There’s a lot to like about the new midsized Ford Fusion Hybrid, which will offer 41 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 36 on the highway. Those numbers make it actually more fuel-efficient than the very good Toyota Camry Hybrid.
The reasonably attractive sedan, which goes on sale next spring and has a close cousin in the Mercury Mariner Hybrid, can reach 47 mph in pure electric mode, which is more impressive than the Prius (which switches on its gas engine around 35 mph). It has a range of 700 miles between fill-ups, too.
Advanced features of the new Ford, which should give it many advantages over the current Escape Hybrid, include a 2.5-liter, 155-horsepower four-cylinder engine coupled to a fuel-saving continuously variable transmission, smaller and lighter nickel-metal-hydride batteries, a very efficient regenerative braking system, an electric air-conditioning compressor that allows the air to work without the gas engine running. There is also enhanced electronic throttle control that improves fuel economy on restarts. Drivers can monitor fuel economy several different ways through a built-in SmartGauge with EcoGuide.
If there’s a drawback to the Fusion, it’s the fact that Ford may not sell that many of them, for two reasons. The first is that hybrids are in a slump. U.S. sales in November were down 53 percent from the same month last year. Ford’s own Escape Hybrid dropped 35 percent. Low gas prices have everything to do with it, of course, plus the price premium demanded of hybrids in a tough economy.
The other reason is that mass production of hybrid battery packs is a challenge. Ford Americas President Mark Fields said in a recent interview that Fusion production could be “constrained by the amount of components, including batteries, that the supply base can provide us.” American carmakers are dangerously dependent on outside suppliers for their batteries, and nobody is yet producing in volume the lithium-ion packs needed for the coming plug-in hybrids. Toyota has the right idea by partnering with Panasonic in building (and co-owning) two battery factories.
Despite these caveats, the Fusion and Mariner hybrids are smart products and should prove to be well-timed, too.