Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid

Read our review of the non-hybrid Ford Fusion by clicking here.

Despite arriving at night, the heat radiated up from the Arizona dessert, creating a sweltering sauna of an evening as I slogged the 50 feet between the rental car shuttle and the massive rental car complex. It was late and I was already a bit tired from my flight from Boston, but the nice young lady at the rental counter, who promptly recognized that my colleague had come through earlier in the day, plus a nice chilled bottle of water helped keep my grumpiness in check as I trolled the aisle in search of my ride for the next 24 hours. The faux Aston Martin grille of the Ford Fusion caught my eye and I promptly gravitated towards it, which the rental car associate in tow, emptying a load of barely intelligible words that simply bounced off my brain without leaving so much as the slightest impression. Collecting the keys, I promptly thanked the associate for her assistance and threw my bag in the trunk before doing a quick walk-around to inspect for damage. Hopping in the car, I eased it silently away into the Arizona night.


By the time I had hit the first stoplight, the A/C had brought the cabin to a nice and chilly temperature. Setting my GPS to guide me to my hotel for the night, I goosed the throttle onto the freeway, allowing the car to get to a comfortable cruising speed. It certainly is not quick, but does not feel leaden, as many hybrids do in order to meet their fuel economy targets. The ride is just as comfortable as the regular car and the handling characteristics remain generally unchanged, despite the added weight from the battery. Steering feel is nice and taut, keeping one of the best characteristics of the Fusion next to its design. Even in the Arizona heat, everything felt like it was performing well and there seemed to be little, if any penalty, for the constant running of the A/C. Pulling into parking lot of my hotel, I relaxed for the night, eager to spend some more time with the car the next day.

I awoke the next morning to clear skies and a wicked heat bearing down on me from the Arizona sun. Firing up the car, cranking up the A/C, I checked the battery level and noticed that it was pretty close to full, so I proceeded cautiously, feathering the throttle in an effort to keep the car running on purely electric power for as long possible. The Fusion Hybrid is extremely sensitive to throttle input and is very quick to power up the gas engine in even modest throttle application so it took some concentration to keep the car running on battery power only. The downside, of course, is that running on battery only and accelerating to keep the car running on the battery means scooting along at a glacial pace, likely infuriating the drivers around me. Finally, I got to a road with a speed limit high enough that I had no choice but to allow the gas motor to play a role. Total distance achieved on electricity alone: 2.3 miles.

Getting off the freeway, I took notice of the Eco Coach feature in the left side screen of the instrument cluster. This function gauges the efficiency of your braking efforts in terms of energy recovery. I started to adjust my braking behavior to try to get that number as high as possible, even managing a few instances where I reached 99% braking efficiency. Driving around the city of Phoenix, it had become a game to try my best to keep the battery as charged as possible through the regenerative braking alone. Every stop light, every traffic jam, every vehicle making a turn became a charging opportunity. While I am sure that the novelty of this wears off with time during ownership, my brief time spent with the car meant I was enthralled with the feature. A big advantage of this is that I kept the battery pretty topped off, allowing me to rely heavily on battery power during my day.

Following my meetings, I took a little bit of time before my flight to venture around the city some more before dropping the car off. During the course of my 70+ miles of travel, in a mix of city and highway driving, I had consumed less than 2 gallons of gas, meaning the car comfortably averaged 35+ mpg. While I am not a huge fan of hybrids, I have to admit that the Fusion Hybrid is really quite an attractive package and I genuinely see the appeal this car would have for many families. As a corporate traveler, the smallish trunk space certainly does not bother me in the least, seeing as how I had one overnight bag and my computer case, but the hybrid's battery does consume a rather large amount of the trunk space, making this a less suitable option for those with small children and a growing family. The mediocre performance numbers are to be expected for a hybrid, but buyers who are looking at such a vehicle likely know this going in and are not expecting to get super car levels of performance.

All told, the Fusion Hybrid was a great car to have for a day. It breaks the mold of the stodgy, miserable rental cars of old and certainly offers a breath of fresh air with its attractive styling and excellent driving dynamics. While it will win no land-speed records, it certainly makes for an appealing daily driver for someone who wants a stylish but eco-friendly car. As for me, I still have my sights set on a Tesla Model S, but would not hesitate on recommending the Ford Fusion Hybrid to those seeking a more affordable alternative.