The 2013 model year is shaping up to be the fiercest ever in the already hyper-competitive midsize-sedan market, with three of the biggest sellers - the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu and Nissan Altima - all redone.
And then there's Ford Motor Co., which is making big news with its radically restyled Fusion sedan. How well the Fusion ultimately succeeds in the marketplace remains to be seen over the next few years, but it's starting off on the right foot from a fuel-efficiency standpoint.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the 2013 Fusion Hybrid is rated at 47 mpg in both city and highway estimates, which is eight mpg highway and four city better than the Toyota Camry Hybrid, which was redone for the 2012 model year.
Honda will have two hybrid versions of the Accord, but not until next year.
The Altima, meanwhile, wins the class fuel-performance award for conventional gas-powered engines at 27/38, although the Altima is no longer offered in a hybrid model.
That makes the Fusion the winner in the green sweepstakes, which is becoming more of an issue with gas prices again creeping up near $4 a gallon.
"We are absolutely committed to class-leading fuel efficiency as a reason to buy Ford vehicles, with customers able to choose the fuel-efficient powertrain that best fits their lifestyle," said Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally.
In addition to the hybrid model, the Fusion is available with four other engine choices: three conventional gasoline four-cylinder powerplants (ranging from 175-240 horsepower) and the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, which is expected to deliver the equivalent of about 100 mpg.
According to Ford, the Fusion Energi gets the equivalent of eight mpg more than the Chevy Volt and 13 more than the Toyota Prius plug-in, despite being substantially bigger than either.
The worst fuel performance of any of the Fusion five choices is 22/34 mpg for the 2.5-liter engine.
But green will only get you so far.
One of the clear differences between the Fusion and its competition is the bold and sexy new sheetmetal in the clean-sheet 2013 design. The Fusion bears little or no resemblance to the model it replaces, in stark contrast to the evolutionary redesigns of its three competitors. In fact, the new Fusion arguably bears a stronger connection to a mid-size Jaguar than to a Ford sedan.
Naturally, Ford is also bringing all of its technological forces to bear on the new Fusion as well. There's active park assist to help the ham-handed parallel park, lane-change warning technology, adaptive cruise control that automatically keeps pace with traffic, and a blind-spot sensor system. These features are strikingly similar to those in the 2013 Honda Accord.
Prices are competitive, too: The base Fusion starts at $21,700 and the Fusion Hybrid starts at $27,000.
Time will tell, but it looks like the Fusion is going to be a huge step up for an already successful model. Could it rule the roost? Certainly Ford officials think so. The automaker is adding 1,200 jobs at its Flat Rock, Mich., assembly plant and investing $555 million into the facility.
The Detroit Free Press wrote, "The elegant design of the new model, new creature comforts and technology, along with five engine choices, have raised expectations that it can go tire-to-tire with the segment's perennial leaders, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord."
Hard to argue with that.
OCTANE LOUNGE LIVE ACTS
TWO DOORS FOR LEXUS: Lexus will unveil its new and über-sexy LF-CC hybrid coupe concept at the Paris Auto Show at the end of September. The hybrid powertrain features a combination of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor.
B-CAUSE THEY CAN: Also scheduled for an unveiling at the Paris Auto Show at the end of the month is the all-electric B-Class Mercedes-Benz. The diminutive hauler is powered by a 134-horsepower electric motor. It's expected to go on sale in early 2014.
MURANO MOVE: Nissan is shifting production of its Murano tall wagon from Japan to its expanding manufacturing facility in Smyrna, Tenn. Already, Nissan builds its Altima and Maxima sedans there and will also move production of the Rogue compact wagon there.