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Editor's note: Ford revised its EPA fuel economy numbers for the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid. The new numbers show 44 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. This review has been updated to reflect the new numbers.
Aesthetics may be subjective, but I believe the 2013 Ford Fusion is the best-looking midsize sedan of the current crop. Despite its trout-mouth grille, the Fusion exudes premium-car style. The only other midsize sedan that comes close in looks is the new Honda Accord.
But a midsize sedan must do more than look pretty. This class of car tends to be a multipurpose vehicle for a majority of Americans, a comfortable car for the daily commute that can also take the family to the relatives' on holidays. It is the weekend errand runner and road-trip vacationer.
The Fusion, with its spacious, comfortable cabin, fills all these roles very well. Ford offers the vehicle with a number of engines to suit different needs. The 2013 Fusion Hybrid, which I reviewed, looks like the best of the bunch with its 44 mpg EPA rating for city and 41 mpg rating on the highway.
However, it fell substantially short of that fuel economy in my testing. Further detracting from its practicality is a loss of 4 cubic feet in the trunk due to the lithium ion battery pack. The 12 cubic feet remaining is still a substantial amount, but might require smarter packing for a family of four on vacation.
What stood out when I reviewed the Ford Fusion EcoBoost last year was how the various driver assistance features give a preview of autonomous car technology. The Fusion Hybrid that Ford sent us came similarly equipped, including adaptive cruise control, automatic parallel parking, and lane departure prevention.
I made heavy use of adaptive cruise control, setting out on long freeway cruises in moderate to heavy traffic. With the car's speed set at slightly over the limit to keep up with the flow of traffic, the adaptive cruise control used its radar to match the speeds of slower traffic up ahead. For 100 miles, I did not touch the brake or gas pedals except in tricky freeway junctions or when other drivers cut in too close.
And in that latter circumstance, the Fusion Hybrid might have handled everything just fine if I hadn't given in to fear and hit the brakes.
The system seemed programmed to drop acceleration when something interrupted its radar fix, such as another car cutting in front. It took a short moment to reestablish its fix on the car in front, after which it dropped back to whatever following distance I had set.
Using the adaptive cruise control was not proof against the collision-warning system coming on. If cars suddenly began stopping on the freeway ahead, the Fusion Hybrid flashed a red light on the windshield, a good suggestion to take over control and get on the brakes.
Lane departure prevention is another proto-autonomous technology, this one using a forward-looking camera to recognize lane line markings. Drift over the lane line, and it steers itself back into the lane.
Testing this feature on a rural highway, I let the car drift over to the shoulder. At the lane line it steered itself back to the left, and I waited to see if it would hit the center line and nudge itself right.
Instead, the car lit up a message telling me to keep my hands on the wheel. Smart car.
Another couple of miles down the road, it brought up a message suggesting I pull over for a cup of coffee. I figured that next it would suggest I try a driver training program.
The Fusion Hybrid's electric power-steering system makes this feature possible, and also enables automatic parallel parking. Unlike older hydraulic power-steering systems, electric power steering not only makes it easy to turn the wheel, it can also steer the car itself.
To use the automatic parallel parking, I pushed a button on the console, then drove the congested streets around my San Francisco home. Whenever the Fusion Hybrid's sensors noticed a gap big enough for it at the curb on the right side, it sounded a tone. As it couldn't distinguish a driveway from a curb, I had to visually confirm a legal spot.
When it found a good one, I pulled forward until the car told me to stop, then put it in reverse and took my hands off the wheel. It did an amazing job each time I tried it, perfectly steering into the spot without touching the curb. I could do it that well maybe 85 percent of the time, but I would rather let the car get it right all the time.
As a hybrid car, the Fusion Hybrid employs a gas engine and electric motor, either of which can drive the front wheels. This drive system is the same as in the Ford C-Max Hybrid. The 2-liter engine makes 141 horsepower and 129 pound-feet of torque, while the electric motor is rated at 118 horsepower and 117 pound-feet of torque.
An electronic continuously variable transmission combines the output of engine and motor for total system horsepower rated at 188.
The Fusion Hybrid is not a fast car, something I found out once I stopped trying to hypermile the thing. The display next to its speedometer kept showing me fascinating information about how the hybrid system was operating, encouraging me to drive gently and maximize electric motor use. A braking coach even rewarded me by reporting a percentage of how much energy I recovered when I brought the car to a stop.
The Fusion Hybrid handles the transition from electric motor to gas engine very smoothly. The engine added a little sound and vibration to the silent running of the electric motor at low speeds, but at anything above 40 mph the beginning of the engine's combustion became lost in the general cacophony of wind and road. Not to say there was any excess cabin noise; the Fusion Hybrid offered a comfortable and relatively quiet interior.
On the highway, I found it very pleasing to see the displays indicating the car running under electric power.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Model||2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid|
|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|
|Price as tested||$34,770|