Ford Fusion delivers uncompromising hybrid option
The 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid has an advantage over some hybrids: The non-hybrid on which it's based is a great-driving sedan with a quiet interior and composed ride quality -- traits that make the hybrid also pleasant to drive.
Unlike other hybrids, the Fusion doesn't scream, "Look at me, I'm a hybrid!" In fact, it doesn't look much different from the all-new, non-hybrid 2013 Fusion, and it lacks hybrid-specific driving modes -- there are no eco or EV buttons. The Fusion Hybrid further differentiates itself by retaining a folding backseat, which is something other midsize-sedan hybrids sacrifice because their battery packs limit rear seat space and folding functions. The 2013 Fusion Hybrid is available in the SE trim level I tested as well as a higher-content Titanium trim level.
While the Fusion Hybrid's refinement is commendable, this review comes with a giant caveat: Your mileage may vary. Achieving the Fusion's 47 mpg city/highway and combined EPA-estimated mileage rating proved elusive during my testing. My average mileage was respectable compared with the Toyota Camry, Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata hybrids, but far from the Fusion Hybrid's rating.
The Fusion Hybrid's gas mileage is under review by the EPA after Consumer Reports called out the model for inaccurate mileage estimates. Automakers generally perform their own testing using EPA guidelines, which are then reported to the EPA.
Your Mileage May Vary
According to the onboard trip computer, our Fusion Hybrid averaged 40.63 mpg over nearly 250 miles of mixed city and highway driving -- well south of the 47 mpg estimate. So many factors influence gas mileage that it's hard to determine exactly why the Fusion didn't achieve its estimated mpg. Outside temperatures dropped from 55 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit during my test, which probably affected the Fusion's efficiency, as it would any hybrid. However, a period of cold temperatures -- 20 degrees Fahrenheit -- is a factor in the EPA's guidelines for mileage testing, so we can't just let the Fusion off the hook for not meeting the estimate due to weather.
The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid we tested in similar conditions exceeded its mileage estimates during similar conditions.
The 250 miles I traveled is, of course, an abbreviated look compared with the thousands of miles owners will accumulate in different regions, altitudes and temperatures. On the EPA's website, mileage readings submitted by 31 owners of the 2013 Fusion Hybrid show an average of 39.8 mpg. Owner-submitted ratings for competing hybrids are closer to their combined ratings. For example, 10 Camry Hybrid LE owners reported an average of 40.3 mpg, which is close to the car's 41 mpg combined EPA rating. The Sonata Hybrid's 36.2 mpg from 14 owners is also close to its 36 mpg combined EPA rating, while the 36-mpg-rated Optima Hybrid shows nine users averaging 33.5 mpg.
The EPA recently knocked down the 2012 Sonata Hybrid and Optima Hybrid's mileage estimates from 37 mpg combined to 36 mpg after an investigation into discrepancies revealed faulty testing. As a result, Hyundai and Kia are reimbursing 900,000 owners for the difference in mileage
Going & Stopping
Despite not averaging 47 mpg in my testing, the Fusion Hybrid is impressive. It excels where hybrids typically struggle: in the startup of the gasoline engine and in braking. The Fusion Hybrid is a two-mode hybrid that can travel on electric power alone in addition to using the gasoline engine. Many hybrids' engines start up crudely and send shudders through the whole car.
As in most hybrids, the Fusion's gas engine shuts down at a stop to save gas. While not unnoticeable, the new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine fires up more smoothly than most, whether it's at a stop or already in motion after driving on electric-only power. A noise-cancellation feature isolates unpleasant noises similar to how noise-canceling headphones work. (The difference is the Fusion Hybrid weeds out bad engine noises rather than annoying airline passengers.) Microphones placed throughout the Fusion Hybrid's interior pick up engine sounds and send out opposite sound waves through the stereo to cancel unwanted noises.
What noises make their way through aren't the most refined, though their volume and intrusiveness are well in check.
Despite the engine being downsized from the previous-generation hybrid's 2.5-liter engine, acceleration barely decreases. The lithium-ion battery technology packs more of a wallop than the 2012's nickel-metal-hydride battery and helps the Fusion Hybrid make a combined 188 horsepower, which is down from 191 hp in 2012. The new battery raises the electric-only speed limit from 47 mph to 62 mph. Getting there without triggering the gas engine requires extremely gentle acceleration.
What's perhaps most intriguing about the Fusion Hybrid is that it doesn't have any selectable eco, sport or electric-only driving modes to alter throttle or transmission response; competitors, as well as many non-hybrids, do. The Fusion accelerates well enough without those modes and never left me wanting more passing power for daily use. An eco mode may be worth considering after observing the 2013's gas mileage, however.
The Fusion Hybrid employs regenerative braking that harnesses the electric motor instead of the friction of normal brakes. All hybrids use the technique, which can create jerky braking when the pedal takes an inconsistent amount of pressure to stop the car. The hybrid stops with nearly perfect brake linearity through the whole pedal's range, feeling 90 percent similar to the non-hybrid Fusion. The remaining 10 percent is how touchily the brake pedal responds to the initial pressing during braking, which takes some acclimation on the driver's part.
Interior & Features
One of the only giveaways that this Fusion is a hybrid is the hybrid-specific gauge cluster featuring battery life, charge and assist readouts, plus growing vines and leaves that reflect how efficiently you're driving. One useful display shows the threshold until the gas engine fires up when driving on electric-only power. It was accurate every time and, if I wanted, I could barely nudge the accelerator pedal and creep up in speed without starting the engine as long as that gauge stayed in its "EV" range. Sometimes hybrid efficiency gauges have little rhyme or reason -- like the Jetta Hybrid's -- but the Fusion's are easy to understand.
Otherwise, it's business as usual inside the Fusion. The standard cloth seats are comfortable and would be my pick over the leather in other Fusions we've tested because of their improved grip and softness. Fusion SE starts at $27,995, including a $795 destination charge, making it roughly $1,000 to $1,500 more than competing hybrid sedans. The higher price doesn't include many additional features over what the competition offers, though the driving experience is more premium.
SE hybrids have similar features as the non-hybrid SE with optional EcoBoost engines; a base engine, non-hybrid SE is a fairly barren model as far as available features. The SE Hybrid Appearance Package ($1,000) adds 18-inch wheels and a spoiler. An SE Hybrid Luxury Package ($2,000) includes leather upholstery with heated front seats, and the Technology Package ($895) includes MyFord Touch and an 8-inch touch-screen. The Hybrid Titanium trim level ($32,995) is equipped with more features than the SE, including leather interior, an upgraded stereo and MyFord Touch multimedia system.
The finicky MyFord Touch was optioned in the SE we tested, and despite recent revisions, it still proves to be problematic, with an unresponsive touch-screen, small text size and unintuitive operation. See here for a complete listing of available features.
Can't Do This in the Competition
I fit a small Christmas tree in the Fusion Hybrid while carrying a passenger in the backseat, a feat not possible in other midsize-sedan hybrids because they don't include a folding rear seat. All 2013 Fusion Hybrids have a full folding rear seat that has a 60/40 split.
This common feature among non-hybrids is often eliminated in hybrids to make room for a battery pack, as is the case in the Camry Hybrid, Sonata Hybrid and Optima Hybrid.
The Fusion Hybrid's cargo area isn't unaffected by its hybrid status, though. Like the others, it's smaller to accommodate the hybrid battery. The trunk shrinks from 16 cubic feet to 12 cubic feet. A raised shelf in the trunk also decreases the overall height of the folding seat opening, though it's still very usable.
Fusions built after December 2012 are a Top Safety Pick Plus from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. One step above a Top Safety Pick, the Plus designation is given to vehicles that score Acceptable or Good in the agency's new small overlap front test, which simulates hitting a light pole or tree. The 2013 Fusion receives an Acceptable rating in the new test, the second-to-highest rating. The new test is in addition to the moderate overlap front test, which simulates a front offset collision with another car.
The Fusion has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A Driver Assist Package ($1,000) includes blind spot monitoring that warns of vehicles riding in hard-to-see spots, plus a lane departure warning system to alert you when the vehicle begins to veer off the road.
Fusion Hybrid in the Market
The Fusion Hybrid doesn't make the same compromises as other sedans-turned-hybrids. The refinement and seamlessness of the Fusion's hybrid system is commendable, as is its retention of a folding rear seat. Even if the EPA's investigation finds the Fusion Hybrid's gas mileage not as competitive as its current 47 mpg ratings suggests, the Fusion Hybrid still stands out as a worthy consideration.