While last year seemed to be the year of big horsepower, 2009 is turning out to be the year of efficiency. Last year saw the C63 AMG, the BMW M3, the Lexus IS-F, and Dodges return muscle car, the Challenger SRT/8 all jump onto the scene. All packing big power pumping V8’s that suck fuel with little regard for the record high prices that flashed across the station pumps when we frequented last summer. It’s now 2009 and the automotive marketing machine has reefed up on the hand brake and all of a sudden we are rapidly traveling in a new direction. New on the scene this year is the Honda Insight, Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, as well as diesels for the 335 and X5 models over at BMW. Toyota will also soon be introducing a new Prius and as well as a new Lexus hybrid. The theme this year is definitely the efficient use of fuels. And now Ford has introduced the all-new Fusion hybrid to the eco family.
Now to be perfectly honest, I’ve never really been a lover of the new Ford look, however over the last little while, they have really put an effort on organizing a brand design that is distinctive to the blue oval, all starting with the original Fusion. And while the big bling chrome gates mounted to Ford grilles still raise one of my eyebrows, I must admit I’ve really fallen for the Fusions new look. And it wasn’t something I needed to get used too, I liked it right off the bat, from the first photographic glimpse.
The unknown was the interior design, another Ford trait I don’t always agree with. Long and behold, as soon as my but sank into the black leather seats, I was sold yet again. The entire interior has a great modern design; that like the exterior, exudes some European influences. But the piece de resistance has to be the gauge cluster. While many concept cars use interactive computer graphics in the design of their gauges, they never make it to production, usually due to cost. Well Ford made it work, as the hybrids fully interactive and entertaining gauge system entices the driver to drive as efficiently as possible, while the read-outs shine back in the best resolution graphics I’ve ever seen in an automobile.
Like the Insight Mr. Frechette was talking about earlier, the Fusion try’s to make driving sensibly, fun. One such function built into the gauge cluster is the overall efficiency rating. The cleaner one drives the Fusion, the more leaves appear on a growing vine next to the fuel level. Drive efficiently, and you are rewarded with up to 23 leaves on the dash-based foliage. Drive poorly, and the leaves begin to disappear. Although, if you are a technically driven person, the gauge can be changed to a traditional bar graph with exact numbers. But what fun is a bar graph?
During the press launch in Quebec City, we were sent out in the hybrid versions on a challenge. To follow a determined route, and get the best possible fuel economy we could. The route wound us through the narrow, steep and stop sign riddled streets of Quebec’s old city, and other than a about 15km on the free flowing highways, the 48 km route was mostly urban. Now I love a good challenge, but after all the honking, slow driving and fuel saving tactics, I was about ready to shoot myself in the face. However, the 5.6L/100 km rating we received literally had me astonished, let alone the 4.5L rating one of my colleges received, to win the competition.
Tech wise, besides the ultra cool gauge display, the Fusion comes equipped with side and rear sensing radar to detect obstacles in the vehicles blind spots. Unlike the mirror mounted sensors used by Volvo and Mazda, the Fusion’s radar is hidden behind the rear fenders, thus not giving the phantom signals you get with the other two units when driving in rain or snow.
So how is it to drive? Common feeling today is that hybrids just aren’t any fun to drive, and lets face it, there is a reason why. They’re single minded purpose to just offering the best possible fuel efficiency leaves the power and handling of the vehicle much to be desired, even with a fun game to make it less painful. Well the Fusion seems to be breaking those stereotypes, with a combined 191 hp the Fusion gets up a going respectably. The damping in the car is also impressive as it handles like mid-sized sedan should. The hybrid version of the Fusion is 124 kg heavier then the regular 2.5L SE, but unlike smaller hybrids that feel like light cars carrying an overweight elephant in the back, the Fusion is naturally a heavier car so the extra weight and unbalance goes unnoticed.
What really sets the Fusion apart is the operation of the electric assist. Tucked into the transaxle is a 106 hp electric unit that is linked to both the eCVT transmission and Atkinson Cycle 2.5L 4-cylinder. The computer that runs the whole deal, will shut the engine down at stops, and will allow the driver to drive within the electric threshold all the way to 75 km/h, with help from the dash display. This allows the driver to make the most of the electric drive train, using as little fuel as possible. It really is a great system, and coupled to an impressive car, the new Fusion should help keep Ford ahead of its rivals.
Price as tested: $30,235
Layout: Front engine – Front wheel drive
Engine: 2.5L Atkinson cycle with electric Hybrid assist
Transmission: Electronically controlled CVT
HP: 191 combined
Brakes: Regenerative braking plus four-wheel disc
Curb Weight: 1,687 kg
Towing Capacity: NA
0-100 km/h: 8.7 sec
Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 4.6/5.4L/100km