2014 Ford Fusion Energi review:

Ford Fusion Energi dips foot in the electric-car pool

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LCD times three

Along with the neat little energy usage and mileage displays on the left of the instrument cluster, the main 8-inch touchscreen includes a screen showing the power flow from the car's motive sources, and a screen where you can schedule charging to take advantage of cheap electricity rates.

On the right side of the speedometer, another LCD shows infotainment functions, such as navigation, stereo, and phone information. Using the right-side four-way controller on the steering wheel, I could perform a limited number of actions such as choosing my audio source or entering my preprogrammed home address as a destination.

However, the real strength of this infotainment system, which Ford calls Sync with MyFord Touch, is voice command. Through voice, I could request specific music from any source plugged into the car's USB drives, place a call to anyone in my Bluetooth-paired phone's contact list, or enter an address into navigation as a single string. The voice-command system can be a little clunky, for example making me specify "navigation" before entering a destination, but the system shows available commands on the main screen, making it easy to learn.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi
MyFord Touch divides its main functions by quadrant, a design that is ultimately limiting. Josh Miller/CNET

The center touchscreen interface divides phone, navigation, stereo, and climate into four quadrants, a paradigm that limits the system to four main functions. Audi uses a similar interface design, but I think the future of automotive infotainment would be something like Chevrolet's MyLink system, which uses an icon-based paradigm, something we are all getting used to with smartphones and tablets.

That said, I found the MyFord Touch screen nicely responsive, with a bit of haptic feedback that helped confirm for me that I had actually hit a button while I was keeping my eyes on the road. There are a few areas in the interface that could be refined. I found it particularly odd to get an interstitial screen when I wanted to select music from my iPhone, asking if I wanted to explore the device or go to the music library. That's not something you want to ponder when driving at 65 mph down the freeway.

With the MyFord Touch system, navigation comes as an option on an SD card. I like the look of the maps on this system and its route guidance, particularly that it took me to the correct side of the street for my destinations. The maps can fill in slowly, though, especially in a downtown area where there are a lot of buildings to render in perspective view. It seemed that MyFord Touch needed more graphics horsepower.

Navigation was also supposed to route me around bad traffic, but a couple of times I found myself on freeways marked in red on the map, indicating traffic flow below 20 mph. To be fair, I have found few navigation systems that are aggressive about routing around traffic jams. BMW's system seems to be the best, in my experience.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi
The maps look good, but can be slow to render on the 8-inch touchscreen. Josh Miller/CNET

Ford offers Sync services, a rudimentary telematics service, as a means of getting destinations from an online source. I would like to see Ford implement online destination search integrated with the navigation system, accessible at the push of a button and linked to something like Google or Bing.

The Fusion Energi offers a good selection of audio sources, such as HD Radio, Bluetooth streaming, and two USB ports for drives and iOS integration. As I mentioned above, some of the screens for finding music on a connected device are overly complex. With Bluetooth streaming, there is no means of selecting music using the car's interface, something other manufacturers have begun to implement.

Noticeably missing from the audio sources are any apps or other online sources. Ford actually does have a solid system for integrating apps in its cars, called Sync AppLink, but that system is not compatible with MyFord Touch. Because MyFord Touch comes standard in the Fusion Energi, there is no configuration for including app integration.

A Ford spokesperson told me the company was working with Apple on implementing CarPlay, which offers deep iPhone integration for navigation, hands-free phone calls, and audio. Further, Ford is also working on integrating Sync AppLink with the MyFord Touch system, but Ford would not comment on timelines for either feature.

Also standard in the Fusion Energi with SE trim, the model I drove, was a six-speaker audio system with no option to upgrade. This system is pretty good for its class, with a reasonably powerful amp that gave it a full sound. And while the frequency reproduction was well balanced, it lacked the clarity of higher fidelity systems.

Ford offers a Sony audio system, with much better quality, as standard in the Fusion Energi Platinum, the next trim level up.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi
The Fusion Energi works very well for people with a reasonable daily commute. Josh Miller/CNET

Electric drive-style

As with the crop of electric cars available today, the value of the 2014 Ford Fusion Energi depends a lot on your driving lifestyle. If you have a place to plug it in, and commute 20 miles round-trip each day, you will spend very little time at the gas station. Better yet, you can take it for longer trips on the weekend, or even extensive roadtrips, and still get excellent fuel economy for a midsize sedan. The minimized trunk space is the only real drawback.

Even with a commute of 50 miles round-trip, the Fusion Energi will turn in stellar fuel economy.

Against competitors such as the Honda Accord Plug-in and Toyota Prius Plug-in , the Fusion Energi boasts significantly more electric range, 19 miles compared with their 13 miles. The Fusion Energi offers the comfortable cabin of a midsize sedan, but those wanting a different body style can look to the Ford C-Max Energi , which uses the same plug-in hybrid drivetrain.

Ford will need to update its MyFord Touch infotainment system to remain competitive, but the basic features for navigation, hands-free phone calling, and digital audio playback are there. On the option list are a host of excellent driver assistance features, such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure prevention, that would raise the Fusion Energi's tech level. The available rearview camera is a must-have.

Most important, the driving dynamics of the Fusion Energi are about perfect for the car's purpose of comfortable, easy, and economical daily transportation.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Ford Fusion Energi
Trim SE
Power train 2-liter 4-cylinder engine with 88-kilowatt electric motor, electronic continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy 88 mpg equivalent, 38 mpg average for city and highway
Observed fuel economy 54.2 mpg
Navigation Optional, with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources iOS integration, USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system 6-speaker system
Driver aids Available adaptive cruise control, lane-departure prevention, automated parallel parking, blind-spot monitor
Base price $34,700
Price as tested $36,615

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