2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

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First Drive: 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

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2010 Ford Fusion

Ottawa, Ontario – The first production hybrid vehicle – the 2000 Honda Insight – went on sale in Canada a decade ago. It was a little odd-looking, carried only two passengers and had an MSRP of $26,000. Since then, hybrid technology has improved and vehicles have become much more conventional in appearance and operation.

One hybrid vehicle that’s getting very positive reviews is the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Like some of its competitors (Toyota Camry Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid) it points the way to how hybrid vehicles are becoming part of the mainstream midsize market. But on the road, what are the differences between it and a conventional Fusion?

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

Not a lot, actually. Visually, the Fusion Hybrid is little different than the conventional version; no quirky or strange looks that shout “hybrid,” other than a few logos on the doors and rear trunk lid. And driving it doesn’t require any particular skill or expertise that you wouldn’t have when driving any other midsize family car. The powertrain, of course, is very different. It consists of a 2.5-litre four cylinder gas engine and a 70-kilowatt electric motor mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission) and producing a net horsepower rating of 191. But still, its operation is not something of which you’re particularly aware.

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

Step inside, turn the key and you’re greeted by the first really obvious difference, as the gas engine doesn’t start immediately. Instead, it gathers information from the smart climate controls to determine whether the engine is really necessary, and if not, you just drive away on battery alone. On days when the temperature is cold, the engine will start in order to better warm the cabin and defrost the windows. On warmer days, the engine start is delayed, thus saving fuel.

On the road, the Fusion Hybrid is almost silent, and doesn’t feel underpowered. If you’re running on electric-only, a quick stab at the throttle will kick in the gas engine and all the power you need is available.

The regenerative brakes on hybrid cars still use conventional brake pads to stop the car at high speeds, but at slower speeds the electric motor reverses direction and this reversal counteracts forward momentum to slow the car. The reversal of the electric motor acts as a generator, which produces voltage, and this is used to recharge the batteries. Ford claims improved brake pedal feel from previous generation braking systems with a new simulator brake actuation system, but I think this still needs some tweaking, as the pedal feel is very spongy and brakes tended to grab, especially when cold.

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

The dashboard is a busy place with plenty of information to absorb. Gauges show whether the engine or the electric motor is running, state of charge of the battery, and on the far right of the dashboard is an interesting indicator that you don’t see on conventionally powered vehicles. It’s a series of vines, and as you drive, leaves magically appear on the vines. The idea is that the more leaves you have, the more fuel-efficiently you are driving, Ford calls it an EcoGuide, and it’s designed to coach you on optimizing the performance of the hybrid powertrain.

The levels of information displayed can be customized to suit each driver’s needs or situation. A shutdown screen reviews important information from the latest trip, giving fuel economy figures and comparative data from previous days. Also available on the optional navigation system screen is a display of the hybrid drivetrain, showing power flow, fuel economy and battery state of charge.

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

The new Fusion Hybrid isn’t Ford’s first attempt at building a hybrid – 2005 saw the introduction of the Ford Escape Hybrid, and Ford engineers have been working to improve the technology since then. Some of the improvements are a smaller, lighter nickel-metal hydride battery which produces 20 per cent more power, Intake Variable Cam Timing (iVCT), which changes spark and cam timing allowing a more seamless transition between gas to electric mode and back, as well as smarter climate controls that monitor cabin temperatures and run the engine only when needed to heat the cabin. Also new is the ability of operating in electric-only mode at speeds up to 75 km/h, producing official fuel efficiency figures of 4.6 L/100 km city and 5.4 L/100 km highway.

I found that the only indication of actually driving a hybrid was the occasional burble when the gas engine would kick in, and the strange brake pedal feel mentioned above. On the positive side, I enjoyed the feeling of being stuck in stop-and-go traffic and not burning a single drop of fuel. During my week with the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid I averaged 6.3 L/100 km of mostly city driving.

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