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May 20, 2013

Ladies' Drive: Ford's Plug-In Hybrid Fusion Energi

119_4769From the outside, the new Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid looks exactly the same as the rest of the Fusion family -- until you notice its charger port, which lights up to indicate that the battery is fully juiced.

On the inside, you get the same roomy comfort you'll find in the other Fusion vehicles. Standard features on the Fusion Energi's base model includes heated leather seats with driver seat memory and MyFordTouch infotainment system. 

Ladies, if it's gas mileage you're looking for, the Energi will really make you stop and take notice. The Fusion line was already racking up some impressive mileage rankings, ranging from 25 combined miles per gallon on its all-wheel drive model with a powerful 2.0 liter engine... up to a mind-boggling 47 miles per gallon on the Fusion Hybrid.

The Energi joins the fleet with an estimated 100 miles per gallon - thanks to a one-two punch of an internal combustion engine that generates power to its electric motor once the battery loses its charge. This system is similar to the one pioneered by the Chevrolet Volt, and allows a driver to squeeze about 600 miles out of one tank of gas. And Fusion Energi has the capacity to transport five adults, with plenty of legroom. 

"It shares many of the components with the Fusion Hybrid," says Mazen Hammoud, Chief Electrified Powertrains Engineer at Ford. "And really, that allowed us to maximize the synergy in our engineering and be able to provide these electrified vehicles at the lowest cost... The only differences between the Fusion Hybrid and the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid are the charger port and on board charger."

Energi's battery is different, too: It's bigger and designed to generate energy rather than power. It gives the Fusion Energi a range of 21 miles in all-electric EV mode at 195 horsepower -- which means you can rev it up to 85 miles an hour without using your gas reserves. 

I can attest to the vehicle's power: Ford assigned us a city route, designed to maximize our ability to drive in EV mode. I meandered off that route and headed up a steep section of the Hollywood Hills. Energi was up to the task: I made it to the top with no lag or sluggishness, and returned with plenty of charge left -- without help from the gas engine.

Power Management in the Fusion Energi

Ford has installed a remarkable new tool in the Fusion Energi: the EV button, which allows you to customize how you use your EV range. You can choose between three distinct EV modes:

EV Now is for using the electric motor and energy from the battery only -- no matter how fast you are driving or what your accelration rate is, the gas engine will not come on.

EV Auto allows the vehicle's onboard computer to switch between driving modes for the most efficient use of both electricity and gasoline power. "Sometimes when you're driving on the highway at higher speeds, really the most efficient source of energy is using the engine with the gasoline," says Ford's Hammoud.

EV Later gives you the option of pre-selecting when the vehicle will switch into EV mode, like if you are commuting from your home in the suburbs to the city. You can choose to use the gas powered electric generator and then switch into EV driving when you get downtown.

Sam Hoyt, the woman who serves as Fusion's marketing manager, is proud of the vehicle's system for regenerative braking, which helps generate new energy back to the battery. "What's different about our car versus some of our competitiors is that you can recapture up to 90% of the energy lost due to friction. And when you're in the cars driving, you'll actually see the brake coach come on and show you how much energy you're recapturing," she says.

Another method for managing your battery power is to use the MyFordMobile app on your smartphone, which allows you to remotely pre-condition your Fusion Energi while it's plugged into its charger, so it will be the right temperature when you're ready to go (this is an awesome feature on a hot summer day). MyFordMobile can also assist you in finding charge stations and fuel-efficient ECO-routes.

Customers Demanding Cutting Edge Technology

While the Fusion Energi itself is a remarkable example of automotive technology, Ford's customers are clamoring for more. "Fusion actually has more driver-assistance technologies than any other car in this segment," says Hoyt. "You can get adaptive cruise control, active park assist, blind spot information system, the lane-keeping system, and the driver alert system that will actually monitor how you're driving and suggest you get a cup of coffee if it senses you're weaving."

Hoyt says the company was surprised when twice as many customers ordered these additional options than they had estimated. "Customers really want these technologies, which is great. But the other thing is that it helps with distracted driving. The more you can help a customer be a better driver, the safer everyone is. So we really want the driver-assistance technologies to be utilized as much as possible."

The model I drove was a top-of-the-line Titanium, with the lane-keeping system, BLIS,  rearview camera, and a reverse sensing system, which beeps warnings to keep you from getting in trouble when you're in reverse. My current vehicle has enormous blind spots, so these are all technologies I want the next time I go car shopping.

The Fusion Energi is fun to drive -- but the best part might be seeing your gasoline expenditures plummet. 

Donna Schwartz Mills is a Los Angeles-based writer who also contributes to CBS Digital Local Los Angeles and her personal site, SoCal Mom. 




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