The 2010 Ford Fusion was named Motor Trend Car of the Year. And that wasn't even the hybrid.
I couldn't have asked for a better time to get out of town. A strong winter storm was barreling down on Colorado and virtually every road surface in the state was covered in snow. I was about to head off for a long weekend to cover sustainability efforts at a music festival in sunny southern California. On top of this, my traveling partner for this excursion, Gas 2.0 editor Nick Chambers had secured a 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid for an extended test-drive. There was a very good likelihood that if I didn't make my flight or if it was delayed, that I wouldn't be getting out at all.
Despite the fact that the plane I was supposed to get on to California never actually arrived in Denver, somehow the airline was able to find another and get us into the air.
By the time I landed in Long Beach, the storm was already to the east, the sky was blue and the air was warm. I grabbed my bags at the outdoor baggage claim looked up and saw Nick roll-up in a shiny-new Ford Fusion Hybrid.
All was right with the world.
At first blush, the Fusion is a good looking and comfortable vehicle with a cool user interface and a comfortable ride. The Fusion isn't cheap. Starting at $27,625, it costs about five thousand bucks more than a brand 3rd Generation Toyota Prius. And at 41 miles per gallon (hwy), it won't get the mileage that the 51-mpg Prius will. But in terms of comfort, features, and its larger size, the Fusion is really more like a Toyota Camry than a Prius.
The first thing that I noticed when I got behind the wheel was that the Fusion's user interface has a lot going on. They call it the Dual LCD SmartGauge Cluster with Eco Guide that provides real-time information to help you squeeze the most efficiency from your Fusion Hybrid. While it could be a little overwhelming for the easily distracted, after making myself familiar with the cluster, I found the gauges to be plenty informative without having to look directly at them.
The SmartGauge with EcoGuide uses LCD screens on either side of the center-mounted speedometer. (A tutorial built into the display lets you choose one of four data screens for the level of information you want - Inform, Enlighten, Engage or Empower - and explains your options within each.)
On the data screen setting we opted for, the LCD screen on the left had guages indicating fuel level, battery level and miles per hour (with the EcoGuide indicator telling you when you are driving in EV-mode). You keep it in the green zone on the EcoGuide and the 2.5L Atkinson-Cycle I-4 Hybrid engine shuts off and runs completely off of the high-power NiMH battery. Keep it in the green and you are essentially driving an electric car.
Driving the Fusion, I couldn't really notice when the car shifted between gas-powered and electric-powered, the transition was seamless. The smooth transition can be explained by the fact that there is no progression of gear changes light you are accustomed to.
The right-hand screen had a display for small green leaves, when you drive more efficiently, the display will grow more leaves, when you don't they will fade away. I found the immediate feedback to be a useful motivational tool without being a big distraction.
One particularly helpful feature we discovered about the car was that it would--while in "Park" and with the key in the ignition--turn on the engine by itself to charge its depleting battery. Since we were making such heavy use of the car's battery to charge our electrical accessories via the Fusion's USB and AC charge-ports while we were at the festival (cameras, PDAs, computers, batteries, etc.), we found this to be a real bonus to those who might like to use their cars in a situation like the one we were in, tailgating, car-camping, or just listening to the stereo real loud at home in your driveway.
The cruise control feature on the Fusion is a little bit different than what you're used to, so much so that Ford decided to name it, 'Speed Control'. The difference between the two is that cruise control on most cars will do whatever they have to do to keep speed. That means when you are driving uphill, the computer will feed more gasoline to the engine to maintain that speed. The Speed Control feature of the Fusion will ease up a little, understanding that the hill likely won't last forever and that a few miles per hour under the chosen speed is much more efficient than gunning the engine.
While the much anticipated Ford Fusion is a tech-lover's dream and an overall excellent car, there are a few technical glitches we discovered over our extended test-drive. The Microsoft navigation interface was a little clunky at times, requiring one too many buttons and screens to navigate through just to perform fairly simple operations. A few other times it was downright wrong. But overall, it received a passing grade. And While I did not sync my own PDA, Nick did sync his iPhone to the interface and he was making calls via his own phone using phone controls located on the steering wheel.
The rear-view camera was a neat addition but the on-board obstacle sensor seemed way too eager to tell us when something was anywhere near us (like in a parking lot).
When all was said and done, we were able to average almost 39 mpg for the entire 328 mile trip. But considering that we made good use of the vehicle to charge our peripherals and gadgets; and hit some heavy construction and stop-and-start festival traffic, I think the Fusion's mileage claims lived up to their billing.
Thanks to robust growth figures, the Fusion is now leading the charge of Ford's boost in sales. While these numbers are certainly good for the company--and Ford has thus far been successful at branding the new Fusion Hybrid as "green"--I wanted to see if that growth could be at all explained by an authentic step in an environmentally-friendly direction for the company.
And the answer is yes.
[A version of this review was originally published at Celsias. Thanks to Ford Motor Co. for giving us the opportunity for the extended review and to the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort in Huntington Beach, California for providing lodging.]