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2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid first look

CNET Car Tech gets a chance to drive the Ford Fusion Hybrid and comes away more than impressed.

Ford Fusion Hybrid
Ford's new Fusion Hybrid drives better than we expected. CNET

After seeing the Fusion Hybrid at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show, we've wanted to find out how it drives. This week we finally got the chance, and found it one of the best cars coming out this year. In fact, we find it far better than the 2010 Honda Insight or 2010 Toyota Prius. Although it might come up a little short for fuel economy, the driving experience is so much better, while the cabin technology is unparalleled.

The car's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is aided by a full hybrid system, giving it a net 191 horsepower. That number becomes plain when you drive the Fusion Hybrid and compare it with its hybrid competitors. But this story isn't all about power--the Fusion Hybrid delivers it seamlessly, and performs the hand-off from electric to gas without fuss. The car can purportedly get up to 47 mph under electric power alone, a figure we will test in the full review. Fuel economy is rated at 41 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.

Ford uses its Lincoln and Mercury brand for more upscale models, and the Fusion Hybrid gets a sister in the Milan Hybrid, but we didn't feel the cabin of the Fusion Hybrid lacked for luxury. Leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel enhanced this feeling, but quality fit and finish anchored it. There are plastics on dash and doors, but they are the soft kind.

Ford Fusion Hybrid SmartGauge
The SmartGauge is an innovative LCD instrument cluster. CNET

What really sets the Fusion Hybrid apart from other cars on the road is its instrument cluster, a customizable LCD featuring well-designed graphics to let you know how the car is performing. There are four presets showing different types of virtual gauges and information. We found it easy to switch between different modes without having to consult a manual. There is really nothing like it on the road, and we applaud Ford for taking such a bold step, which will surely get some backlash from purists who favor analog gauges. But those people probably wouldn't be interested in a hybrid, anyway.

For the last couple of years, we've been praising Ford's cabin technology, most of which is available in the Fusion Hybrid. That means an optional hard drive-based navigation system integrated with Sirius Travel Link, letting you find gas prices, avoid traffic congestion, get weather alerts, and even look for movie times. And Sync, which provides an excellent connection for MP3 players and cell phones, comes standard. Ford also has several new technologies available in the Fusion Hybrid, such as a blind spot warning system.

Our short drive in the Fusion Hybrid has us eagerly anticipating a longer review period with the car.