Motoring: Ford Fusion Hybrid SE: A hybrid with a sense of style

Fusion has become a best seller, a bread-and-butter, five-passenger, mid-size mainstay for Ford.

The 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE is not exactly your average fuddy-duddy hybrid. This sleek

The 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE is not exactly your average fuddy-duddy hybrid. This sleek

The Ford Fusion has come a long way in a 10 years.

It was born in the guise of a 427 Concept that was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show in 2003.

That concept just happened to look a heck of a lot like a certain critically acclaimed Cadillac CTS model, a car that had debuted just the year before. Or, at least, that was my immediate reaction at the unveiling, which got me an over-the-shoulder scowl from Ford’s design chief J Mays.

Well, maybe he got the point because an evolution of that initial design dropped the vertical headlights but stayed with the three-bar grille, a look that resonated with customers and soon spread to other vehicles in the Ford lineup.

And the Fusion became a best seller, a bread-and-butter, five-passenger, mid-size mainstay that helped see Ford through the tougher years of automotive industry troubles.

Since then, the car has been revised and refreshed, and the 2013 Fusion lineup adopts a new exterior style featuring a gape-mouth grille, probably adapted (in my opinion again) from Mitsubishi’s Sabre Jet-inspired EVO design, a look that virtually every company seems to be copying these days. And, hmm, there might be just a dash of Aston-Martin design DNA thrown into the mix, as well.

But while we might argue about styling inspirations, the net result is a sleek and seductive silhouette, an aggressive stance, nice lines and a handsome design that looks good from any angle.

Look up the word “fusion” and you will find definitions that list “blending” and “combining”, apt descriptions for a lineup that offers a multitude of choices, with naturally-aspirated and turbocharged engines, hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrain options, manual or automatic transmission choices, front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive configurations and a wealth on new technologies that include Ford SYNC communications, optional auto start stop, a Lane Keeping System, adaptive cruise control, active park assist and Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), to name just a few.

We’re concentrating on the Fusion Hybrid in this review and the good news here is that this high-tech offering maintains the same sporty style and sophistication as its non-hybrid stalemates, while expanding on an award-winning theme with new innovations and technologies.

Like all Fusions, the new Hybrid is a little bigger than its predecessor. The wheelbase has been stretched by 122 mm (4.8”) and the car is 30 mm (1.2”) longer, 86 mm (3.4”) wider and 58 mm (2.3”) taller.

These dimensions bump up interior room incrementally and even add a little more luggage room, although there are still compromises made for the sake of battery storage—340 litres (12 cu ft) of trunk space instead of 453 litres (16 cu ft), a tire mobility kit instead of a spare tire, and a smaller 51 litre fuel tank (instead of 63 litres).

The 2013 Fusion Hybrid features an all-new 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine, significantly downsized from the previous 2.5-liter unit, while maintaining roughly the same performance standards.

The gasoline engine makes 149 hp and 129 lb/ft of torque and it combines with a permanent-magnet, AC-synchronous electric motor to make a net horsepower rating of 188 hp, marginally less than the previous model’s 191 net hp.

But the new 2013 Fusion Hybrid has also trimmed the fat by at least 48 kg (105 lb), depending on trim and option levels, thanks to some of the aforementioned changes and an all-new lithium-ion battery pack that saves weight. The new batteries also generate more power than previous nickel-metal hydride batteries and help raise the electric-only maximum speed from 75 km/h (47 mph) to 100 km/h (62 mph), opening up the potential for EV highway cruising.

Manufacturers build hybrids for fuel economy bragging rights and Ford wasted little time in claiming the midsize fuel efficiency crown, boasting that the Fusion Hybrid would outperform midsize rivals like the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.

Transport Canada has rated the Fusion Hybrid at an optimistic 4.0/4.1L/100km (city/hwy). The EPA in the U.S., using a somewhat more involved testing method, returned a more practical 5.0/5.0L/100km (city/hwy) rating but even those more realistic numbers have come under fire from Consumer Reports and other testers who have been unable to achieve those same results.

My test methods are quite simple. When I picked up the car the trip computer gave me a 7.2L/100km average for the 1,600 km driven by the previous driver. I hoped to do better than that.

I topped off the tank and drove 445 km, a roughly even split of highway and city driving, before refueling with 30.2 litres of gas for a 6.8L/100km combined average. We can pooh-pooh those results compared to the official rating, but based on my experience with other hybrids, that’s still a respectable result and, by driving moderately and following the on-screen brake coach guidance to maximize regenerative braking, I did manage to earn 180 km of electric-only driving out of that sum total.

What’s equally important here is that the Fusion is a pleasure to drive, perky when needed, accelerating with a smooth linear progression of power, complemented by an able electronic CVT transmission and a seamless interplay of effort from the gasoline engine and electric motor.

And a slightly stiffer body, independent suspension and electric steering combine for good handling and excellent cornering.

I’ve concentrated mainly on fuel economy and performance in this story but I should note that drivers and passengers will also be quite comfortable in a airy and spacious cabin with new seating, a driver-oriented cockpit, and the latest generation combination of SYNC and MyFord Touch communication and infotainment systems, allowing interaction through voice control, a touch screen tap or with a conventional button.

Strangely, gloved fingers work on the touch screen but not on the instrument panel.

And some of the trim pieces could use a minor upgrade but, on the whole, the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid is an all-round good effort, and its sophisticated collection of technologies and performance dynamics gives you a pretty good indication of why it won its class as AJAC’s 2013 Best New Family Car Over $30,000.

Yes, the Fusion lineup has come a long way over the past decade. And it still has a ways to go.

But, together with its much-anticipated Energi Plug-In sibling, Ford’s 2013 Fusion Hybrid offers a pleasant package of driving dynamics and fuel economy and a viable midsize family car alternative for environmentally conscious consumers.

Ford Fusion Hybrid SE 2013

Body Style: mid-size five-passenger hybrid sedan

Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel-drive

Engine: 2.0-litre iVCT Atkinson-Cycle four-cylinder HEV gasoline engine (149 hp, 129 lb/ft) mated to permanent magnet, AC-synchronous electric motor (118 hp, 177 lb/ft) for net 188 hp.

Cargo: 340 litres (12 cu ft)

Fuel Economy: 4.0/4.1L/100km (city/hwy); As tested 6.8L/100km (comb)

Tow Rating: Not recommended

Price: Fusion Hybrid SE $29,999; Fusion Hybrid Titanium $35,399; As Tested Fusion Hybrid SE $33,729 including Appearance Group with 18-inch painted sport wheels and rear spoiler ($800), SE Hybrid Tech/MyFord Touch Package with rear view video camera ($700), reverse sensing ($400), heated front seats ($600), navigation system ($700) and more.

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