2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid Review
By Chris Haak
While the Fusion Hybrid was in my driveway for a weeklong evaluation, I received my January 2010 Motor Trend magazine naming the car (and the rest of its lineup) its 2010 Car of the Year. While there have been some real stinkers named Car of the Year by MT over the years, they may have gotten the award right this time by naming the Ford Fusion lineup its 2010 Car of the Year. (I won’t delve into the fact that for the past two years, Motor Trend has named two Subaru station wagons as SUVs of the Year over the past two years). While the midsize sedan segment is hyper-competitive and it’s very difficult to pin down the car that’s the absolute “best” overall in that class, I can certainly say that the Fusion Hybrid is the best-driving, best-integrated hybrid on the market. In other words, it’s one that drives most like a conventional car, and that’s a compliment.
The refreshed 2010 Fusion breaks no new ground from design standpoint – either inside or outside – and keeps the greenhouse and doors from the first-generation Fusion. For the 2010 model year, Ford tacked on a new front clip and rear end. I like the update to the front end; it’s far more sleek that the old car’s, and the parts are more integrated into a cohesive whole. The three-bar grille theme, which seems to be eventually on its way out of Ford’s design cue library, is more prominent than ever in the 2010 Fusion at least. The carryover greenhouse and doors, however, are a bit more stodgy and conservative-looking than are the front and rear of the car. Really, though, there are very few design leaders in this segment. Camry? Accord? Please. Even the Malibu, arguably the best-looking car in the class, gets its good looks by cribbing the best features of other vehicles. “Hello, Malibu: the 2004-2008 Acura TL called and it wants its greenhouse back.”
Interior volume is class-competitive in the Fusion. My tester included leather seating surfaces and heated seats in the front; those seats were comfortable during hour-long jaunts behind the wheel. The leather isn’t exactly glove-soft and the seats don’t grip with the support and firmness that you might expect in a performance car. But this isn’t a performance car, it’s a fuel-efficient family car. Most of the surfaces on the upper dash and door panels are of the soft-touch variety, but they’re fairly roughly-contoured. The interior is a new design compared to the first-generation Fusion, but many of the same shapes and themes are present. Secondary switchgear such as climate and radio controls are found toward the bottom of the center stack on similar-looking small black buttons. Once a driver is more familiar with the car, they’re not too difficult to use, but their function is not always immediately obvious, forcing the driver to divert attention from the more pressing tasks at hand, like safely piloting a ton-and-a-half car. Outward visibility was good and I had no trouble finding a comfortable driving position. This was a bit of a surprise for me, since I had a lot of trouble getting away from the sitting-in-a-bathtub sensation when piloting the platform-shared Lincoln MKZ a few years ago.
My test model was equipped with Ford’s SYNC system, and I can’t say enough about how easy it makes sometimes-complex communication and entertainment tasks. SYNC features stereo Bluetooth audio, which works with my iPhone; it only requires a single Bluetooth pairing, which covers both the handsfree phone connection and the wireless music streaming. Toyota’s/Lexus’ convoluted and confusing Bluetooth audio setup, which I’ve now sampled in four vehicles over the past few months (RX 450h, IS 350 C, Venza, and Prius) requires two pairings, which is impossible when the phone and music player are the same device. When connected via Bluetooth, the iPhone does not allow track changes via the car’s controls or display song information on the car’s display, but apparently the functionality exists with other Bluetooth audio devices. That limitation is true for Toyota/Lexus systems as well, so I believe it’s an iPhone limitation rather than a vehicle limitation.
One downside to SYNC is that when the iPod is plugged into the car’s USB port and the car is turned off, the car forgets what playlist it may have been using upon restart. Instead, it will pretend that you had a playlist of one song, and will continue to replay that song until you realize that you’ve been listening to the same one for the past quarter hour. The system’s voice recognition is also occasionally spotty. Not being a car audio expert, I found the sound produced by the Fusion Hybrid’s Sony-sourced system to be slightly above average, without a lot of low-range power.
The Fusion Hybrid that I tested was also equipped with Ford’s class-leading navigation system, which features a large, high-resolution color display mounted fairly high on the dash. The Ford navigation system is easy to use and easily readable, and contains lots of additional information such as movie showtimes, traffic conditions, and weather conditions. As with other hybrids, the navigation system has a mode that displays hybrid information such as power flow and average fuel economy. But that display pales in comparison to the slick gauge readouts that Ford installed in the Fusion Hybrid.
Clearly seeking to add something special to the Fusion Hybrid to differentiate the company’s current fuel economy flagship from other Fusion models (and indeed, other companies’ hybrid models), Ford spent extra money to add two gee-whiz LCD screens to the gauge cluster, with one screen flanking each side of the center-mounted conventional speedometer. The LCD displays are used to present driver-configurable powertrain information through scores of variations. Some modes display only the fundamentals such as the fuel gauge and hybrid battery charge. Other display modes show those previous two pieces of information, plus other information such as engine RPM, the power/economy mix, how close the car is to entering/staying out of EV mode, and more. Further, Ford has a parlor-trick feature on the far right edge of the right-hand display that, if turned on, grows branches and leaves to reward economical driving habits such as gentle starts and stops, engaging EV mode whenever possible, and steady-state cruising. The company calls it SmartGauge Cluster with EcoGuide. What the Fusion Hybrid gives it can also take away; driving without regard for fuel economy, including during the period the car is warming up on cold days so has to run the engine constantly, leaves and branches disappear from that display.
The only downside to the very high-tech gauges – which are featured elsewhere on much more expensive vehicles such as the Range Rover and BMW 7-series – was that they were perhaps tooconfigurable. I didn’t count them, but there are 8-10 main display option categories, then another 3 or 4 options under each category. Really, though, once you find the display setting that you’re most comfortable with, there isn’t much need to fiddle with them. My preference among the four main display modes was called “Engage;” it was the third-most informative of the four display modes (the modes are called Inform, Enlighten, Engage or Empower). I preferred “Engage” because it showed the mix between gasoline and electric power production while allowing me to monitor how my right foot was affecting the mix (I could tell if I was pressing too hard, for example, if at low speeds, the engine was warmed up, and the gasoline engine was powering the car rather than the electric motor). The EcoGuide leaves, while entertaining, don’t provide instant feedback on a driver’s habits that the other instrumentation does. My worst performance, by the way, was a single lonely leaf, and my best was somewhere around 18 or 20 leaves.
Perhaps more impressive to me than the technology features of the Fusion Hybrid was the car’s outstanding powertrain integration. Earlier hybrid models did a poor job of managing the transition between gasoline and electric power – or braking between regeneration and pads/rotors for that matter. The Fusion Hybrid, though it includes a CVT as do all other hybrids, manages to keep the engine at a reasonably-sedate activity level. When accelerating (gently) under EV mode, the only sound that is audible is a faint whine from the electric motor, assuming the fan and radio are turned off. Press the accelerator a little more, and the gas engine kicks in, but does so with nary a shudder or shake. Once you’ve reached your cruising speed, assuming that you’re on level ground or a downhill grade and traveling less than 47 miles per hour, the car will probably turn off the gasoline engine again. That action is also incredibly drama-free; again, no shudder or noise of note. The combined net power output is a respectable 191 horsepower. That’s a few more than the Camry Hybrid, while topping the Camry Hybrid’s EPA ratings by a country mile.
Power steering is electrically powered, as it is in all hybrids. (Otherwise, there would be no power assist in periods when the gasoline engine is not running to power a hydraulic pump). The electric power steering saves fuel, improves acceleration performance, and reduces underhood complexity. It also felt more natural and less robotic than earlier EPS systems I’ve experienced, with decent weighting and accuracy with a good on-center feel.
Handling was about average for the midsize-sedan class, with the caveat that the Fusion Hybrid’s low rolling resistance tires give up the ghost easily, and cornering grip turns into squealing tires at a fairly low limit. Body motions are well-controlled in a near-Accord-like way. Braking performance, at least to the tires’ limits, was okay, with a refreshingly natural, non-hybrid-like linear brake feel. Considering there are two very different braking systems working in series to stop the car, that in itself is a fairly remarkable accomplishment.
During my week with the Fusion Hybrid, I observed fuel economy of 40 miles per gallon in the first 26-mile mixed city/highway trip that I took in the car. Subsequent trips and fuel-wasting warm-ups poked holes in my average, and I returned the car back to Ford’s care after observing 35 miles per gallon. The EPA rates the Fusion Hybrid at 41 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, and that sounds about right. The arch-rival Toyota Camry Hybrid is rated at 33/34 in comparison.
The Fusion Hybrid’s base price including destination is $28,350. My test vehicle came equipped with the terribly-named “Rapid Spec 502A” package for $3,945, which throws in the Moon & Tunes package (power sliding moonroof and Sony sound system with Dolby 5.1 Surr0und Sound and premium speakers), Voice-Activated Navigation with SIRIUS Travel Link, Leather-trimmed seats with heated front seats, and the Driver’s Vision Package (rear-view camera, BLIS (Blind Spot Information System), and Cross-Traffic Alert). The final MSRP came in at $32,295, which is about $1,000 more than a Camry Hybrid when using TrueDelta to account for equipment differences. However, the Fusion also carries an $850 Federal tax credit that Toyota’s hybrids no longer qualify for, so the pricing difference is actually $1,850 in favor of the Fusion.
Let’s see: better looks (if not slightly conservative ones between the restyled ends of the car), better fuel economy, better pricing, better powertrain integration, and better technology. I think we’ve now found the class leader in midsize hybrid sedans. I can’t wait to see what volley Toyota throws this way next. Competition truly improves the breed.
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