(USA TODAY) -- Ford added a plug-in hybrid to its Fusion midsize sedan lineup, and
it really does go about 21 miles on the battery before you need the
Chevrolet Volt plug-in goes 38 miles before the
battery needs help, so Energi (Ford's designation for plug-in hybrids)
isn't a record-setter. But it's roomier and more comfortable than Volt,
and more fun to drive.
And it has Fusion's dramatic styling, which many (including Test Drive) think looks terrific.
Energi has two missions: to be a good car and to cut fuel use and the
attendant costs. Before we comb through those, let's be sure we're all
on the same page:
A hybrid has a gasoline engine and an
electric motor, tied together via the transmission. That saves fuel
because the gas engine runs less often, letting the electric do some of
the work of propelling the car. There's no plug-in feature. The
batteries for the electric motor are recharged when the car slows and
stops (called regenerative braking) and by the gas engine running a
generator, as needed. A hybrid can't go far on battery-power only - a
mile, maybe three - because the battery pack isn't big.
plug-in hybrid, such as Fusion Energi, has a much bigger battery pack,
which dramatically increases weight, cost and electric-only range.
Plug-ins, also called PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles), can be
plugged into a household outlet to recharge their batteries, rather than
relying only on regenerative braking and the gas engine.
universe is small. In addition to the Fusion Energi and the Chevy Volt,
the government recognizes the Ford C-Max Energi, the Toyota Prius PHEV,
and the Fisker Karma, currently out of production.
ranges when the cars are running solely on battery power run from 11
miles for the Prius, 21 miles for the Fords, to 34 for the Fisker and 38
for the Chevy.
PHEVs coming within about a year, according to the
government: Honda Accord (on sale in California and New York since Jan.
15, nationwide this fall); Mitsubishi Outlander; Cadillac ELR; and Audi
Fusion Energi is special and priced at $40,000, more
or less (mostly more). The bigger battery pack is mainly why. Energi
models are more lavishly equipped than corresponding normal hybrids,
As a car, Fusion Energi succeeds well, but is hardly
perfect. Driving in electric-only mode works fine in urban and suburban
driving. Electrics deliver all their power instantly, so the car
squirts away from stoplights just fine. It's suitable for steady-state
But electrics have little left to give once the
car is underway, so flooring the throttle at, say, 30 mph results in a
very sluggish increase in velocity. No diving and dancing through
traffic, fast merging, quick passing.
In "auto" mode, Energi
blends the gas and electric power like a regular hybrid. That provides
plenty of acceleration for most situations. The gas engine even has a
husky growl that some ears will find pleasing.
The car is hundreds
of pounds heavier than others of its size, and that shows up over
rippled asphalt, where Fusion Energi seems to bound a bit, as if the
suspension is working hard to control two tons of car.
on the other hand, is normal. The reluctant feel of an overweight
machine is diminished, and Energi handles the "S" turns as well as an
The test car was a Titanium high-end version, and
the interior was suitably sumptuous. Exceptional leather upholstery
pleasing to the eye and the tush; crisp, tasteful dashboard and interior
layout and trim. Plenty of rear leg room in the two outboard seats, but
the middle slot's compromised by the center tunnel.
system of controls remains too awkward, but was manageable and didn't
act up. It was, however, hard of hearing when the driver tried to give
voice commands with the climate control fan roaring, or windows down.
Not unusual, but shouldn't we be beyond that by now?
car has MyFordMobile. It lets your smart phone monitor the battery
charge, find public recharging stations, plan trips using electric-only
mode and more.
You might never need the gas engine in normal use.
Ford says 20 miles is an average commute, so by that math, you could go
one way entirely on the 21-mile battery range, plug in at work, and go
home on battery only. Recharging after that battery-draining drive
takes several hours and about $1 worth of electricity. In a gasoline
car, you might spend $3 on fuel for the same distance.
But if you
run Energi until the battery's drained, then let it switch to the
gas-electric mode, mpg will be in the 30s or 40s. That's lower than a
non-Energi Fusion hybrid, which is up to $11,400 cheaper but has
virtually no ability to run on battery only.
Test Drive believes
alternative power vehicles should look and drive like normal cars to
broaden their appeal beyond fans. Fusion Energi passes that test with a
What? Plug-in hybrid version of the
midsize, four-door, front-drive, five-passenger Fusion sedan. Energi is
Ford's designation for plug-in hybrids; there's an Energi version of
Plug-in hybrids have bigger batteries than other
hybrids. Fusion Energi can run 21 miles on battery only before the
gasoline engine has to start and provide power. Regular hybrid, about
one mile battery-only.
When? On sale since late February.
Where? Made at Hermosillo, Mexico.
SE starts at $39,475 including $795 shipping. Titanium, $40,895. Buyers
qualify for up to $3,750 federal income tax credit, Ford says.
with regular Fusion SE hybrid and Titanium hybrid, Energi prices are
about $11,400 and $8,000 higher, respectively. Ford says Energi's much
bigger battery is much more expensive, and the Energi versions have
considerably more standard features.
What makes it go?
2-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and electric motor, together
rated a combined 188 horsepower. Total combined torque rating not given.
Gas engine is 129 pounds-feet at 4,000 rpm. Powertrain linked to CVT
(continuously variable-ratio automatic transmission).
Typical midsize (think Camry, Accord, Malibu); same as other Fusions
but much smaller trunk because of bigger battery pack. Fusion Energi is
191.8 inches long, 72.9 in. wide, 58 in. tall on a 112.2-in. wheelbase.
bigger battery boosts weight to 3,913 lbs., which is 298 lbs. more than
non-plug-in hybrid and as much as 492 lbs. more than gasoline models.
Trunk space is 8.8 cubic feet, down from 12 cu. ft. in regular hybrid.
Rated 100 miles-per-gallon-equivalent in combined city/highway driving
using electric-only mode. That means it consumes the same amount of
energy as a gasoline car that could get 100 mpg. To fully charge it
five times, as necessary to go 100 miles on battery only, is about $3.90
at the U.S. average price for electricity.
In normal hybrid mode,
when the car switches between gas and electric power as conditions
dictate, the rating is 44 mpg in the city, 41 highway, 43 in
Test car, a Titanium model that was fully
recharged every night, showed 140 mpg-e when used entirely as an
electric car, and 33.8 mpg operated as a normal hybrid.
Burns regular, holds 13 gallons.
Overall: Good-looking, pleasant-driving - but expensive - way to slice gasoline use.
James R. Healey, USA TODAY