2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid Road Test – A Misconception That US Automakers Are Behind

There’s a common misconception that U.S. automakers are behind some imports in technology and fuel efficiency. That may have been true some years ago, but it could not be further from the truth today. Both Ford and GM have become quality and fuel economy leaders in the last few years, especially from the highly competitive mid-size segment up. Chrysler still trails in both but is working hard and fast to catch up. Don’t believe us? Check the numbers.

The EPA estimates for the ultra-fine new Fusion and Milan Hybrids are an impressive 41 mpg city and 36 highway, which beats Toyota’s ’09 mid-size Camry Hybrid by eight and two mpg, respectively. They are, Ford says, the most fuel-efficient midsized sedans in America.

The conventional Fusion and Milan, nicely restyled and much improved for 2010, offer the mid-size segment’s best gasoline four-cylinder fuel economy, more powerful available V-6s, class-exclusive technologies, including blind spot detection and warning with cross traffic alert and Ford SYNC, and more total passenger and luggage capacity than the Camry. The Fusion’s new look is more upscale, sportier and aerodynamically slicker. But the most exciting news is this all-new Fusion Hybrid. Together with its Mercury Milan Hybrid counterpart, it joins the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner (compact SUV) Hybrids to double both the size and volume of Ford Motor Co.’s hybrid lineup.

Among this next-generation system’s key features are an ultra-efficient new 2.5-liter four-cylinder “Atkinson cycle” engine good for 155 hp and 136 lb.-ft. of torque mated to an electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission, or “e-CVT.” Intake Variable Cam Timing (iVCT), enable seamless transitions from gas to electric and vice-versa, while both spark and cam timing are varied according to engine load to optimize efficiency and emissions. Enhanced electronic throttle control reduces airflow on shutdowns, which reduces fuel need on restarts, and a “wide-band lambda sensor” analyzes air-fuel ratios and adjusts the lean/rich mixture to keep the system in balance and minimize emissions.

The new 275-volt nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery is smaller, lighter and optimized to produce 20 percent more power. Cooled by cabin air, its improved chemistry allows it to run at higher temperatures, and an added variable voltage converter boosts voltage to the battery to operate the motor and generator more efficiently. A “smarter” climate control system with an electric air-conditioning compressor minimizes engine usage by running it only as needed for heating and cooling.

The brake system delivers full regenerative braking (when the drive motor becomes a generator), backed up by friction braking as needed, to capture nearly 94 percent of the energy normally lost through friction in braking and send it back to the battery. And, as we noticed during our drive, it delivers improved brake pedal feel compared to the previous system.

The hybrid system also allows the Fusion and Milan Hybrids to operate longer at higher speeds in electric mode than competitive systems. They can run up to 47 mph in pure electric mode, approximately double the speed of some competitors. “Because our hybrid can run at a much higher speed in electric mode, you can do so much more in city-driving situations,” says Ford Hybrid Applications Manager Gil Portalatin. “Under the right conditions, you can drive in your neighborhood or in mall parking lots without using a drop of gasoline.” With the 41 city and 36 hwy ratings, Fusion and Milan Hybrids can achieve a driving range of over 700 miles on a single tank of gas.

It uses two high-resolution, full-color liquid crystal display (LCD) screens flanking the speedometer that can be configured to show different levels of information. The approach is multi-layered: A tutorial mode helps drivers learn about its instruments and the system, while tech enthusiasts will enjoy detailed gauges that help them become more efficient. The system even “grows” vines and leaves on-screen to reward efficient driving.

Drivers can choose one of four data screens: The basic “Inform” screen displays fuel level and battery charge status; “Enlighten” adds an electric vehicle mode indicator and a tachometer; “Engage” adds engine output power and battery output power; and “Empower” adds power to wheels, EV power threshold and accessory power consumption. All levels can show instant fuel economy, fuel economy history, odometer, engine coolant temperature, transmission gear and trip data-fuel economy, time-elapsed fuel economy and miles to empty. There’s even an engine coolant temperature indicator that turns green when the engine is warm enough to allow engine shut-off and restart for full EV operation.