Alongside updates to the conventionally powered Fusion for 2017, Ford has tweaked up some evolutionary plucks for the Hybrid and Energi plug-in versions. At a time when gas is down under three dollars a gallon even in California – and under two bucks in places like Oklahoma – selling hybrids isn’t a straightforward value proposition. There has to be a reason beyond mere fuel economy and the changes in the hybrid Fusions are aimed at making them more attractive as cars and not just as hybrids.
Yeah, they’re better. But they’re still pretty much the same electrified Fusion twins. And they’re facing fresh competition in the form of the revivified Chevy Volt and redesigned Toyota Prius.
- Like other Fusions, the Hybrid and Energi get a new rotary transmission controller. It’s a nudge away from car and toward the Whirlpool family of fine appliances.
- Both the Hybrid and Energi use a continuously variable transmission that’s better programmed than before. But while it’s better, when the internal combustion engines are humming they’re really HUMMMMING.
- Embedded in the dash is an “EcoGuide” system to “coach” drivers in real time to get better fuel economy. It glows a benevolent green and grows additional leaves on its virtual trees. The temptation though is to drive so anti-fuel-economy that the leaves fall off and the tree bursts into flames.
- The Fusion Energi will, according to Ford, go up to 19 miles on electricity alone before engaging the 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four. But that range is highly conditional on driving conditions. And climbing through the Santa Monica mountains, I was able to drain the batteries in under 10 miles. The engine will come on earlier than that if the car is climbing or otherwise under load. Fuel-economy ratings are the same on both models and the same as before, at 43 mpg in the city and 41 on the highway; the Energi has MPGe ratings of 101 city and 97 highway.
- Software improvements have the regenerative braking systems in both the Hybrid and Energi operating more invisibly. At least I think they were working.
- Both the Hybrid and the Energi weigh more than other Fusions and that weight can be felt. The steering is heavier and the suspension is less responsive. It’s better than in previous Ford hybrids, but still a real, leaden thing.
- Ford is pushing its Sync 3 infotainment system as significantly improved and more phone-like than before. And it is all those things. But it’s tough to get excited about technology that will be archaic before the lease is up.
The Fusion Hybrid S starts at $26,060, which is just about $3,000 more than a regular old Fusion S. The Energi, which is offered in SE trim and above, starts at $31,995 but gets the benefit of more government incentives thanks to the plug. Either way, that’s a big premium over the regular Fusion.
But both the Fusion hybrid models work very well. In fact, the biggest problem with them is that they look like other Fusion models. And that means they don’t announce the owner’s environmental virtue the way a Prius or Tesla does. In this market, that matters.