ratings. Of course, running the air conditioning, cranking the stereo, and plugging devices into the Fusion's 110-volt A/C outlet will eat into the electric top speed and range.
According to the EPA's estimates, the Fusion Hybrid should average 41 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway. In our testing, we tended to hover around the 36 mpg mark, but we're no hypermilers. Our testing covered equal parts city and highway miles with a few performance runs and high-speed freeway merges thrown in for good measure.
While we're talking about performance, it should be noted that the Fusion is no slouch. Bear in mind that the hybrid is tuned for high mpgs and not low quarter-mile times, but when you need power to merge with freeway-speed traffic, the Fusion won't let you down. Of course, you'll have to factor the eCVT's sort of sluggish downshift when you do and the combined gas and electric mills will protest your acceleration with one of the worst-sounding engine notes of all time, but you'll get where you need to be.
On the other hand, the Fusion Hybrid's handling is nothing to write home about. The combination of lugging around hefty batteries and electronics, a suspension tuned for comfort, and low rolling resistance tires results in gratuitous amounts of body roll and understeer. Of course, safe, predictable understeer isn't always a bad thing when you're just trying to get to work, so we won't punish the Fusion too badly for it. On the bright side, the Fusion's steering is light without feeling overboosted and turn-in is fairly direct, even with the body roll.
The Fusion's regenerative braking system is fairly grabby, with an initial bite that takes some getting used to. Easing the Fusion hybrid out of the CNET garage for the first time was a jerky affair; but as we became more accustomed to the brake pedal, we were able to smooth out our low-speed creep.
Even the gauges are smart
The Fusion is hiding some rather advanced tech under its hood, but its cabin technology is also quite impressive, even at the low trim level at which our tester was equipped.
The most impressive bit of tech lives directly in front of the driver's seat: the SmartGauge instrument cluster with EcoGuide. This highly flexible interface consists of two full-color LCD screens that flank a physical speedometer. Users can choose from four configurations that show as much or as little information as necessary.
Inform is the most basic configuration that simply shows fuel and battery charge levels. Enlighten adds instantaneous fuel economy and a tachometer with EV mode indicator. Engage drops the tach in favor of a power meter that displays engine and battery output power simultaneously. Finally, the most complex, Empower, displays power to wheels with an EV mode threshold overlay and an accessory power consumption gauge.
We tended to leave the SmartGauge in Empower mode, partially because we're information junkies, but also because it gave us the most information about what the hybrid power train was doing and how we could influence its behavior. The EV mode threshold overlay was particularly useful because it simply showed us what we needed to do to keep the Fusion running silently and emissions-free for as long as possible. The accessory power overlay was a subtle reminder that running the air conditioner unnecessarily or playing with the color-selectable ambient lighting was cutting into our EV range.