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Fusion Hybrid Delivers Solid Performance


Ford sometimes fails to deliver on the hype.

It promised, for example, that the Five Hundred sedan was so good it would make folks forget the Taurus. Too bad it was so underpowered.

While slow to offer a gas/electric sedan, Ford finally has delivered: the 2010 Fusion hybrid.

This time, Ford got it right. The regular 4-cylinder or V-6 gas-driven Fusion is a wonderful car, but the hybrid is a bonus for "should I or shouldn't I" shoppers worried about gas prices.

The soul of the machine is the 2.5-liter 4, with a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack that delivers a combined 191 horsepower, ample power without taxing the weekly gas budget. The battery pack contributes a dose of energy when called upon to pass or merge. Zippy yet quiet operation.

The car starts in battery mode (gas when cold), so there's no sound. It's so quiet that a green car icon lights in the instrument panel to show it's running.

You can feather the gas pedal and travel up to three miles in battery mode at about 10 m.p.h.

Best way to conserve fuel is "pulse and glide," as Ford calls it. Get up to cruising speed and then by using a light, steady foot on level roads the battery mode takes over for a few miles at speeds up to 47 m.p.h., much better than trying to nurse it from a standing start in battery power alone.

When the battery runs low, or when you reach 48 m.p.h., the gas engine kicks on for a recharge.

Ford sources said once longer-life, but more expensive, lithium-ion batteries replace nickel-metal-hydride (in the Chevy Volt late in 2010, and an unnamed Ford for 2012), it would mean greater speeds and range in battery mode.

The Fusion hybrid is rated at 41 m.p.g. city/36 highway, for more than a 700-mile driving range, numbers that prompt a double take to make sure it's not a compact Focus. Fusion delivers 8 m.p.g. more in the city and 2 more on the highway than the Camry hybrid. It also leaves the 2.5-liter gas-only Fusion, at 22/29 manual, 22/31 automatic, in the dust.

There's a drawback, however. The battery pack is between the rear seat and trunk, so you can't lower rear seatbacks to boost cargo capacity into cabin.

Offsetting that is a suspension tuned for a smooth, well-cushioned ride and comfortable travel, even with the extra 300 pounds from the battery pack and hardware.

Unlike the gas-driven front- or all-wheel-drive Fusion, the hybrid is FWD only, but stability control with traction control is standard, along with side-curtain air bags.

A gripe, however--the same with all hybrids. With a gas-engine car, the speedometer and fuel gauge tell all you need to know. Fusion, like the Honda Insight, uses a graphic that grows green leaves on a limb when conserving gas and sheds them when wasting it. Sophomoric, like lighting up pictures of oil wells in a gas car each time you save a pint of fuel by coasting but having a gusher each time you stand on the accelerator.

One Fusion gauge lights green when in battery mode; brown in gas. Another shows when the battery moves from full charge to discharge and back when recharging. Another when getting 60 m.p.g.-plus in battery mode or 10 m.p.g. when burning rubber at takeoff. Spend enough time with eyes on the gauges studying how driving habits save fuel, and you'll end up in the emergency room.

On the plus side, it's nice to be able to strap Dad, Mom and the kids into a hybrid without having to stack the kids horizontally in back. The trunk still handles luggage and groceries but is better suited to Roller Blades than skis. Oh, and you better take up miniature golf.

A $5,250 option package adds blind-spot detection that sets off yellow warning lights in the sideview mirrors when a vehicle enters the zone on either side, and a cross-traffic alert that beeps if an obstructed vehicle approaches from either side when backing out of the parking spot. Cross-traffic beeping is informational; blind-spot blinking annoying.

Fusion hybrid starts at $27,270, about $3,300 more than the non-hybrid. An $1,800 tax credit reduces the spread.


Wheelbase: 107.4 inches
Length: 190.2 inches
Engine: 2.5-liter, 156-h.p. 4-cylinder and nickel-metal-hydride battery pack combine for 191 h.p.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
M.P.G.: 41 city / 36 highway
Price as tested: $32,485
Add $725 for freight.

$27,270 Base
$5,215 Voice-activated navi, blind-spot and cross-traffic alert, backup camera, power moonroof, upgraded Sony sound system with 12 speakers and leather trimmed seats

+ Compact mileage in a midsize sedan
+ 700-mile-plus range
+ Good get up and go
+ Civil ride and decent handling
+ Tax credit eases hybrid premium

- A $3,300 premium over regular Fusion
- Rear seat backs don't fold
- Will someone come up with bigger and better hybrid instrumentation?

Jim Mateja can be reached at rides@tribune.com.

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