Making Johnny Polar Bear Happy
2013 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid Review
There are a lot of reasons why you might want to use less gasoline. Maybe you think all the ice is melting and Johnny Polar Bear will lose his home. Maybe you’re tired of buying gas from Johnny Foreigner. Maybe you just want some extra cash for coke and hookers. On the other hand, you don’t want a Prius, partly because you don’t need to display a smug sense of moral superiority, but mainly because a the Prius is a horribly dull car.
Happily, if you want a claimed 47 miles to the gallon in the city , Ford provides you with another choice for a hybrid: the Fusion Hybrid SE. Cunningly disguised as a regular Fusion—apart from some discrete badging—you can still save the polar bears, or bankrupt the heathen foreigners, without getting in everyone’s face about it.
But, perhaps you still have questions about whether a hybrid is the type of car for you. Will it be horrible to drive? Will it be any fun at all? Will the extra battery weight make it porky and ungainly? And will you actually get 47 miles to the gallon?
Well, let’s see.
How it looks
On the outside, it looks fantastic. Apparently, before they sold off Jaguar and Aston-Martin, Ford stole all the best design ideas, making the front of the Fusion look like a DB9, and the back like a Jaguar XF. As a result, the Fusion is a seriously good-looking car. How good it is it? Well, here are two Fusion Hybrids, side by side. The plain, frumpy one on the right is a 2011 model, and looks like something a grandmother would drive. I never realized just how ugly Ford’s previous-generation design was until I saw the two cars side by side.
The wheels of the new Fusion, by the way, aren’t cleverly-designed, fake, plastic covers. They are actual alloy wheels. The bumpers are festooned with parking sensors and cameras, and the rear-view mirrors display blind spot warnings from the passing safety sensors.
The Fusion Hybrid isn’t disappointing on the inside either. Equipped with a few luxury options, you’ll pay around $33,000 for it, and you’ll get a nice big center console screen for the stereo and cameras, and very nice leather seats with contrasting stitching. The leather seats replace the Ford “Eco-cloth” for those who may be concerned about polar bears, but don’t give a crap about cows. Or, maybe, even the polar bears. After all, it’s not hypocrisy if you buy a hybrid to save money on gas, rather than the planet.
You get Bluetooth, 2 USB ports, and RCA plugs for video connectivity as well. The Microsoft Sync system allows you to hook up your phone for hands-free use, or to play music from your phone’s music library. If you want sat-nav, you can get that, too, for another $800.
In addition to the center screen, the analog center speedometer on the driver’s instrument cluster is flanked by two color screens that display various types of information, such as hybrid performance, trip computers, stereo tuning, etc. Those screens are configured by buttons mounted on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Additional buttons for phone, cruise control, and stereo tuning are mounted on the wheel as well. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, as you should expect.
Soft-touch materials cover the dash, and the remaining hard plastics are more or less cleverly disguised, or, at least, not ugly. Buttons have been eliminated from the center consoles design in lieu of flat, touch-sensitive switches. This gives the whole forward section of the car a sleek, modern, minimalist look.
Room is great in front, and not bad in the back, either, though legroom can be a bit cramped if the front seats are all the way back. Where the Fusion Hybrid does give up room is in the trunk, as the battery storage area raises about half of the trunk floor about 6 inches. The back seats fold down, and there’s a pass-through, but you notice the missing space.
Still, it’s pretty nice inside and out. Note to American car manufacturers: Fire your car interior designers, and hire Europeans. European designers know how to make the inside of a car look and feel nice. Americans don’t. That is, after all, what Ford did with the Fiesta, Fusion, and Focus, and people buy them like crazy. Also, it’s 2013. We have a thing called “materials science” that allows us to use make nice materials to put in cars that don’t cost a lot of money.
But if you can’t do that, use leather.
How it drives
The Fusion Hybrid is powered by a 144 HP 2.0L I-4 Atkinson-cycle engine, coupled with a 118 HP electric motor. The combined output is 185 HP. It also results in a slightly hefty weight for a smaller vehicle, coming in at around 3,700 pounds. This setup will push the Fusion Hybrid to 60 MPH in 9 seconds, with a 17-second standard quarter-mile time.
How it does that is really technical and boring. Sometimes the electric motor is driving. Sometimes the gasoline engine is. Sometimes the gasoline engine is acting like a generator for the electric motor. It’s all so technical that just reading about it in the Ford press kit makes my eyes glaze over. The Fusion Hybrid also has regenerative breaking, which Ford says recovers 90% of the kinetic energy which is usually lost to friction, and converts it into electricity.
I have to say the exhaust note sounds really good. It doesn’t sound at all like some namby-pamby, treehugging deal. It sounds the business. The Fusion also has a feel of torque and acceleration that belies the mediocre performance numbers I just cited. The suspension is nicely firm, though still comfortable. It also handles well, and the electrically-assisted steering actually provides a reasonable facsimile of feel for the road.
The transmission is an electronically controlled continuously variable (CVT) transmission, which makes me sad. All CVT transmissions are laggy and compromise performance, and the Fusion is no exception. Tromp the accelerator, and you’re rewarded by a noticeable wait before anything like acceleration occurs. So, while the Fusion Hybrid offers decent handling and power for commuting and errands around town, it’s never going to carve corners. At all.
But that’s not what it’s designed to do. It’s designed to transport you comfortably, with a maximum of efficiency. And here’s where this story gets sadder. Because it doesn’t transport you with a maximum efficiency. Ford’s 47 MPG fuel efficiency estimate seems…wrong. And the EPA is reviewing it for wrongness. Expect a number closer to 40 MPG. Now 40 MPG isn’t bad, but If I bought a car rated to get 47 MPG, and I got 40, I’d be a bit miffed.
Still, the 2013 Fusion Hybrid is Top Safety Pick Plus from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. So, even if it’s not super fast or super efficient, it’s still super safe. It’s also super quiet. Road and wind noises are effectively shut out at highway speeds. Ford has done a little wizardy here, in fact. They’ve put microphones in the interior to pick up unwanted engine sounds, which are analyzed, and then opposite sound waves are transmitted through the stereo to cancel them out.
Put the Fusion Hybrid in Reverse, and the center screen automatically brings up the rear-view camera. It has the standard green, yellow, and red lines to judge when you’re danger close to something, but it also has the curvy guides that show your projected wheel paths as you turn the steering wheel.
What’s good about it
It’s beautiful, inside and out. It has all the tech features you could wish for. The powerplant is punchy and torquey and sounds good. There’s room and comfort for driver and passengers. Pretty much everything about the design and interior features are top notch, with good fit and finish. It’s also got a good safety rating, and noise-proofing.
What’s bad about it
The CVT transmission is as disappointing as any you’re likely to find. The gas mileage doesn’t seem to be as good as Ford’s estimate would indicate. Trunk space is compromised by the Lithium-Ion battery storage. Performance is mediocre.
Despite it’s shortcomings, the Fusion Hybrid is a pretty impressive car. It’s nice inside and out, the leather seating option is great, and the car has all the tech features you should expect. Ford’s strategy for the Fiesta, Fusion, and Focus is to design “world cars”; cars that can be sold everywhere in the world and meet the styling and quality expectations of all their regional customers. It’s a good strategy, and sales numbers show that it’s working well for Ford.
You think a hybrid car will be dull, slow, and uninspiring, and the Fusion…isn’t. It’s luxurious and quiet inside, and the engine feels like it’s performing better than it actually is. 185 HP is not overwhelmingly powerful, but I suspect the electric engine is adding a bit of torque when you accelerate to make it feel punchier.
If you’re prepared to put up with worse mileage than the estimate indicates, this might be the hybrid for you.