April 18, 2014
2014 Ford Fusion Energi. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Haney Louka
This is the third and final instalment of our Ford Fusion Energi winter test, so please bear with me while I get my geek on so we can talk numbers this time around. Previous reports on this test went through the technology used in this plug-in hybrid, as well as what it’s like to live with the car on a day-to-day basis. But this time, we’re looking into the hard numbers that will either validate or expose vulnerabilities in the expected benefits of driving a vehicle like this.
Depending on who you are, the benefits can be measured in terms of savings at the pump or a by a more global yardstick such as reduced dependence on fossil fuels. While the former is always difficult to justify on a break-even basis, the latter opens up a whole realm of questions that can and will be argued until the end of time.
Today, though, it’s about the Fusion Energi and how it performs relative to what a prospective buyer might be anticipating when they sign the dotted line. As with other efficiency-minded vehicles we’ve tested during winter months over the years, our primary goal is to get real-world anecdotal information to get those answers.
But first, a word about fuel consumption figures as presented by the manufacturers. Until now, fuel consumption ratings have been measured by the automobile manufacturers using the two-cycle (city and highway) test method approved by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). The manufacturers test the vehicles in a lab on dynamometers at room temperature. Using this method, the words “your consumption will vary” is more of a promise than a possibility. It is possible to replicate these numbers in ideal driving conditions on rural roads with few intersections (and maybe even a few downhill stretches). Those defending the ratings claim that even though they aren’t meant to represent actual consumption, they do serve as a common benchmark for comparison between models. My stance has always been that even though they are all tested to the same standard, if that standard deviates significantly from reality then its validity comes into question.
To compound the issue, computer controls allow manufacturers to tweak their systems to perform optimally under test conditions, while out in the real world results can vary even more drastically because of this. Transmission shift points and throttle response programming can be finessed for the best possible showing on the window stickers in dealer lots.
Experience has revealed that nowhere is this discrepancy more evident than with hybrids. Those hybrids that are capable of accelerating to 50 or 60 km/h and coasting without activating the gas engine can put up heroic numbers, but try doing that in traffic and you’ll have many irate drivers wondering why you’re holding up forward progress. And we haven’t even begun talking about cold weather yet.
For the past six years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been using a five-cycle test that includes three new cycles. One simulates higher speeds and faster acceleration, the second is used with air conditioning in operation, while the third takes into account colder outside temperatures. Combined with the original city and highway cycles, this new test method does a much better job of having some credible real-world relevance. Yes, your consumption will still vary. But not nearly to the same extent as before.
And Canada is now catching up. For 2015, NRCan will require manufacturers to report their consumption based on the same five-cycle test method. This is great news. Even better, they are treating 2014 as a transition year, which means that if you peruse the 2014 Fuel Consumption Guide you’ll find the two-cycle and five-cycle ratings side by side.
I know; it’s like Christmas in April.
Plug-in Hybrids are grouped with battery-electrics as “Advanced Technology Vehicles” in the Fuel Consumption Guide. One test is completed with a fully charged battery pack and the second with a depleted battery. With a fully charged battery, no gas is used in the test, and the Fusion Energi scores an equivalent fuel consumption of 1.9 Le/100 km on the old system and 2.4 on the new one. With a depleted battery, combined fuel consumption is rated at 4.5 L/100 km the old way and 5.5 the new way. NRCan says that most cars will see an increase in consumption ratings between 10 and 20 percent; as you can see here, we’re well beyond a 20-percent increase with this plug-in hybrid under the new testing regime.