AutomobilesExtra

[ROAD TEST] How the Ford Fusion Energi made me exercise more and changed my shopping habits

For any car enthusiast, much of the driving experience involves sound. The engine and exhaust notes are arguably both big parts of what make driving pleasurable. Car guys often pride themselves on being able to accurately guess what type of car is passing by, sight unseen, just from the engine and exhaust noises. For example, any Subaru fan worth his or her salt can discern the “brr brr brr” noise of a Subaru boxer engine from far away. Any diehard Porsche fan can do the same, and even perhaps be able to tell you if it’s an air cooled or water cooled engine.

Manufacturers spend millions of dollars tuning engine and exhaust noises, not to mention the number of aftermarket exhaust companies out there. A friend of mine with an E92 BMW M3 Competition spent $5000 on an Akrapovic titanium exhaust the week after buying his new car because he felt that the BMW engineers were too conservative with the M3’s factory exhaust note!

In my last car test car, the Ford Focus ST, Ford’s engineers went so far as to design a special “sound symposer” to enhance the sound of the engine note inside the cabin. On other cars, driver selectable exhaust systems can tune the exhaust note from barely audible to a raging angry dragon.

So it was quite a juxtaposition for me to get the keys to a car, a new type of car that challenges our concept of a traditional automobile. A car that can be driven without any engine or exhaust noises at all for a large majority of the time.

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For this test, I’m behind the wheel of a 2013 Ford Fusion SE Energi Plugin Hybrid. As I accepted the key to my chariot for the week, I joined the new wave of automotive technology, and along with it, became a small part of growing revolution that includes vehicles such as the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, and of course the Toyota Prius.

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From young, I’ve always been a big fan of technology. From the latest gadgets to tech news, I consume as much of it as practical on a daily basis. But also being a car nut, I was excited to take a break from the normal car experience and live with an electric (hybrid) vehicle in real life.

Going into this car, I knew about its main criticisms. Primarily its small trunk space (8.5 cu ft) and its 600lbs extra curb weight over the regular Ford Fusion due to the electrical components and battery pack. But I wasn’t too concerned about both those items and here’s why you shouldn’t be either if you are interested in a Fusion.

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Life is all about choices and that’s why Ford offers 4 different variants of the Fusion for its customers. Like the Focus, the Fusion is a global platform vehicle. This means that aside from some name changes (called the Mondeo in other markets) and even more engine choices, this car is essentially sold mostly unchanged in other markets. And Ford fully expects it to succeed as well as it has in North America.

For our continent, the Fusion is offered as a non-turbo model, two different Ecoboost Turbo models (with FWD and AWD), as a regular hybrid, and finally my test vehicle, the plugin hybrid (with its Energi nomenclature). All models are built in the same factory on the same line so that Ford can quickly adapt to customer demand without costly retooling and other expensive logistics.

In short, you can buy the regular Fusion if you like the car but don’t need the power from the turbo engine. If you want more power or all wheel drive, the Ecoboost Turbo is your answer. For those who want to be greener or economical, the regular hybrid is your choice if you don’t want to sacrifice too much trunk space to the lithium ion battery.

As far as my experience, I wanted to cut through the marketing hype and really see what it was like to live with the Energi plug-in hybrid, and whether it was really worth it over the regular gas powered Fusion or even the regular hybrid. I should mention that Ford Canada offered all 4 variants to me and the Energi was the one I was most excited to try. The hybrid drivetrain would give me the safety net of a conventional engine, but with the electric drive and plug-in experience of a true EV.

So the car. What can we say about it? It’s handsome, stylish, comfortable, safe, and packed with tech gadgets. Not at all difficult to see why Ford has been winning over many Toyota Camry and Honda Accord customers since this car was launched for the 2013 model year. How far they have come since the days of the jellybean Ford Taurus!

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The Fusion is a product of what was originally Ford Europe’s Kinetic design concept from a few years ago. Today, Ford has consolidated all their global teams together around a blank slate to develop their mainstream bread and butter vehicles. The Fusion, Fiesta, Focus are all products of this “One Ford” vision and team. The result is ground-breaking designs that have won accolades all around the world.

With its fresh new face and sleek silhouette, I often referred to the Fusion Energi as my poor man’s Aston Martin Rapide. A big compliment for a car that really breaks the mould as to what a typically unoffensive family sedan should look like.

Chris Hamilton, the Fusion’s chief exterior designer says, “Our design brief for the new car was to give the mainstream sedan buyer a top-drawer visual experience, adding some emotional appeal to an already sensible choice”.

Clearly the design brief has been successfully applied to the Fusion.

Being a hybrid, power comes from two sources. A 141hp 129 lb-ft 2.0L inline-4 cylinder gasoline powered engine, and a 118hp 117 lb-ft permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motor powered by a 7.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. In comparison, the non-plugin hybrid Fusion comes only with a 1.4kWh battery pack. Both the regular hybrid model and the Energi plugin share combined power ratings of 188hp when both electric and gas motors are working together. More than enough to get around, but it won’t blow your socks off. The instant torque from the electric motor can even make the car fun to drive in EV mode with its Skytrain-like whirl and otherwise silent operation.

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Inside the car, you’ll find seats that are comfortable but yet European supportive. The materials are high quality enough for this price point, albeit a bit boring and business-like with slabs of black and grey plastic. A bit less exciting than the exterior design. However, this is an environment that most will have no problems getting used to and one that I could live with day in and out.

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All of the switch gear is where you would expect, and I liked the small touches that maximized usable space. One such example is the hollow centre console area forward of the gearshift lever that houses the 12 volt outlet and a small tray for “stuff” such as your cellphone, wallet, etc.

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As far as gadget lovers such as myself are concerned, the Fusion does not disappoint. From the Ford MyTouch system with satellite navigation and SiriusXM satellite radio, to adaptive cruise control, automatic highbeams, blindspot warning system with lane departure warning and collision mitigation, there is a hell of a lot of tech value packed into a car at this price point. Many of these systems are ones that you’ll find in German luxury vehicles costing tens of thousands more.

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I found the rear cross traffic warning system particularly useful as it uses radar technology to warn you when there is traffic approaching from either side of your vehicle when you are backing up. Perfect for those tight spots when there is an SUV or minivan on either side of your car and you have to blindly back out of a spot. Chalk up one extra point for Ford’s available active safety systems in the Fusion.

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In my Focus ST review, I complained about the MyTouch system being housed in the deeply recessed plastic shroud, thereby blocking some of the view on the edges of the touchscreen. The Fusion implements the same system but with a dashboard design that more flush mounted with the dash. In this application, it all works harmoniously without the ergonomic quibbles from the Focus.

What doesn’t work as well is the touch capacitive buttons for the radio, climate control, etc. This requires more of your attention as there aren’t any real buttons on the dash but instead touch sensitive flat surfaced ones which all feel the same. Give me back the Focus’ real buttons please!

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Let’s talk a bit about the Fusion Energi’s pièce de résistance. Its ability to plug in, the technology surrounding the hybrid drivetrain, and ultimately its seriously good fuel economy. After all, that’s why you would pony up the extra bucks to get this vehicle over the regular Ecoboost or non-plugin hybrid model.

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In my testing, I found that the Fusion Energi Plugin works as a 100% pure EV vehicle with some caveats.

  1. You live no further than around 30-40 kms from work and your commute doesn’t have too many uphill sections.  According to many studies, the majority of people can easily commute from home to work within this range.
  2. Ideally you can plug in close to work or at work.
  3. If you use this as a family car, your kids are old enough to not require a stroller.
  4. If you plan on travelling longer distances, you can fold down one of the back seats for luggage. This of course means that you won’t be able to carry more than 2 or 3 passengers due to the folded down back seat.
  5. You don’t live on a mountain or a hilly area. In my testing, I easily burnt off 30% of my battery capacity going uphill for a short distance (about a 5-7 minute drive) while in 100% EV mode. Use of the hybrid mode is a better idea here.

I really liked the “EV now” mode that allowed me to force the Energi into a pure electric vehicle (when there was enough battery) to minimize the amount of gas consumed. This was mostly how I drove the vehicle during my time with it. Conversely, there is also an “EV later” mode that allows the driver to save the charged up battery capacity for later usage.

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The former was perfect for around town situations where I was close to a plug or a quick charger. The later was ideal for hilly or highway situations at higher speeds where the engine is not burning much fuel anyway.

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In Hybrid vehicle (EV auto) mode, the Fusion Energi plugin lifts most of the limitations I listed above.

  1. It doesn’t matter how far you live from work because you can use a balance of engine power and electric power to get you there. The computer will figure it all out automatically.
  2. Plugging in is optional as it will give you far greater EV range, but it’s not mandatory. In fact, you can NEVER plug this car in at all and just use it as a strict hybrid, and it will still function brilliantly. But if you’re going to do this, you might get the regular hybrid model, save some money and gain a lot more trunk space.

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Notably, Ford’s engineers have done a tremendous job in tuning the braking system in the Energi. The balance and transition between use of the friction brakes and the regenerative brakes is imperceptible. You would be hard pressed to tell when the electric motor is slowing down the car or when the actual mechanical brakes are being applied.

There is a nifty “brake coach” function in the instrument cluster that teaches you to brake more efficiently, using as much of the electric motor to slow down the car instead of the mechanical brakes. Essentially instead of converting your potential energy into heat to slow down (which is what friction brakes do) the regenerative “brakes” use the electric motor that drives the car and converts the potential energy into stored energy in the battery pack. It quickly becomes a game to see how often you can hit the 100% Energy Returned mark each and every time. The only losers here are maybe the petroleum companies and the brake component suppliers.

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If I were to judge the Fusion Energi as a pure gasoline only car, there are a few drawbacks.

  1. The e-CVT transmission doesn’t make the car very engaging to drive without the assistance of the torquey electric motor. The Atkinson cycle 4 cylinder engine, while efficient, isn’t fun to rev up and is a bit lacking in low range torque. That’s just the nature of the Atkinson cycle design which is why these types of engines are only paired up with electric motors these days.
  2. Under hard throttle, something that you will rarely do in city traffic, the CVT holds the engine at higher rpms and the engine note isn’t very nice to listen to for long durations. Thankfully it’s just the noise that permeates the cabin and not any vibration.
  3. The extra weight of the bigger battery necessitates heavier duty rear springs to support Energi’s rear end. Over speed bumps or on really twisty roads though, you will still notice the extra weight and the suspension working the tires hard for grip.
  4. This is still a family sedan and while the steering weights up nicely, like most electrically assisted systems, it is a bit numb with little road feel. It’s not the worst I’ve experienced, but certainly not the best either. In day-to-day situations, it’s easy to drive and works well enough, but obviously don’t expect it to be as precise or dynamic as an Aston Martin, despite the Fusion’s similarly great looks.

Why did I say that the Fusion Energi helped me to exercise more?

Since I live close to a pair of 240 volt GE Wattstation quick charging stations at a mall, I wanted to take full advantage of the infrastructure in place.

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My evening routine consisted of parking and plugging in the car at the charging station, then walking back to my condo building; a quick 5-7 minute walk. When the car was done charging, the GE Wattstation app would email me that the charge was complete. I would then walk back to pickup the Fusion. It was a total different shift in mindset, and one that you have to be able to fully commit to day in and out. If you have your own house with a garage, there is little for you to adapt to. Just plug in and leave it overnight.

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If you aren’t using a GE Wattstation public charger, there is also an in-car display as part of the MyTouch system. The battery screen displays an estimated completed time once you plug in, as well as how long it will take to charge the car depending on whether it is a 120 volt or a 240 volt outlet. On the outside, a nifty blue LED halo surrounds the charge port once you plug in.

It’s a simple to read system that segments the halo in 4 different quadrants and lights them up depending on how much the battery is charged up (25%, 50%, 75%, 100% fully charged).

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I really enjoyed the fact that I could charge the Energi’s 7.6-kWH lithium-ion battery from 0 to 100% in only 3 hours using a 240 volt quick charger. But crucially, since the battery pack isn’t as large as something like the Tesla Model S, you can charge up the vehicle to 100% capacity in about 7-8 hours (or basically overnight) just using a standard 120 volt home outlet. This makes the car easy to live with regardless of whether you want to run it as a pure EV or a hybrid.

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If you can live without the ability to quick charge the battery, you can totally avoid the expense of installing a special 240 volt quick charger in your home. This saves about $2000.

The Fusion Energi also comes with 5 years of Ford’s MyFordMobile telematics service. This was one of the main highlights of my week with the car as it allowed me to monitor many functions and charge times from a smartphone app or the website.

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Using either the app or the MyFordMobile website, I could access to various stats, progress, functions and settings. For example, you can program the car to alert you when it is done charging, if there is an accidental unplug, or even track the location of your vehicle! There is also a remote start, remote unlock/lock option.

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For a taste as to what you can look forward to, check out the comprehensive Ford owners’ videos channel on YouTube. There is a brilliant amount of information here!

EV Owners and their mentality

Every heard of Plugshare.com? I hadn’t either until I started researching into the EV community. With free iPhone and Android apps to compliment the website, EV owners around North America can search for the closest charging station, check into it upon arrival, indicate when they are there for, or even write comments about whether the station has any issues or challenges. The site and app are totally free. Content is created by the EV owners who literally post, rate, check-in daily as part of their EV ownership routine.

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That in essence describes many of the EV owners today. They’re a growing community, a tribe. Evangelists who have taken the first step (and put their money where their mouths are) while these vehicles and the technology are still in their infancy.

Over my week long test drive, I found myself truly buying into this mindset and advocating the merits of EV ownership to complete strangers. This was easy as there was not a single day where I wouldn’t be approached by at least 3 people when plugging in (or unplugging) at the public quick chargers.

With the Fusion’s good looks and the number of people swarming around the car, you would think that I was actually a celebrity with an Aston Martin Rapide! People were taking photos with their smartphones, asking me questions, and even requesting seat time in the car! When was the last time a Toyota Camry hybrid driver got asked for some seat time? Probably not ever!

As for the reactions from others, most of the comments were positive, especially around the aesthetics of the Fusion. Most were impressed that this was a Ford. But as expected, there were a few gripes over the big battery pack in the trunk.

If you aren’t an extrovert, driving a Fusion Energi may well bring you out of your shell! How about putting that in an ad eh, Ford Canada?

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But in all seriousness, buying into the EV mindset also meant subscribing to the principles of A.B.C (aka Always Be Charged). As such, I did find myself shopping at malls and grocery stores only where there were EV quick charging stations, even if the stores were a bit further out of the way. I have a feeling that anyone who spends the extra dough for the Energi versus the regular Fusion hybrid is very likely to do the same.

Malls and businesses should really take note here and use these charge stations as a free incentive (at least for the time being) to bring in new customers. One such example is the VanCity Port Coquitlam branch pictured below.

I wasn’t particularly impressed that Coquitlam Centre bothers to charge $1 per charging hour when none of the other malls do. According to the Plugshare community, Coquitlam Centre mall is the only free parking lot with public chargers that charges for electricity. It seems almost trivial and many EV owners have specifically voiced their displeasure on Plugshare.com and how they will never venture out to this mall just out of principle.

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Overall impressions:

For anyone with relatively short commutes and access to quick charging stations (or a even a 120v plug) at work, the Fusion Energi plugin hybrid truly can be used as an electric vehicle for most of the time.

Over the course of the 316.6km that I had the vehicle, I used only 6.68L of gas by plugging in as often as possible.

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If I were to use a combination of both electric and gasoline power, the Energi calculated that my range would be 837km before both the gas tank is dry and the battery pack depleted. That’s probably a bit optimistic so I would knock off 5-10% of that figure for real world conditions. That’s still a really good amount of range from the 53 litre (14 US gallon) tank, and should put any long distance trip worries to bed.

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As mentioned earlier, the Fusion Energi has a couple of drawbacks of course, primarily being the lack of trunk space and the price. At an as tested MSRP of $44,789, this is significantly more expensive than the regular non-plugin hybrid.

Regardless, I grew pretty fond of the Fusion Energi in the few days that I had the car. The hybrid drivetrain still provides a safety net and also the long-distance range that most of us have come to expect from a primary 4 door 5 passenger family vehicle. And of course by buying the Fusion, you get the stand out premium look that you wouldn’t necessarily equate with an ordinary family sedan. Maybe that price isn’t too bad at all for a poor man’s Aston Martin Rapide after all?

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My ratings (each category out of 10).

Power: 7

Handling: 7

Ride comfort: 8

Controls: 7.5

Quality: 8

Fuel consumption: 10

Technology: 8

Value for money: 6.5

TOTAL: 62/80

Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
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