• Dec 13th 2008 at 12:01AM
  • 52
43.1 mpg on the streets of LA!

Click above for high-res gallery of the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

While General Motors and Chrysler basically turned out the lights on their presence at the LA Auto Show last month, Ford kicked off one of its biggest product onslaughts in decades. The 2010 Mustang may have captured the hearts of enthusiasts, but the heavily refreshed Fusion and its Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ siblings are the mainstream high volume models that will garner the big sales numbers. The Fusion lineup was expanded in both the performance and efficiency directions with new Sport and Hybrid variants.

When we returned to Los Angeles this week to drive the Fusions, the festivities opened up with an afternoon spent getting a flavor for Ford's newest hybrid. We've already written extensively about the updated hybrid powertrain, but this was our first time behind the wheel. Following a briefing on the key features from the Ford engineering team, fellow Autoblogger Drew Phillips and I were joined by Gil Portalatin, Hybrid Applications Manager, for our test drive. Read all about how we achieved 43.1 mpg after the jump.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

As we all known by now, hybrid vehicles are at their best in urban environments where speeds are limited and there's plenty of opportunity for deceleration to recharge the battery through regenerative braking. So naturally the Ford communications staff defined a route that took us right through the traffic of Beverly Hills, Hollywood and the surrounding area. The route consisted of two legs, with Drew and I each driving one of the legs.

Portalatin, who is among the most familiar with the workings of the Ford hybrid system, went out the day before our arrival to drive the route and set baseline standards for mileage. We weren't told in advance what Portalatin's results were, we just had to drive and do the best we could. We set out from Marina Del Rey with three of us and our camera gear in the car.

With Drew at the wheel first, it immediately became apparent that the most stand out behavior of the Fusion Hybrid is that nothing really stands out. As we drove, there were no hiccups, no stumbles and no shuddering when the engine started and stopped. The car just moved ahead when pressing the accelerator and slowed down when applying the brake. It was also remarkably quiet.

Each segment of the drive was about 18-19 miles and temperatures in the 70s meant we could comfortably drive with the air conditioning off, which we did. For those who choose to use the A/C, Ford has tried to optimize the control of the system. Portalatin told us that the new electrically driven system can be controlled to minimize the power load of the system. Being electrically driven means that it continues to operate even when the engine is shut off.

All the Fusions, including the hybrid, are much more refined for 2010 with effort spent particularly on noise, vibration and harshness. Structural components have been enhanced to reduce vibrations, while new seals and acoustic materials keep out exterior ambient noise and absorb what does get through.

When we drove the 2009 Escape Hybrid a few months ago, we found that Ford had improved the control strategies for the engine and hybrid transmission to make the transitions and blending more seamless. Those software upgrades are further enhanced and combined with the updated hardware to make this the most seamless hybrid yet. The starting and stopping of the engine is almost completely imperceptible now.

When I got behind the wheel, I immediately zeroed in on the new SmartGauge cluster. Ford had preset all the cars to the most advanced Empower mode, which provides the maximum information, including the power gauge. I actually found the power gauge to the be the key to getting the best fuel consumption. This bar graph gauge features a red bar indicating the current power output from the drive train. There is also a sliding window indicating the range within which electric drive mode is available under the current conditions.

Harder acceleration causes the EV window to the shrink. Back off the accelerator and the window expands. The size of the window is dependent on several factors including the temperature, driver demand and battery state of charge. As the power output needle falls within the EV window, the engine shuts off. The key turns out to be to modulate the accelerator to keep the needle inside the window.

Spending more time with the Fusion would certainly lead to getting a better feel for maximizing mileage without constantly looking at the gauge. However, really maxing out the fuel economy takes a lot of concentration. This level of concentration is probably far more than can be expected of most drivers. They will likely find themselves just looking at the leaves that grow as driving becomes more efficient. Our guess is that, realistically, most drivers will probably see numbers in the mid- to upper-30 mpg range.

Ford hybrid boss Portalatin achieved 46 mpg on the first segment and 43.5 mpg on the second segment. Steve Siler of Car and Driver got 43.6 on the first leg followed closely be Steve Levy of AutoFiends.com. Drew managed 36.4 mpg. On the second segment I came closer to Portalatin's standard at 43.1 mpg. For a time, when we were in a section with plenty of downhills and little traffic, my mileage was up over 46 mpg. I never put the car in neutral or did any pulse and glide techniques. And at city speeds, drafting was not an option.

Putting the transmission in neutral would actually be counterproductive because it would disable the deceleration fuel shut-off that Ford has programmed in. Basically, my technique consisted of simply accelerating at the slowest practical rate that would allow me to stay in EV mode as long as possible without being a rolling roadblock, and anticipating that lights ahead would turn red and coasting in the hopes that they would turn green again and minimize my speed loss.

For those who want to keep the Fusion in EV mode, watching the power gauge was actually very important because the hybrid system is so seamless and quiet. Just driving along, it's difficult to discern if the engine is running without looking down. The Continental-supplied brake system on the Fusion worked without any noticeable transitions between friction and regenerative braking. The combination of the 2.5L four cylinder and the electric drive yield a net 191 hp, which is enough to give the 3,720-lb sedan brisk acceleration when needed.

Take a look at the Fusion hybrid and you won't notice any significant visual differences from the conventional models. That doesn't mean Ford hasn't paid attention to aerodynamics. Portalatin told us that the pockets around the front fog lights are completely closed off on the hybrid while the honeycomb mesh on the regular models is open to allow more airflow. The hybrid also gets unique wheels. Unlike the Honda Civic Hybrid, which has flat disk wheels, the 17-inch alloys on the Fusion don't look obviously aerodynamic. According to Portalatin, the key turned out to be the size of the openings between the spokes. Once those openings get below a certain size, when the wheels are turning as the car moves, it essentially acts as though it is a flat disk.

Overall, the Fusion hybrid is an outstanding effort on Ford's part. The engineering team led by Gil Portalatin and JD Shanahan has wrought improvements across the board on the mid-size sedan family. At this moment in time, the hybrid in particular appears to be the head of the class by a significant margin. Of course, Toyota and other competitors never sleep and the Camry will surely get updated soon. Hyundai also has a Sonata Hybrid coming later in 2010. However, the Fusion Hybrid is a car that buyers looking for a high-mileage sedan should definitely consider.

As we said, most Fusion Hybrid drivers will see numbers of around 35-37 mpg, which is excellent considering everything else the Fusion has to offer. Those who insist on eking out every extra mile from a gallon will find the SmartGauge a very helpful addition. If there is one addition we might like to see for hyper-milers, it would be a heads up display for the power-gauge. This would allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road while utilizing the information that is available.

The Fusion hybrid will be going on sale early in 2009 and Ford will announce pricing closer to the on-sale date. For those not enamored with the Fusion's bold chrome grille, the same car (essentially) is available from your local Mercury dealer as the Milan Hybrid. Take your pick and try one out for yourself.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      43MPG is not that great? What other mid-size sedan gets that kind of mileage? The Camry and Altima Hybrids are the only other hybrid sedans on the market that even come close. Good luck getting 40 mpg in a 2009 Fit. The new Fit's mpg is LESS than the previous model.
        • 6 Years Ago
        A seven seater diesel Ford Galaxy, VW Sharan, or Renault Espace in Europe can hit 65mpg(imp). Even better with hypermiling, which manufacturers figures are nearer too anyway.

        So yes, it's fuel consumption is diabolical. Your US manufacturers are ripping you off big time!
      • 6 Years Ago
      This fuel economy rating is impressive. I just wonder if it will be close in everyday, day after day, real world situations. I drive a 2007 camry hybrid, and being no car expert, I expected better mpgs due to the unrealistic rating system at the time I bought it. Since then they revised the ratings and I consistently do better that the low to mid 30s mpg that its rated at now. Its all about how mellow I drive at the time. Alot of comments about cheap interior on Fords and/or this one in particular are disappointing.
      • 6 Years Ago
      43.5 mpg in this sedan is pretty impressive - until one considers they drove with the A/C off. Redo the test, show me those numbers with the A/C running and I'll be impressed. As for the Camry and Altima hybrid sedans, they could get impressive mileage figures like this as well if they were driven with the air conditioning shut down. Shoot, I drove a Toyota Prius and achieved 54 mpg on the highway with the A/C turned off, driving 60 mph.

      I'm gonna have to say it's not just what you drive, but how you drive it as well.

      43 mpg isn't bad for this sedan, in fact I think it's really good for a 3,700 lb sedan; however, I think they need to redo the test with the air conditioning on.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I thought the price for the Fusion was going to be around $27,000?? I believe this car is competing with the Camry Hybrid, so it is not quite fair to compare the car to the lower priced and economy styled prius or Honda Insight. Those vehicles are designed to get the highest MPG they can without going to extreme design changes like the Aptera (which is a cool vehicle).

        The interior and exterior is actually pretty good IMHO.

        I have never owned a Ford nor do I intend to in the near future. I used to sell BMW in college and still consider it to be the best car for my needs. That being said, I would never consider a Ford to be in the category of BMW or Mercedes and Ford is not trying to be in competition with these brands anyway....so, stop trying to put Fusion in a quality competition with the premium brands, people! I hope the car sells.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The AC is electrically driven and shouldn't be a factor in MPG at all. So, I guess it is pretty impressive. Also, remember that the Prius is a smaller and probably less comfortable car.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Well, right out of the gate, the Fusion will get EPA ratings of 39/37 (probably). The Camry gets what, 33/34? Does the Fusion best it? Yes. Will it likely best it in real world? Yes. The Escape also has the smoothest transition between electric and gas that I've felt in a hybrid. If the Fusion is better, Ford's going to dominate the NVH category as well.

        The pricing is for 2010 model Fusions, so we'll have to wait until 2010 Camry Hybrid pricing comes out next month. But I expect it to be similar. Is the Fusion competitive? Yes.

        The Fusion is the most reliable mid-size family sedan on the market according to Consumer Reports. I don't expect any of that to change next year with the hybrid model (especially given the Escape Hybrid's reliability). Does the Fusion best the Camry? Yes.

        The Camry weighs 3,680 lbs to the Fusion's 3,720. The Fusion is currently rated a top pick in safety by the IIHS, and I expect next year to be the same. All this talk about porky sedans is nonsense. The Fusion is the right weight for its size and safety requirements. Is the Fusion competitive with the Camry? Yes, and safer.

        So there. I've compared them. Questions?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Torbjorn, where the Fusion Hybrid starts at $27,000, the Altima hybrid starts at $26,600 and the Camry Hybrid starts at $26,100. We know that these vehicles always cost more than the base price because they're always ordered with more options. So no, comparing the Fusion Hybrid with an Altima Hybrid or a Camry Hybrid is NOT doing the Ford ANY injustice at all. That's the market it's supposed to compete in, and because of that, the Fusion should be compared to two already established models.
      • 6 Years Ago
      This car looks awesome. Ford is definitely moving in the right direction. I am expecting Ford to really blow people away with the Focus 2010.

      The Honda Fit gets a combined 29 mpg which is very subpar.

        • 6 Years Ago
        Kevin -

        I have a 2008 Fit Sport that routinely gets 38 MPG around town and a couple better than that at 55-60 MPH on the highway. Never below 35 MPG.
      • 6 Years Ago
      How many miles did it go on its first tank of gas? Not looking for mpg....
      • 6 Years Ago
      There's a knee-jerk tendency on the part of Toyota/Honda drivers to dismiss Ford's current efforts based on their impression of a comparatively crappy Ford from 10 or 20 years ago (back when they became fed up with the domestics and converted to an import). Well, if you pay close attention you'll see that Ford's quality, safety, reliability and fuel economy are continuously improving and practically neck-and-neck with the competition. The company is operating more globally than ever before in terms of product development and it shows. There's no question that Toyota and Honda are the standard bearers (though their cars have flaws too), but Ford is definitely rising to the occasion. Plus, the new Fusion's SmartGauge is head and shoulders above the competition in terms of being user friendly, informative and attractive. Keep up the good work, Ford.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Actually, to a large extent you're right. When I was traveling for business a lot in the early 80s, I kept getting POS Fords from Hertz. They, along with the Chrysler K-car, really soured me on American cars. I still remember getting a relatively new K-car in LaGuardia that wouldn't shift. It would be stuck in first, then stuck in second, then stuck in neutral. As I made my way back to the rental car facility, someone cut me off, and when I hit the horn, it fell off in my lap. They gave me an Escort, and even though the A/C was broken in the middle of summer, it moved, so I drove it back to Connecticut anyway.

        When I bought my Pilot, I looked at everything, including the Explorer and the Chrysler Pacifica. The Chrysler told me, while we're sitting in the car, don't buy this, buy the Honda.

        The problem is that the American car makers really shot themselves in the foot by consistently selling sub-par vehicles in the 80s and 90s. I personally keep my cars for a long time and don't want to be stuck with a lemon. I'd love to buy American and help stem the trade deficit. The Fusion looks nice! I'll just be keeping an eye on the quality data for a while before I spend $30K+ of my hard-earned money on an American car.
      • 6 Years Ago
      What does the trunk look like? None of the articles about the Hybrid Fusion talk about how much if any trunk space is sacraficed ala Camry and Altima.
      • 6 Years Ago
      no matter what ford does is never going to be enough for you people to give them credit where credit is due. just the fact they could roll out a hybrid in the darkest of days is a feat within itself.if ford put out a f 150 that got 50 mpg you same people still would have issues with ford.ford has many new vehicles coming this spring which should help them.as far as you loyal jap car owners just watch the trouble honda and toyota are in closing factories and boy are their numbers waaaaay off.i hope they lose their asses on u.s plant investments.
      • 6 Years Ago

      Great job,Ford. Too bad that the domestic bashers are still looking for reasons to criticize.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I love that dash display, it is well organized and easy to understand - and it looks good, too!
      • 6 Years Ago
      Lothar has a point.

      I drive a '97 Mazda 626 with 192,000 miles on it. It's only a little lighter than the Ford Fusion, but I get anywhere from 31 to 36 mpg out of that very well-worn drive train (in-line four and a manual transmission). Why lay out big bucks for a spiffy new Fusion when you can buy a clapped-out Mazda 626 *cheap* and repair it?

      I'm all in favor of hybrids. I just wish the Chevy Volt would get here soon. And why doesn't somebody make a series hybrid version of a mid-'80s Chevy Suburban? Sling a good-sized battery pack under the vehicle, and replace the 454 V-8 with a small diesel driving a generator. Imagine-- a 6,000 pound vehicle that soccer moms would love and would get 35 mpg on diesel fuel.

      Ah, but we can dream, can't we?
        • 6 Years Ago

        Yes, diesel is pricier than gasoline, but you have better control over fuel-metering with a diesel engine than you do with a gas engine. That may not mean much under a constant-load regime as when the engine is running full-tilt to recharge a nearly-depleted battery bank, but it may make a big difference the engine (for some reason) is being left on and loafing a bit while keeping the battery bank topped up.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Are you kidding - have you seen the price of diesel ?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Indeed...43MPG is not that great...frankly a Honda Fit could get close to that mileage and still carry 4 people and gear comfortably.

      I sat in the new Fusion at the LA auto show...the interior was a serious letdown....with 1990's and early 2000's styling. What the hell is wrong with these people? Why don't they just pucker up and take a look at other cars where the interiors are nice and COPY it if they have to? Anything would be better than getting it wrong...every time.
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