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2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid review:

Ford puts its best tech forward in midsize sedan

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Eventually, I got over the Fusion Hybrid's economical drivetrain enough to see what happened with a heavy foot on the accelerator. The result was far from dramatic. The Fusion Hybrid promptly began to work its front wheels, but rather than leap forward it glided, slowly building up momentum. The power seemed adequate for most situations, but I would hesitate to initiate a pass on a two-lane highway.

The suspension felt stiff, a common tuning theme for new Ford cars, but it remained comfortable. That stiffness let it handle corners on twisty mountain roads well, without any wallowing around.

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Ford has become very good at tuning electric power steering for a natural feel. Josh Miller/CNET

The Fusion Hybrid's electric power steering maintained a natural feel most of the time. However, possibly due to the lane departure prevention, the steering wheel wriggled in my grip during some turns. It is an odd and off-putting sensation, but did not adversely affect my control of the car.

After a course of driving that included city, freeway, and twisty mountain roads, it came time to tally up the fuel economy. The 39.1-mpg result fell below the 42-mpg average EPA number to chalk up to exuberant driving, especially as I had been driving with a light touch on the gas most of the time.

As a further check I monitored the trip computer for average mileage while driving back and forth across San Francisco. It refused to breach the 40-mpg mark.

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
A screen to the left of the speedometer shows drivetrain information, while the screen on the right covers navigation, audio, and phone. Josh Miller/CNET

The Fusion Hybrid made fuel economy information available on a number of driver-selectable screens to the left of the speedometer. The right-side LCD showed screens for the stereo, hands-free phone system, navigation, and climate control. This car came equipped with MyFord Touch and the additional navigation option, which resides on an SD card.

I didn't find the MyFord Touch system as frustrating in the Fusion Hybrid as I expected, possibly due to this being my fifth review of a Ford model in the last four months. Familiarity may be modifying my expectations of the system, or at least making me less prone to using its slower interface elements.

The Fusion Hybrid's touch screen reacts more slowly than those on most personal electronics or in cars from many rival automakers. That slower response time makes entering addresses for navigation or searching for music a little tedious. Voice command, on the other hand, works much faster.

And once I had a set of addresses in the system, I could easily find them using the steering-wheel controls and right-hand instrument cluster LCD in a previous-destinations list. A push of a button loaded them into the navigation system as destinations.

I liked the look of the navigation system maps, and the route guidance graphics and voice prompts proved very helpful. However, it is annoying to see the map redraw itself periodically, going blank, then filling in streets like a first-generation iPhone. During drives through forests or between the skyscrapers of an urban center, the car's GPS sometimes lost its fix, putting the car's location on the map in the middle of a block or far off-road.

Traffic troubles
When reviewing the Ford C-Max Energi last week, I complained that the navigation system's traffic avoidance could be more aggressive. The Fusion Hybrid gave me my comeuppance, rerouting onto surface roads around a traffic jam that seemed nonexistent when I went back over the local traffic reports. I love traffic avoidance features, but I have not seen them work very effectively with Ford's navigation system.

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Traffic avoidance is a difficult feature, made more problematic by traffic reporting that is not always timely. Josh Miller/CNET

The MyFord Touch system is optional with the Fusion Hybrid in SE trim, and not taking it enables the Sync AppLink feature. Along with a host of music apps, AppLink integrates with Scout, an excellent navigation app running on a smartphone. However, features such as lane departure prevention and adaptive cruise control require MyFord Touch, making the decision more complicated.

Sync, however, comes standard. This voice command-based system not only integrates personal electronics into the car, but includes some useful telematics features, such as 911 Assist, which automatically calls emergency services after a crash.

Sync's Bluetooth hands-free phone system worked extremely well, indexing my phone's contact list so I could place calls by saying the name of my contact. It reads incoming texts from some phones, although not yet the iPhone.

It also streams music to the stereo from any Bluetooth-paired device. Sync goes further with the music options, supporting two USB ports in the Fusion Hybrid, both tucked away in the console. I could plug a USB drive into one and my iPhone cable into the other, and request music from either by name through voice command or by using the car's touch screen.

Other audio sources included HD Radio and satellite radio. The SD card slot, used for navigation in this car, can also work as a music source.

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Drivers can make the car a Wi-Fi hot spot by plugging a cellular data adapter into one of the USB ports. Josh Miller/CNET

A premium Sony audio system is available in the Fusion Hybrid, but this example came with the base six-speaker system. It produced reasonable sound at moderate volumes, and I appreciated its stereo separation. But turning up the volume caused door panel rattle and other unpleasant sounds, which may be a good strategy for keeping the kids from borrowing the car. As car audio systems go, the sound from this one was pretty average.

Tech showcase
The 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid serves as a showcase for every advanced technical feature Ford has to offer. The driver assistance features run up the price of the car substantially, but they work every bit as well as similar features on cars costing many thousands of dollars more.

Sync comes standard in the Fusion Hybrid, and remains one of the best means of connecting smartphones and other devices to the car. It would be nice if Sync AppLink and MyFord Touch were not mutually exclusive, as both offer many desirable features. Because MyFord Touch's performance is weak, I would probably opt for Sync AppLink.

The fuel economy shortfall of Ford's hybrid drive system was disappointing. I generally expect my driving to be on the low side of a car's EPA ratings, but not to this extent. However, 40 mpg still counts as an excellent average for a midsize sedan. Buyers will need to adjust their expectations.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Trim SE
Power train 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine with 88-kilowatt electric motor, electronic continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy 44 mpg city/41 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 39.1 mpg
Navigation Optional flash memory-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard with contact list integration
Digital audio sources iOS integration, USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system 6-speaker system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, automatic parallel parking, blind-spot monitor, collision warning, rearview camera
Base price $27,200
Price as tested $34,770

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