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If you want a hybrid in a mid-size sedan, the sleekest and most stylish among them is clearly the 2014 Ford Fusion hybrid--and its plug-in hybrid sibling, the Ford Fusion Energi. Both cars tempt buyers with the addition of hybrid and plug-in fuel efficiency to the stylish new lines of the well-received Ford Fusion, now in its second model year--and selling better than Ford's mid-size sedan has done since its 2005 launch. Ford's factories are cranking out every Fusion they can build, and the company sold more hybrids than ever before last year.
But competition is hardly standing still. Increasingly competent and high-efficiency models from other makers are keeping the pressure on. Toyota's Camry Hybrid launched the hybrid mid-size sedan group years ago, and new hybrid models of the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and, for this model year, the Honda Accord as well have since joined it. There's also the ur-hybrid Toyota Prius, though its five-door hatchback body and Space Age shape make it a less direct competitor for the Fusion Hybrid than the others.
Moving up to the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid version, there are only three competitors this year: the Chevrolet Volt, the Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid, and the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid. So far, Hyundai, Kia, and Toyota don't offer plug-in models of their hybrid mid-size sedans.
All-new for the 2013 model year, the Ford Fusion is not only attractive--reminding some of critics of an Aston-Martin sports car in its lines--but also handles well, and offers a wide array of powertrains, including two of Ford's EcoBoost turbocharged engines. Those engines, however, may not come close to their EPA gas-mileage ratings when driven hard, and by far the highest fuel economy ratings in the range are those earned by the Hybrid and Energi models.
That sleek new body is much admired, with a racy fastback four-door shape and a simple, low, large oblong grille opening. It's remarkably sensitive to colors--in general, light colors make the shape look slightly heavier, while darker colors play up the sleekness--but Camrys are dowdy and Sonatas overstyled in comparison. The latest Honda Accord, however, comes off all right next to a Fusion; it's not as unified, but the Accord's crispness will appeal to many buyers as well.
Inside, the cockpit is clear and simple, with an "all-glass" instrument cluster behind the wheel that the driver can configure to show a variety of operating info, with more or less data as desired. The MyFord Touch central display screen, with voice and touch commands, reduces the complexity of the center stack, which has capacitive touch-sensitive buttons for many controls. Luckily, there are redundant old-style knobs for tings like climate control and radio volume.
The interior room isn't notably greater than the earlier Fusion, but rear headroom takes a hit from the sleek fastback roofline. Without a sunroof, adults are fine in the back, but drop the headliner a few inches to include the sunroof tray, and all of a sudden, adults in the back seats find their foreheads nestled in a roofline recess that ends when they lean forward. There's ample knee room for four six-foot adults, though the front wheel wells push feet toward the center of the car. The seats are well-shaped and comfortable, with a recycled synthetic material covering base-model Hybrid seats.
Both Fusion hybrid models use a smaller 2.0-liter four than the first generation of Fusion Hybrid. That engine is paired to the latest version of Ford's two-motor hybrid system, effectively an electronic continuously variable transmission (eCVT) that shifts power to and from a lithium-ion battery pack in the trunk--a higher-capacity and larger pack in the case of the plug-in hybrid Energi model, which has a charging port on its left-front fender as well.
UPDATE: While the 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid was originally rated at 47 mpg combined (47 mpg city, 47 mpg highway), in June 2014 Ford agree to cut the ratings to 42 mpg combined (44 mpg city, 41 mpg highway) after discovering errors in lab-test measurements and calculations for aerodynamic drag. The EPA let Ford lower the ratings and reimburse 2014 Fusion Hybrid owners for the increased gasoline costs, as it did for owners of five other cars whose ratings were reduced at the same time.
Not only do the Fusion hybrids (still) beat the hybrid versions of the Camry (41 mpg combined), Optima and Sonata (38 mpg) in gas mileage, they're more fun to drive. And with the 2014 revisions, electric-only speeds have risen from 62 mph to about 80 mph under certain circumstances.
UPDATE: As for the 2014 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, its original ratings were 43 mpg combined (100 MPGe efficiency, 21 miles electric range). Ford lowered those too, in June 2014, to 38 mpg combined (88 MPGe efficiency, 19 miles electric range) after discovering errors in lab-test measurements and calculations for aerodynamic drag. And as with the hybrid Fusion, Ford sent checks to compensate owners for their presumably higher gasoline costs. The Fusion Energi's ratings are now significantly lower than those of the Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid, at 46 mpg.
The plug-in Fusion (still) outdoes the Chevrolet Volt (at 37 mpg in range-extending mode), however, and it has a fifth seat as well as considerably more interior room and luggage space. The Volt is a compact hatchback, to be fair, while the Fusion Energi and Accord Hybrids are mid-size sedans. Note that the non-plug-in Fusion Hybrid manages to retain a fold-down rear seat--which not all its competitors do. The charging port is under a flap in the left front fender; the Fusion Energi has a 3.3-kilowatt charger that will recharge a fully depleted battery pack in 3 to 4 hours.
As for range, the Volt outdoes both cars, with an EPA estimated electric range of 38 miles. The Fusion Energi now gets a 19-mile rating, and the Accord Plug-in Hybrid is listed at 13 miles.
For 2014, Ford has revised several elements of the Fusion Hybrid's vehicle and climate control software, to make it more economical under certain conditions. Still, it's worth remembering that even at 40 mpg, the difference in actual gallons of fuel between 40 and 47 mpg is fairly small.
On the road, the Fusion Hybrid and Energi retain the smoothness of earlier Ford hybrids. Their gasoline engines are well isolated, and even when the engine switches on and powers up to full throttle, the transitions are smooth and the noise remains low. Ford uses active noise cancellation, which analyzes the sound in the cabin and broadcasts anti-noise through the door speakers to cancel out certain frequencies that make the car sound strained or are likely to be unpleasant to occupants. It works. Regenerative braking similarly blends well and gives little indication when the transition to friction brakes occurs.
The hybrid Fusion share good handling with the rest of the range, though they're heavier and less easy to toss around than the Fusion fitted with the 1.6-liter four and a six-speed manual. Still, handling is notably superior to the Camry and Sonata hybrids, though the Volt is probably the best-planted of all the contenders. Ford has kept noise from the low-rolling-resistance tires fairly low, and the suspension not only holds the road but provides a firm but forgiving ride. Our one grumble would be that the steering is low-geared enough that it took more steering angle than we expected to shuffle the Fusion through a series of back-and-forth turns.
Eight airbags are standard, and the Fusion Hybrid gets the very highest Top Safety Pick+ designation plus the highest "Good" ratings from the IIHS for all categories except its new small-overlap front crash test, where it scores an "Acceptable". The NHTSA gives the car five stars (its highest rating) overall, and five for frontal crash. Side crash and rollover are rated at four stars.
Standard features in the Fusion Hybrid include Bluetooth pairing. A wide range of options include parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, a rearview camera, and lane-departure and lane-correction systems.The rearview camera can also be ordered as part of a technology package that adds the 8-inch LCD touchscreen for the MyFord Touch system. A sunroof, remote starting, leather seats, and 18-inch alloy wheels are other options. There's also the excellent Ford active park assist capability, which measures a parking space and steers the car into it while the driver accelerates and brakes.
The Fusion Hybrid is priced from $26,995, and has sold well for Ford thus far. The Fusion Energi plug-in starts at $39,495. For more on the gas-only version of this sedan, see our review of the 2014 Ford Fusion.