2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

By now, you've probably read about our journalist-leading, Camry Hybrid-beating 43.8 MPG fuel economy figure for the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. The thing is, you won't be able to replicate our lofty number.

Full Disclosure: Ford wanted me to drive the new Ford Fusion Hybrid so badly they flew me out and put me up in a nice hotel to make sure I wrote about it. Also, they fed me faux French cuisine. Bad faux French cuisine.

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

Please don't take that as a challenge. To achieve that figure, I had to drive dangerously, illegally and boringly. Basically, I went really slow. Really slow. But that's not to say that the Fusion Hybrid isn't an economical, fun, high-quality vehicle that's possibly the best application of a Hybrid powertrain yet.

It's time to admit that I had a little help hypermiling the Fusion. No, not with any radical aerodynamic aides or drafting assistance vehicles; the help came from the vehicle itself or, more specifically, its SmartGauge with Ecoguide instrument panel.

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: First DriveS

With this system Ford is acknowledging that the weakest link in fuel economy isn't something in the vehicle itself, it's the driver. The SmartGauge with EcoGuide system provides drivers with the information they need, and the encouragement, to drive in a fuel-efficient manner.

The system uses two high-resolution, full-color LCD screens on either side of the analog speedometer that can operate in four modes: Inform, Enlighten, Engage, Empower. Aside from the clear indication that Ford uses really cheesy marketing talk, those four settings progress from basic information to overwhelming but incredibly informative. It's the Empower mode that helped me set that mileage record.

The Fusion's hybrid system can operate in full electric mode at up to 47 MPH, but it's not like you can just plant your foot and drive around in full electric mode as long as you don't exceed that speed. There's a complicated relationship between acceleration, load, battery charge level and external conditions that determines when EV mode can be employed. Also, to really take advantage of electric operation, you need to have at least 1/2 battery charge. The SmartGauge with EcoGuide (I'm getting really tired of writing that) simplifies all that for you with an easy sliding display that shows the range of throttle opening that can be used within EV mode, and helps you recharge the battery through regenerative braking. You'll need to do both to achieve really good mileage figures.

I know that all sounds overwhelming and, at first, that's exactly how the system feels. But, spend a few minutes paying attention to it and you'll rapidly be able to understand how to use the information to your advantage. Check out Ford's demo video. The only problem is that paying the system the kind of attention necessary to minimize fuel use is massively distracting. Not only did I drive around LA at far below the speed limit, but I spent most of the time staring at the instruments in a desperate attempt to both maximize EV usage and regenerative braking. Over time, the system should help drivers learn more fuel-efficient behavior, requiring them to focus less on the instruments as their skill increases.

Encouragement is provided by animated leaves on the right hand side. Again, pretty cheesy, but the excellent graphics make up for it. Depending on your driving habits over a period of time, those leaves either grow in number or whither and die. You wouldn't want to kill a harmless plant would you? Of course, all this can be switched off if you're an oil baron from Texas.

Ford looks at the Camry Hybrid as its main competition. Aside from easily besting that vehicle's fuel economy, the Fusion also comprehensively outdrives the Camry; providing a level of steering feel, control responsiveness and overall ability that's far greater than that of its Japanese competition. It's even fun to drive. Really, a hybrid is fun to drive. The suspension provides controlled damping that leads to both good ride and cornering, while there's plenty of poke available from the 35 HP, 166 Lb-Ft electric motor combined with the 156 HP, 136 Lb-Ft 2.5-liter gasoline engine.

The Fusion is nicer inside too. While still not up to European levels of design, the Fusion cabin doesn't revolt in the same way that the Camry does. SYNC is standard as are all other Fusion SEL options. The cabin is roomy, allowing plenty of space for five human beings.

The price? Well, the Fusion Hybrid's $27,270, $3,295 more than a comparable Fusion SEL.

It's all these factors together that make the Fusion Hybrid a solid choice in this sector. It asks you to make no sacrifices in the pursuit of excellent fuel economy, while providing you with the tools to both maximize your own efficiency and enjoy driving.