2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid
How to forget preconceived notions about driving green
The 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid is technically a carryover car. In the automotive world that usually means the car is the same as the year before, but with a bit of make-up added. That’s not exactly the case here, though, as Ford has added a number of standard features to the mix, but we’ll get to the details in a minute. For this writer (at least), the real event was actually getting familiar with the Hybrid.
Now, to be honest, most hybrid cars out there are pretty plain vanilla. They do little (nothing in some cases) to stir the soul. Worse, more than a few hybrids aren’t exactly seamless in the technology used to switch-over from gasoline to electric vehicle (EV) power. Because of this, plenty of automotive scribes wince when given the opportunity to drive then write about hybrids. We were in that group.
Walking out into the parking lot changed our notions just a tiny bit. Sitting there was a subtle Ingot Silver Metallic Fusion that sat sort of hunkered down on its squatty 15-spoke, 17-inch aluminum wheels. Was this the right car? The only giveaway was a clever little “Road & Leaf Hybrid” badge low down on the door. Hmm. What’s that old maxim about preconceived notions? We were about to find out.
Cracking open the driver’s door, we were met with a set of well-bolstered bucket seats that flanked a full-feature center console/radio/HVAC/info stack. The buckets were covered in the Ford eco-friendly cloth seating material that’s made up from 85 percent recycled post-industrial material. Aside from this piece of trivia, the interior looked suspiciously like any upscale performance sedan. Except this wasn’t a high end car, and we didn’t expect it to perform like one either. We were wrong again.
In our initial drive, we decided to forgo any preliminary introduction formalities. Once the car was started, it was like moving ahead a decade or six. You see, the instrument cluster includes what Ford calls a SmartGauge with EcoGuide. Basically, it’s a self-contained coach that guides you toward obtaining maximum fuel economy numbers with the car. The cluster incorporates a pair of full-color, high-resolution displays on either side of the speedometer. There’s a built-in tutorial that educates drivers on the hybrid system, as well as the high-tech instrumentation package. This instrumentation package is what tutors you into becoming a more efficient driver. And it even rewards you! The system actually “grows” vines and additional leaves when you drive more efficiently. Truth is, the system even proved entertaining to more than a couple of jaded old auto journalists.
There’s a quartet of different data screens in the package, including an initial “Inform” display showing fuel level along with the battery charge status. Next up is the “Enlighten” mode. It adds a gas engine tachometer as well as an electric vehicle mode indicator. “Engage” factors in both engine (output) power and battery output power. Finally, the “Empower" mode includes power provided to the wheels and EV power threshold along with accessory power consumption. If that’s not enough, each of the various levels can show instant fuel economy, fuel economy history, engine coolant temperature, gear mode, odometer and other trip data such as trip fuel economy, time-elapsed fuel economy and miles til empty. They’ve also included an engine coolant temperature indicator that turns green when the powerplant warms sufficiently to allow to automatically shut-off and restart for full EV operation.
The heart of the package is a high-efficiency 2.5-liter “Atkinson cycle” powerplant that produces 136 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm. It’s hooked to an electronically-controlled CVT (continuously variable transmission). The four-cylinder engine incorporates variable intake cam timing along with variable spark timing, which are both programmed to provide a virtually seamless transition from gasoline power to electric mode and back again. A special electronic throttle control reduces airflow on engine shutdowns, which in turn reduces fuel required on restarts. A wide-band lambda exhaust gas sensor continuously samples air-fuel ratios allowing the on-board computer system to constantly tweak the air-fuel mixture.
Last year, Ford introduced a smaller, lighter 275-volt nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery that was optimized to produce 20 percent greater power. The new configuration battery operates at higher temperature, but the location aft of the rear seat allows it to be cooled by airflow through the cockpit. Ford added a variable voltage converter to boost voltage to the battery, so that it can operate the permanent magnet electric drive motor and generator with added efficiency. The cabin climate control system is based upon an electrically driven air conditioning compressor that operates only as needed to cool the Fusion Hybrid’s interior. To gain cabin heat, the gasoline engine is started and operated only as long as necessary to maintain temperature.
The regenerative brake system captures the energy normally lost through friction in braking and stores it. Nearly 94 percent energy recovery is achieved by first delivering full regenerative braking followed by friction brakes during city driving. Unlike some other hybrids, brake pedal feel is rather normal (scratch one more preconceived notion).
So far so good. But then comes the question of performance. To put it bluntly, it must be slow. Right? Not exactly. You see, the way the Ford Hybrid system works, both the 2.5-liter inline four and the electric drive motor are combined to make up and deliver maximum power. As a result, the Hybrid has a true power figure of 191 net horsepower. That’s a considerable move upward from the base gasoline engine’s 156 horsepower. Better still the operation is pretty much seamless. As a result, if you get into a situation (such as a passing a lumbering truck on a two lane back road), you’d never know you’re driving a Hybrid. It’s just like driving any other 190+ horsepower sedan. We can safely say goodbye to yet another misconception.
There’s more too: Because of the actual design of the Ford hybrid system, the Fusion can operate longer at higher speeds in electric mode than its competitors. It can operate as high as 47 mph in pure electric mode (which in truth is approximately double the speed of some competitors). As Ford points out, due to the flexibility of their hybrid system, there are plenty of urban situations where you can take a spin and actually never use much more than a drop of gasoline. In normal driving conditions, the Fusion Hybrid has a range of over 700 miles on a single full tank of gasoline (that’s with a 41 mpg city and 36 mpg highway rating). Under controlled conditions, though, a team of drivers trained in mileage-maximizing techniques recently achieved 1,445 miles on a single tank of gas in a 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, averaging an amazing 81.5 mpg.
New for 2011
What about the changes for 2011? Some include the normal color mix-ups (new exterior Metallic paint colors include Bordeaux Reserve Red, Blue Flame, Steel Blue and the Ingot Silver scheme found on our early production test car), but some include additions to the standard equipment list. For example, automatic headlamps and spotter mirrors are now standard. Ditto with one-touch power windows for driver and front passenger. The Hybrid gets a standard 10-way power driver seat along with a standard 4-way power passenger seat, complete with a power recline feature.
New equipment or not, we’ve re-arranged our thoughts with regard to Hybrids, at least those carrying the Ford badge. The truth is, if you’re in the market for a gas-sipping (frugal) midsize sedan of any sort (gasoline or hybrid), you owe it to yourself to give the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid serious consideration. Once you drive one, some of your preconceived notions might prove to be a thing of the past. (www.ford.com)
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