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.
Regardless of what mode you choose for the SmartGauge, the system displays coolant temperature, a gear selection indicator, and a trip computer. Also available to be displayed is the EcoGuide, which is a virtual plant that indicates how green your motoring is. As your miles-per-gallon go up, the plant sprouts more leaves. Mash the throttle and the plant dies before your eyes. The EcoGuide is a neat trick, but we think it's rather gimmicky. Fortunately, it can be replaced with a more useful histogram that displays your fuel economy over the last 10, 30, or 60 minutes of driving.
Sony meets Sync
Moving on to the center stack, our Ford Fusion Hybrid was equipped with the basic six-disc in-dash CD changer with MP3-playback and AM/FM/Sirius Satellite Radio. Fortunately, even the Fusion's basic stereo is a top-notch unit thanks to standard Sync by Microsoft. This voice-controlled system consists of a standard USB port that parses both portable storage devices and MP3 players (including iPods/iPhones) and standard Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free calling and A2DP stereo audio streaming.
Plug into the USB port and Sync goes to work indexing the media stored on your portable storage device or a portable media player. When it's done (usually only after a few moments) you'll be able to call up any artist, song, album, or genre stored on the device with voice commands, such as "Sync, Play artist the Killers" or "Sync, Play genre polka." The system is quite accurate in its understanding artist names, but some extremely odd spellings and complex names proved tricky, for example "Roni Size & Reprazent."
When paired with a Bluetooth phone, Sync gives the option of downloading and indexing your address book, after which you'll be able to voice dial your friends with the same ease with which you called up your music. Pairing a Bluetooth phone also enables connected features such as 911 Assist, which automatically dials 911 in the event of an airbag deployment. Connected navigation directions and traffic also utilize the Bluetooth phone connection to download turn-by-turn directions in a manner similar to GM's OnStar turn-by-turn system. Unfortunately, we were unable to connect to the service in our tester, but we've seen it in action in other Sync-equipped vehicles.
Audio was pumped through an optional 12-speaker Sony premium audio system that included two subwoofers and a total of 390 watts of amplification. The Sony system is well balanced, with good, but not overpowering, bass response and clear mids and highs. Where the system truly stands out is its excellent stereo staging that lifts the sound up to ear level and stages the audio in front of the driver for crisper sound at all volumes. Also, if you're a fan of talk radio and podcasts, the Sony system is one of the better systems we've tested for reproduction of the human voice.
The Fusion is also available with a hard-drive-based navigation system that integrates with the Sirius connection with Sirius Travel Link for real-time traffic, weather conditions, fuel prices, and other data services. The system also adds a color touch screen and 10GB of space for storing photos and ripping CDs with the Jukebox function. We've already had a look at that system in the Fusion's twin, the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid, so check out that review for more info on this system.
In addition to entertainment tech, our Fusion was equipped with some neat bits of safety tech.
BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) utilizes radar detection to monitor the Fusion's blind spot (as well as up to 10 feet behind the vehicle) for moving objects. If the system detects an obstruction, an amber LED illuminates in the appropriate sideview mirror. We like that the system works at low speeds, but the tiny light is pretty easy to miss if you're not paying attention, and we'd rather see a larger array of LEDs (like those on the Audi Q5's blind spot monitoring system).
Cross traffic monitoring and rear proximity alerts utilize the same BLIS radar sensors when reversing to increase safety in parking lots. Cross traffic monitoring scans to the left and right of the Fusion when backing out of a parking spot, sounding an audible alert if a vehicle is approaching from either side. Rear proximity alerts sounds an audible beep when reversing if an obstruction is detected behind the vehicle, which increases in urgency as the distance closes. The system is even sensitive enough to pick up pedestrians.
Further increasing safety is a rearview camera that features a hidden display in the rearview mirror (on vehicles with navigation, the LCD touch screen is used). This system includes distance markers, but not trajectory lines that move with the steering wheel.
The Fusion Hybrid's class-leading fuel economy and competent road manners earned it a high performance score. Meanwhile the exceptional combination of Sync, Bluetooth, and Sony premium audio, as well as the available hard-drive-based navigation system, result in a high cabin comfort score. Like the Mercury Milan Hybrid, we found the cabin materials to be of good quality, but exterior styling to be a bit bland. The Fusion doesn't scream "HYBRID" like the Prius, but that might be a good thing.
One side effect of the Fusion's hybrid configuration that will go unnoticed by many until it's too late is that the electronics necessitate a fixed back seat, eliminating the trunk pass-through for long objects. If you absolutely need to carry skis, a bike, or a surfboard, you should probably invest in a roof rack.
Our Sterling Gray Charcoal Metallic tester starts at a base MSRP of $27,270 for the base model with recycled cloth seats, basic audio, and standard Sync and Bluetooth. Add Package 501A to get the Moon & Tune package (power moonroof, Sony premium audio) and the Driver's Vision package (BLIS, cross traffic monitoring, rearview camera with proximity sensor) for the discounted price of $1,595. Add an additional $1,190 for heated, leather-trimmed seats to reach an as-tested price of $30,780 (including $725 destination fee).
Or you could spec Package 502A to get all of that plus the hard-drive-based touch-screen navigation system for just $31,940. A similarly equipped 2010 Toyota Camry Hybrid is more expensive, is less fuel efficient, and features fewer bells and whistles than the Fusion Hybrid, making the Fusion a much better deal for your $30,000.