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Our conclusion at the end of five days of drive time: the Fusion's best asset is SYNC

Last week we had the privilege of getting behind the wheel and testing the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid.  When it comes to hybrid sedans, performance boils down to three key categories -- gas mileage, power (horsepower, torque versus weight), and price.

A Quick Comparison of Recent Hybrid Sedans

There are currently seven vehicle models that fall roughly into the "hybrid sedan" category.  An eighth model -- the Chevy Malibu Hybrid briefly graced the market and was then discontinued. 

A new hybrid sedan, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will soon air, as well.  Turning to the currently available models, recent hybrids can roughly be divided into heavier, more powerful hybrids ("heavy" hybrid sedans), which include the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid (torque is divided into the gas, G, and electric, E, as some automakers don't estimate a combined torque) ...

Hybrid Model

Price

MPG City/Hwy

Combined HP

Torque
G/E

Weight
(kg)

HP/kg

2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid

$28,100

41/36

191

184/?? N•m @ 4000 rpm

1,687

1.132e-1

2011 Nissan Altima Hybrid1

$26,780

33/33

198

219/270 N•m @ 4.8k rpm

1,574

1.258e-1

2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid

$26,575

31/35

187

187/270 N•m @ 4.5k rpm

1,669

1.112e-1

2009 Chevy Malibu2

$24,695

26/34

164

216/?? N•m @ 2k rpm

1,604

1.022e-2























1 nissan licenses toyota's hybrid technology for this vehicle.
2 the chevy malibu hybrid was discontinued in 2010, but was included for comparison's sake (you can still find a handful of used units).


And lighter, less powerful hybrids ("light" hybrid sedans) ...

Hybrid Model

Price

MPG City/Hwy

Combined HP

Torque
G/E

Weight
(kg)

HP/kg

2010 Toyota Prius1

$22,800

51/48

134

142/207 N•m @ 4000 rpm

1,317

1.017e-1

2011 Honda Civic Hybrid1

$23,950

40/43

110

167/103 N•m @ 3.3k rpm

1,305

8.352e-2

2010 Honda Insight

$19,800

40/43

98

167/79 N•m @ 1-1.7k rpm

1,235

7.935e-2

2011 Honda CRZ Hybrid

$19,200

35/39

 

122

167/79 N•m @ 2k rpm

1,220

1.0e-2



























1 Toyota and Honda have not yet released their 2011 Toyota Prius and 2011 Honda Insight, but they are expected to have similar stats at they're the same platform (the Insight includes a tweaked transmission).


As you can see the latest Ford Fusion hybrid is not a clear leader in the hybrid sedan segment, or even the heavy hybrid sedan segment, but it is a top competitor.  There isn't a clear leader in this segment, which makes the competition a bit more interesting.

Looking first at the heavy vehicles, the Ford Fusion gets the best gas mileage (more on our testing of that later), but it's a bit less powerful than the Nissan Altima Hybrid, and a bit more expensive than the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry hybrids.

Comparing it to the light hybrids, it's more powerful, but gets a lot less gas mileage than the light segment's leader -- the Toyota Prius.  Then again, the Toyota Prius is significantly ($3,600 USD) more expensive than the sporty new Honda CRZ hybrid electric vehicle (HEV).

In summary, the top competitors, in terms of specs, are the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Nissan Altima Hybrid in the heavy hybrid sedan category, and the Toyota Prius and the new Honda CRZ Hybrid in the light hybrid sedan category.

Driving Performance

We drove the Ford Fusion mostly on the highway, but roughly a quarter of the time on city streets as well.  Mileage-wise we managed 35.3 MPG, based on the built in computer's estimate.  We took the vehicle approximately 220 miles, in our five days with it.



You may notice that the mileage was a bit beneath the EPA estimates.  We really aren't sure quite why this is, though as noted the highway mileage was heavier, meaning that we would expect to be closer to the 36 MPG highway rating.  Your own mileage will likely vary, but this is an important lesson for any hybrid -- look at the highway mileage first, as if you do long commutes, this will typically account for a majority of your traffic (though a few may experience the reverse scenario).

The mileage was a bit disappointing, though it still beat its closest competitors -- the other vehicles in the heavy hybrid sedan group.  But the power of the vehicle was quite pleasing.

The car accelerated quickly when jumping from 70 mph to 80 mph during a passing maneuver -- the acceleration time was only a few seconds.  Acceleration from a dead stop was also very peppy, though we didn't scientifically test it for exact split times.  Overall, compared to the 2010 Toyota Prius which we drove last year, the Ford Fusion definitely provides a pleasant feeling of having a bit more power, though it doesn't feel overwhelmingly more powerful.



Fans of the Prius will be quick to note its higher weight, but as we note above the horsepower to weight ratio stacks up favorably for the Toyota Prius, which likely accounts for the difference in drive feel.

Handling on the Ford Fusion was also exemplary.  The best way to describe the drive feel would be "smooth".  The car was responsive, but the car responded to even sudden maneuvers with a feeling that felt control.  Turning was also reasonably well executed, though the longer frame means limits the sharpness of turns somewhat.

Like the Ford Fiesta, the Ford Fusion showed Ford's strong performance when it comes to Noise, Vibration, and Harshness.  A slight shortcoming in various Toyota/Lexus models we've tested to date (e.g. the Toyota Prius, Lexus HS 250h Hybrid Sedan), Ford does a much better job in handling the road's imperfections.  The Fusion Hybrid is more heavily dampened than the Fiesta.  Compared to the Fiesta, it removes enough of the remaining "road feel" to seem a bit less sporty, but this seems appropriate given the image that the Fusion Hybrid is targeting versus the Fiesta.  In other words, the NVH is very low in the Fusion Hybrid.

Interior Feel

The interior features 101 cubic feet of passenger space, similar to the Altima hybrid and Camry hybrid.  When seating multiple passengers it feels slightly more comfortable that the Prius (94 cubic feet) and substantially more spacious than the Honda Insight (85 cubic feet), which we've sat in, but never driven.

The interior is full of lot of little nice touches that give the car an overall feeling of quality.  Most of the molded surfaces are contoured, the center console features a brush metal-type decor, and there's multi-color LED lighting in the drink holders. 



There's plenty of storage space in the center console, side pockets, and recessed center storage space.  The trunk is also roomy.

A final piece of the feel is the LCD gauge display.  This unit features dual 4.3-inch displays on either side of a large speedometer.  The animated LCD panels provide info on fuel levels, miles per gallon, battery charge, distance traveled, miles to empty, etc.  The displays' start-up animation (when turning the vehicle on) would probably eventually get old, but when first driving the vehicle it looks very impressive, as does the leaf animation on the left panel that tells you how efficiently you're driving (more leaves, means you're driving more efficiently).



Some people may prefer physical gauges, but we felt Ford's implementation of the digital displays was useful in providing drivers with all the essential information and added a bit of a luxury character to the vehicle.

SYNC

One of Ford's most popular features is SYNC.  Our version came with the $1,600 driver's vision package and $1,800 navigation packages.  While a bit pricey we would recommend at least getting the Driver's vision package, as it allows you to use SYNC's visual GUI (in addition to the back-up cam).



When performing basic tasks like loading music into the built in Jukebox, it's very handy to have the visual cue from the display. 

This was our first chance to play with SYNC for long than an hour or two, and it definitely left us even more impressed with the system.

If there's one feature of the Ford Fusion Hybrid that makes it truly competitive with the ultra-efficient Prius, it is SYNC.  We found were able to execute voice commands flawlessly to make changes to climate control, change radio stations, and play artists and tracks from the built-in Jukebox (which holds about 165 hr. of tracks).  Since we had the optional navigation package, we had access to both voice-enable navigation and weather reports, which was also pretty exciting.

One downside worth noting was that the Jukebox will disappointingly not load burned CDs of MP3 tracks.  Apparently this is due to legal concerns, but we had plenty of legal CDs, which it will happily rip to the internal memory.

Overall some of the SYNC functionality -- e.g. GPS -- can readily be found in other vehicles, but no other vehicle on the market has quite as big a plethora of voice-driven features as Ford does.  This gives Ford's lineup a decided feel of luxury.

SYNC becomes much more impressive when adding the optional 8-inch screen package.  With both packages, we feel the system rivals anything on the market, including systems in much more expensive luxury vehicles.

Ford is really doing a great job with SYNC.  It's surprising just how much the system changes your driving experience, which you would expect to be driven more by traditional figures like gas mileage, power, etc.

It's easy to dismiss this if you haven't actually spent a couple days with the system (preferably with color screen), but if you have, we feel that most would be very impressed.  We showed off SYNC to a number passengers during the week of testing, most of which were less than familiar with SYNC.  Every person we showed it to was vocally enthused about it, including a pair of Toyota Prius owners who seemed a bit envious of the Ford's futuristic voice implementation.  And if these impressions seem a bit over the top, our apologies -- it's hard not to sound a bit like an advertisement when talking about SYNC, because the system is literally quite impressive.

That said, in addition to the previously noted downside of Jukebox copy protections, we did note a few other rough edges in SYNC.  When multiple people are talking, even in the back seat, SYNC has trouble "hearing" the driver's commands.  Further when saying numbers (street addresses for example), you have to say the digits individually.  For example, it would not understand "fifty-hundred twenty-seven", "five thousand twenty-seven", or "five thousand and twenty-seven", when trying to say 5027.  You instead would have to save "five" "zero" "two" "seven".  This isn't a huge hastle, but it'd be nice if data entry supported the English language's diverse numbers language repertoire. 

Ford is slowly replacing SYNC with its MyFord Touch system, so hopefully we get a chance to get some drive time with a MFT vehicle to give our impressions, versus traditional SYNC.

Conclusions

We came away from our drive time with the Fusion Hybrid mostly impressed.  Our tested gas mileage fell a bit below estimates, but otherwise the vehicle delivered in power, interior feel, and SYNC.

Overall, we feel that SYNC is the decisive factor that makes Ford's Fusion Hybrid, despite being a bit pricier than its immediate competitors, is the best "heavy" hybrid sedan currently on the market (note that despite our gas mileage being a bit lower it still beats these competitors' for highway-heavy mileage).  The real question to buyers comes when you compare the Toyota Prius -- a "light" hybrid sedan -- to it. 

The Prius gets better gas mileage and is much cheaper (particularly if you buy the additional Navigation and Driver's vision packages for the Fusion).  However, the Ford has SYNC, is more powerful, and is slightly roomier.

At the end of the day, now that we've driven both of these strong competitors, we can safely say that either would offer a solid performance.  With SYNC, the Fusion Hybrid is likely a bit more enjoyable driving experience, but we know that many put gas mileage above all else, which could give the Toyota Prius the edge.  This should offer you a blueprint for which hybrid sedan to choose, depending on your priorities (though we recommend also checking out the new Honda CRZ and the 2011 Nissan Altima Hybrid, for comparison's sake).

Note:  We had some formatting difficulties initially with this piece in which the tables appeared improperly and had some erroneous cells.  We believe we have now cleared this up, hence the repost.


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RE: Clever...
By JasonMick (blog) on 10/18/2010 12:13:26 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
How come Ford made the Fusion into a hybrid instead of the Focus? Focus seemed to me like a more logical choice.


Ford is using the Focus for their battery electric vehicle launch next year. I think they wanted to differentiate the hybrid and the BEV.

Ford's electric vehicle chief told me that the Focus would NOT be the next vehicle to receive an HEV variant. I would expect the Flex, Kuga, Fiesta, or C-Max as possible candidates.

That said, Ford's long term vision is to offer hybrid variants of most of its models, e.g. a hybrid Fusion, Focus, etc. They want it to be another option just like the premium electronics/EcoBoost engines that they currently offer.

So you should eventually get your wish and see a Ford Focus HEV!


RE: Clever...
By AssBall on 10/18/2010 12:29:49 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
So you should eventually get your wish and see a Ford Focus HEV!
Hehehe
quote:
Text


Heheheheh... If it were about my wishes I'd have a V10 Ecotec in a Raptor-ish F150. Or they could put it in the Mustang......hmmmmm.


RE: Clever...
By Mozee on 10/19/2010 7:33:21 AM , Rating: 2
I'm pretty sure you won't ever see any Ford with an Ecotec engine (at least from the factory), since that's GM's engine family. :)


RE: Clever...
By AssBall on 10/19/2010 4:03:13 PM , Rating: 2
Boost... Tech... whatever they want to call it.


RE: Clever...
By DigitalFreak on 10/18/2010 12:29:28 PM , Rating: 2
I suspect the US version of the Kuga will be their next.


"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997














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