At first blush, the 2017 Fusion Hybrid doesn't look like it's changed much. However, many small changes make for a big cumulative improvement to one of our favorite hybrid sedans.
I've been a fan of the Ford Fusion Hybrid's particular flavor of economy and efficiency for two generations, dating back to when the hybrid model was introduced in 2009. The second generation sees a subtle but significant mid-cycle refresh for the 2017 model year with better tech, improved efficiency and subtle style and packaging changes.
The 2017 Fusion Hybrid sees styling tweaks to both its front and rear fascias, but the engine room for the second generation model hasn't changed much at all. It's still home to 2.0-liter, Atkinson-cycle engine that makes 144 horsepower and 129 pound-feet of torque. That petrol-powered engine is mated to an 88 kW electric motor and a 1.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. All together, the Fusion's hybrid powerplant sends 188 combined horsepower in the direction of the front wheels via an electronic continuously variable transmission (eCVT).
The electric portion of the powertrain has been tweaked and now can drop into a fully electric driving mode at speeds up to 85 mph. The revised regenerative braking system, which draws from lessons learned on the Focus Electric, now allows the car to recapture up to 94 percent of energy when coming to a stop, improving efficiency.
How much of an improvement? Well, not a whole lot, but every little bit counts, right? EPA-estimated fuel efficiency is up to 42 mpg combined, 43 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. That's a 1 mpg bump to the combined figure and 2 extra mpg on the highway.
On the road, the hybrid system feels almost exactly like last generation, which is to say pretty good. Of course, the Hybrid is tuned for efficiency, so the outright acceleration won't win many drag races but the Fusion still boasts enough electric torque to feel peppy off of the line in the city and for confident merges at highway speeds. The eCVT saps pretty much all of the fun during more the dynamic driving you'd experience on a good, curvy road, but generally felt unintrusive and smooth during more relaxed commuter-type driving.
Also, the Fusion Hybrid's steering and handling feel a bit more dialed in and direct than I remember the previous model feeling, which makes the sedan feel more precise and confident during quick lane changes and when tucking into an off-ramp. I'd go so far as to say that the Fusion is almost fun to drive, if you can temper your expectations a bit.
The cabin sees a variety of small quality of life changes and improved materials, depending on the trim level chosen, but the most obvious change to all Fusion models is the switch to dial-type gear selector. The rotary selector is twisted to toggle between forward and reverse gears and takes up less vertical space in the cabin. With an eCVT behind the scenes anyway, I'm alright with this interface change and welcome the removal of one more thing to bump into. Having driven cars from Jaguar to Chrysler that feature rotary gear selectors, this wasn't a very big change for me. Passengers, however, reacted with varying degrees of wonder and revulsion at the odd knob on the console.
Ford's LCD Smartgauge digital instrument cluster is just as gorgeously rendered and packed with information as it has ever been and a new EcoSelect feature allows the driver to toggle even more fuel efficient operation from the powertrain and climate control systems.
As you'd expect from a hybrid that runs partially or completely on silent electric power, the cabin is very quiet, which allows the optional Sony stereo system to do its thing with clear audio and very little distortion from the speakers or rattling from the cabin even at fairly loud volumes.
Feeding media to the stereo and providing infotainment services along the way is the new Ford Sync 3 infotainment system, which we've seen proliferating throughout Ford's lineup of vehicles. Not only has Sync 3 tremendously improved over the previous generation, it's also a marked improvement over much of the competition. The graphics are crisply rendered and the functions are smartly organized, which makes the system a joy to use.
I did notice just a bit of input lag when quickly tapping through Sync 3's screens, but not so much that it negatively affected the experience. Sync 3 also supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for those who'd rather BYO-infotainment via a USB connected smartphone.
The second generation Fusion already boasted a fairly robust suite of driver aid technologies including precollision assist braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic detection, lane keeping assist steering and adaptive cruise control. The 2017 model gains low-speed traffic functionality to the adaptive cruise control which extends its use to low-speed stop-and-go traffic.
My favorite car technology party trick is Ford's semi-autonomous parking, which, at the touch of a button, can search for a correctly sized parallel parking spot as the car moves down the road. When a space is found, the system notifies the driver to place the transmission into reverse and takes control of steering the vehicle into the space while the driver retains control of the gas and brake pedals. For 2017, the Fusion Hybrid can also steer the vehicle back out of a tight spot with its Park Out Assist feature and can also reverse perpendicular park, backing the car into a space with the same accuracy -- if not the same expediency -- as it does for parallel spaces.
The 2017 Fusion Hybrid comes in a few different flavors starting with the $25,185 Hybrid S and working its way up to the new, top-trim Fusion Hybrid Platinum model at $37,020.
Ours was a nicely equipped Titanium model that makes Sync 3, Sony audio, keyless entry and start, power leather seats and trim and a variety of other small styling upgrades standard for $30,520. Most of our driver assistance features come as part of a $1,575 package save the semi-autonomous Advanced Park Assist with is a separate $995 option and Adaptive Cruise which'll run you an extra $1,190.
We've also got onboard navigation -- a $795 option that you can skip if you plan on using the standard Android Auto or Apple CarPlay maps -- and $190 rear inflatable seatbelt airbags -- which you never want to use, but may be glad are there.
Roll in an $875 destination charge to reach our pre-incentive, as-tested price of $36,140. If you go any more option-crazy as we have, you may as well reach for the only slightly more expensive Hybrid Titanium model, which basically comes fully loaded for just a little bit more.
At least on paper, the Fusion Hybrid largely bests the former king of the midsize hybrids in this price range, Toyota's Camry Hybrid, and is poised to do battle with the likes of the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. All three of these competitors are very close matches with the Ford where dashboard tech is concerned, but lag slightly in the realm of driver aid features.