The 2019 Ford Fusion plug-in hybrid is decent looking and comfortable enough to ride in. It’s also expensive and not particularly efficient. Ford’s “pivot to trucks” is a real bummer for car enthusiasts in general, but I don’t think anybody’s going to miss this one.
(Full disclosure: Ford lent me the Fusion for the weekend with a full tank of gas.)
We live in a time with lots of perfectly good cars. Reliable cars that can get you around in decent comfort if not style. Cars with enough power most people won’t notice anything missing when they need a little extra oomph to get off the entrance ramp. Cars that do all the big things right. These are commuter cars, and there are too many of them.
Ford knows this. It announced last year that it’s phasing out damn near all of its small cars and sedans except for the Mustang and Focus Active crossover, further adding they will not be investing in the small car/sedan space citing “declining consumer demand and product profitability.”
But, as my colleague Tom McParland argued a year ago — quite convincingly, in my opinion — that Ford (and GM’s) decision didn’t have a whole lot to do with the quality of the cars themselves, but rather with people’s irrational perception of the brand. For decades, “American cars” have been stigmatized for having poor quality compared to European and Japanese counterparts based on decades-old stereotypes.
For most sedan-buyers, this barely matters, because there are so many others to choose from. But should you find yourself in the plug-in hybrid market — and I’m of the opinion every sedan-buyer should at least check one out before committing to an internal combustion or plain old hybrid car — then the market gets a lot smaller real fast, especially if you have an aversion to the, shall we say, controversial Prius Prime.
Which brings us to the Ford Fusion plug-in, a car that exists. I was hoping this would be an exception to the rule Ford has imposed that sedan-buyers should look elsewhere. Instead, I found a car that was pleasant to drive, has one big flaw, costs more than it should, and fails to make a case for itself even in the limited plug-in market. Ford is putting cars behind it for a reason.
When considering a plug-in, the two most important specs, at least for me, are price and battery range. Unfortunately, the Fusion Energi (as it is officially known and I will never be calling it again) doesn’t stack up well on either front.
The Fusion plug-in starts at $35,000 after your $2,000 EV rebate, although the price of the slightly better-equipped version I tested was $36,500. With that, you’ll be getting 26 miles of battery-only range. That doesn’t compare well to, say, the Honda Clarity, which starts at $33,400 but has an electric range of 46 miles, almost double the Fusion’s. Meanwhile, the Prius Prime has about the same electric range as the Fusion but rings up some $8,000 cheaper. The Hyundai Ioniq starts at $23,000 with 29-mile electric range. In other words, the Fusion is the worst of both worlds: the most expensive and among the lowest battery range.
To be fair, the Fusion comes with some nice premium features as is customary with Ford’s Titanium label: rain-sensing wipers, heated steering wheel, and auto high beams just to name a few.
If you’re out of electric juice, the Fusion officially logs 42 mpg, which is pretty much average for other plug-ins. But driving conservatively on a mix of highway, rural roads, and urban traffic, I was able to squeeze out 45 mpg on hybrid mode alone, which I was pretty happy with.
I took a few different passengers for rides in the car while I had it, and the going consensus was that the car was entirely unspectacular, but not in a bad way. Nothing really stands out. To a certain car buyer this will be a huge turnoff, but for someone who just wants a comfortable, easy car to drive, it checks all the boxes.
I particularly enjoyed the auto high beams, a nice touch for folks who regularly drive on windy country roads.
That being said, everyone who rode in the car asked one question: what’s the deal with the trunk?
Ford did not redesign the Fusion for the plug-in version, which obviously comes with a big ol’ battery. So the battery got crammed into the trunk and covered with felt. As you’d imagine, this takes a chunk out of the cargo space, to the point where it has about as much space as a compact. We were only able to fit two carry-on sized bags plus a backpack or two.
For some people, this won’t matter much since the trunk can still fit a pretty decent load of groceries and there’s always the back seat for overflow space. For others, it’s a dealbreaker.
Either way, it exhibits a certain degree of laziness from Ford. Honda’s Clarity, for example, was redesigned so the battery wouldn’t restrict trunk space. The Prius Prime also has a normal trunk, just to name two examples. So Ford is asking you not only to pay more to get less range from the battery but also to sacrifice trunk space for that battery.
In the end, I was left to puzzle over who this car was for. I asked Ford and a spokesman replied, “We have our highest volume of Energi customers in California and New England. The PHEV qualifies for HOV lane access in some of these markets, which is a draw for many people.”
But that didn’t really answer my question. Why would someone choose this PHEV over any other, especially with the short battery-only range, steep price tag, and minimal trunk space?
I don’t have an answer for you, which seems in keeping with Ford’s abandonment of the sedan space in general. Even with several thousand dollars knocked off the MSRP, it’s still worth taking a long, hard look elsewhere, which is what Ford seems to want you to do at this point. This is a car that exists because it has to, not because it should.