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The arrival of the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid continues the company's full-court press to produce ever higher fuel economy figures. The mid-size sedan bristles with cinematic good looks, confident road manners, and it initially came with big, big fuel-economy numbers. Almost two years later, however, the numbers have been cut down to size in the face of legions of unhappy owners whose real-world mileage hasn't been even close to the EPA ratings.
Ford paved its own way with the first Fusion Hybrid, which earned 41/36-mpg gas mileage and represented the first real challenge to Toyota's dominance in the hybrid universe. It set the stage for hybrids from Hyundai and Kia, which in turn have set into motion the next generation of hybrids and plug-in hybrids including not only this Fusion Hybrid, but a plug-in Energi version to come soon.
Like other automakers, Ford is paring down the new Fusion's powertrain lineups, at least in cylinder count. The V-6s are gone. Only a foursome of four-cylinders remain: one is normally aspirated; two have turbocharging and direct injection; and one sports a completely revamped hybrid drivetrain. In the gas-only Fusions, the highest fuel-efficiency reading is 37 miles per gallon on the highway cycle.
UPDATE: While the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid was originally rated at 47 mpg combined (47 mpg city, 47 mpg highway), in June 2014 Ford lowered the ratings to 42 mpg combined (44 mpg city, 41 mpg highway) after discovering errors in lab-test measurements and calculations for aerodynamic drag. Ford agreed with the EPA to lower the ratings and send a check for the increased gasoline costs to all owners of 2013 Fusion Hybrids, along with five other cars whose ratings were reduced at the same time.
How does it get there? The Fusion Hybrid tops the outgoing model's 41/36-mpg ratings with a smaller-displacement, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine teamed with batteries and motors for a net 188 horsepower, teamed to an electronic continuously variable transmission (eCVT) to power the Fusion's front wheels. It's similar in concept to the outgoing model, but despite the downsizing of the gas engine, the Fusion not only gets better gas mileage, it also can run on electric power alone at speeds of up to 62 mph, 15 mph higher than before.
Some of that credit goes to a switch from nickel-metal hydride batteries to lithium-ion batteries, which store more energy in a smaller space. The Fusion Hybrid's batteries sit in a raised hump behind the rear seats, consuming 4 cubic feet of trunk space, but leaving 12 cubic feet for storage--and significantly, mounting low enough to enable engineers to retain fold-down rear seats and a useful pass-through to the cabin.
Ford flew us to Los Angeles to drive the new Fusion Hybrid, and set us up with a limited drive of about 15 miles in early production models. In that very short drive, we didn't come close to observing 47 mpg. But not to worry--we registered 36 mpg, without really trying, as we pressed the Fusion Hybrid to see how well its drivetrain performed compared to its gas-only relatives.
What we found was that the former Fusion Hybrid's very smooth integration is a trait that's been passed down to the new generation. The isolation of the gas engine is good, and noise levels even at full throttle are generally low, thanks in part to active noise cancellation, which factors out some sounds with counteracting sounds (ask Mr. Wizard--it works). The transition from electric to gas-electric power is seamless, and the Fusion Hybrid's regenerative braking feel has been softened to something closer to normal, with a less noticeable transition from motor braking to conventional braking. The first Fusion Hybrid gave little notice that you were driving a combination of two powertrains; this one almost keeps it a state secret.
Aside from its powertrain differences, the 3600-pound Fusion Hybrid shares its independent suspension and electric power steering with the other models in the lineup, with its own tuning. In our brief drive, we liked the Fusion Hybrid's steering feel; it's without the artificial stiffness we've found in systems from other hybrid automakers, and without the lifelessness, too. Still, it seemed to take quite a bit of steering angle to direct the Fusion through ordinary turns. The low-rolling-resistance tires were quiet on the go; the Hybrid's suspension tuning is firm but forgiving on most surfaces, but over a few deep bumps, it transmitted a thud or two from underdamped wheel movement.
The Fusion Hybrid's svelte body looks dashing, though not so much in the frosty trendy greens that underscore its planet-saving mission. It's a descendant of Ford's Evos concept, and a hollaback at the Audi A7, and it's an utter success from every angle, right down to the Aston-knockoff nose. Go ahead, try to find a better-looking family sedan at the price. Even the cockpit improves on the Focus and Fiesta, with a very clear imperative to simplify and pare down the confusion of buttons that can rule those cars and their dashes. With the Fusion Hybrid, the adoption of an LCD touchscreen and MyFord Touch's voice, wheel, and touch controls--and redundant, capacitive controls for climate and radio functions--have reduced the vitals to an elegant panel of essentials with a minimum of breaks in the surface. It's quite striking, especially when considered against the similarly sized Volvo S60, a clear influence, down to the open storage space that lies ahead of the shifter, and under the center stack.
The Fusion Hybrid has interior room that's about the same as the outgoing model, reorganized a bit to accommodate the sleek roofline. Without a sunroof installed, there's very good headroom, even in the back seat, and four six-foot adults can sit with ample knee room, though the front passenger's feet will be canted slightly inward, around the wheel well. The Hybrid's base seats are covered in recycled material; it's shiny in an environmentally pleasing but inexpensive-looking way, but the seats themselves are shaped very well, with thin but supportive cushions and headrests that don't push too far forward as in some recent Fords.
The 2013 Fusion has eight airbags standard--front, side, and knee bags for front-seat passengers, and side curtains that cover the entire window opening front and rear--for all four outboard passengers. Ford is aiming for five-star safety ratings from the NHTSA; the IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick.
Bluetooth is standard on the Hybrid, while a rearview camera, parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and lane-departure and lane-keeping assist are options. So is active park assist, which steers the car into a parallel parking space while the driver controls the brake and throttle.
Other features offered include a navigation system; a rear spoiler and 18-inch wheels; leather seats; a sunroof; remote start; parking sensors; and a technology package with the rearview camera and an 8-inch LCD screen for MyFord Touch.
The 2013 Fusion Hybrid arrives at dealerships this fall, priced from $27,995, and immediately positions itself as the most desirable hybrid on the market short of the Fisker Karma.
The 2013 Fusion Energi, which arrives by the end of the year, is the plug-in companion to the Hybrid. It gets a larger lithium-ion battery pack, a 3.3-kilowatt charger, and an external door for the charging port. Few details have been revealed other than the Fusion Energi's efficiency rating, which Ford predicts will settle in at above 100 MPGe--above the Prius Plug-In Hybrid, and higher than the Chevrolet Volt.
UPDATE: While the 2013 Ford Fusion Energi was originally rated at 43 mpg combined (100 MPGe efficiency, 21 miles electric range), in June 2014 Ford lowered the ratings to 38 mpg combined (88 MPGe efficiency, 19 miles electric range) after discovering errors in lab-test measurements and calculations for aerodynamic drag. As it had done with the Fusion Hybrid, the EPA allowed Ford to lower its ratings and compensate owners for the presumably higher gasoline costs.
We'll update this review with more on both models as we get more seat time. For more on the gas-only version of this sedan, see our review of the 2013 Ford Fusion.