Drivers who wanted to go electric have always braced themselves for compromise. For some it was finding a charging station while on the road; for others it was squeezing into a tiny vehicle subtitled “a city car”; and for still others it was riding around in a dorky car that announced to the world that yes, indeed, you were a citizen who cared about reducing your carbon footprint. Hence your humble car of choice that screamed “electric vehicle!”
In fact, the solution to all these problems has been hiding in plain sight. Ford Fusion Energi, the plug-in hybrid model of the automaker’s midsize sedan, has delivered on the performance, style, comfort, and ultra-economical driving people want since its release back in 2013. It hasn’t really been hiding, either; since the plug-in segment took off in 2014, Fusion Energi has ranked among the top-five sellers in the U.S.
Some will claim 19 miles of electric range isn’t enough to count the car as an EV. Yet studies show that range goes a long way in daily driving and ups the economy in a major way when you head out on a road trip. In a week-long run in shiny new Fusion Energi Titanium, we took the 2016 edition of Ford’s plug-in midsize sedan in and around Los Angeles proper with road trips to Malibu and Joshua Tree.
The week involved over 750 miles of driving without filling the gas tank. We plugged in at free city chargers and at a wall outlet at a rented desert cabin. There were numerous stretches of driving averaging over 100 miles per gallon. And grappling with amped-up California freeway speedsters was no problem. Fusion Energi is a smart way to go green in style. Worry about the baggage later.
The Fusion exterior is a knockout, and that remains unchanged in the Energi variant. In our tester, the White Platinum paint job (a $595 upgrade) made it gleam even more under the California sun. This car looks good from any angle, and it holds up when encountering the type of pricey rides you are bound to see in any trip around L.A. In Titanium trim, 18-inch wheels add another visual flourish.
One particularly interesting test came when surrounded by a pair of Model S sedans and a BMW i3 at a luxury mall in Century City (home to a Tesla store). While it is tough to outdo Tesla’s luxury EVs at double the price, Fusion Energi was not outclassed by any stretch. Compared to the i3, the finish of a Ford Titanium model is far superior. BMW could have done better on its exterior, and this Detroit sedan made it pay.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Same Fusion you love — Aston Martin grille and all — with only the driver’s side charge port separating the Energi model.
+ Premium finish bests most cars in and around its class, including the BMW i3, Toyota Camry, and similarly priced Chevy Volt.
+ Cool blue light on charge port while topping up the battery adds a spaceship effect, especially at night (cue X-Files theme):
To have a beef with this exterior you have to reach, but here goes with our shot at cons:
— Catches shade from luxury cars.
— Looks a little bloated in profile.
Fusion Energi runs on a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder Atkinson engine with an 88 kW electric motor, rated at 195 horsepower and 177 pounds-feet of torque combined. The continuously variable transmission does a decent job here. When you use maximum muscle, you are going to be satisfied from the traditional standpoint of power and jump, though you’ll hear the engine working when your surroundings are quiet.
As most EV drivers would guess, the highlight is pure-electric mode. Ford’s electrified powertrains are fun to engage in any situation, even if the 19 miles won’t get you that far without charging. Otherwise, traveling in hybrid mode reveals few disappointments. Economy is extraordinary, whether you are driving in the city or on the highway. Regenerative braking does excellent work adding gas-free miles.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ EV mode is fun.
+ Capability to switch between EV and hybrid mode or have the car auto-select based on conditions.
+ Enough power and braking chops to handle the rigors of highway driving, even in California.
— It’s always a letdown switching to gasoline driving.
— Hybrid drive is a little noisy.
— As a midsize sedan with a battery pack, you’ll notice the weight you’re carrying on turns.
In the Titanium model we drove, you get standard leather-trimmed sport seats that move 10 ways with three memory settings. A leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather shift knob, and floor mats are also part of the package. This model feels like the high-trim level, and the seats are quite comfortable — even for the long stretches of driving we did. Space is generous for passengers in front and back, and there is enough room for five.
An uncluttered center stack is new for the 2016 model year (the last of this cycle for Fusion). The buttons are easy to operate, though they do not give off a “titanium” type of feel. Climate settings kick in automatically, so you rarely think about that aspect of the drive. The compromise with the first generation of plug-in hybrids is cargo space; Fusion Energi presents this same issue.
The battery pack located in the trunk shrinks the cargo volume to 8.2 cubic feet — down from 12 cubic feet in standard hybrid models — so you only have room for one large suitcase and other smaller pieces. As travelers with suitcases and other various bags along for the ride, we were filling up the back seat at different points of the week. It’s something to consider when you are a party exceeding two.
Interior pros and cons
+ Leather touches raise the cabin profile.
+ Standard sport seats with good lumbar support make for a comfortable ride.
+ Uncluttered feel in the driver’s seat.
— Reduced cargo space due to EV battery pack.
— Plastic console buttons bring down premium quotient.
— No standard sun roof in Titanium trim.
Tech and safety
Fusion Energi landed a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA, so safety is on point. Eight airbags and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are on your side in case of emergency. On the tech front, you will be dealing with MyFord Touch on the center stack. Navigation is tedious to program and tends to require ham-fisted contact. Sending voice commands via SYNC to the entertainment system takes a while and can become tiresome.
On the bright side, 12-speaker Sony audio comes standard in Fusion Energi Titanium. You have a CD player if you don’t want to connect via Bluetooth to Pandora or other streaming services. Sirius XM Radio is part of the range-topping package; we recommend taking advantage of the MLB radio package to help take the sting out of traffic jams.
Let’s talk EV tech. The Ford SmartGauge to the left of the speedometer tells you everything you need to know about fuel economy. You can see how many miles are left in the battery, how much energy you are capturing in regen mode, and the economy you managed after every particular trip. This tech gives everything you need to get the most out of a amazingly economical car.
You have a 6.6 kW charge port for 240v Level 2 charging (2.5 hours), and there is another plug in the trunk you can use on any standard 110v outlet for Level 1 charging (8.5 hours). There is also MyFord Mobile to put in play. This smartphone app lets you know how you are doing as far as fuel economy and charging are concerned. MyFord Mobile is more accurate than charging station apps (i.e., Chargepoint), so defer to it when you are trying to time your charge.
Tech and safety pros and cons
+ Crash-test proved with advanced braking.
+ SmartGauge helps you maximize economy on every trip.
+ Easy charging and convenience of overnight charging on household outlet, plus MyFord Mobile.
+ Standard Sirius and 12-speaker Sony sound system in Titanium.
— MyFord Touch remains problematic.
— MyFord Mobile info disappears after 24 hours, though it keeps cumulative driving scores.
— Overall, infotainment is a thumbs-down in ease-of-use.
Fusion Energi’s road performance is highly satisfying, especially when fuel economy is a primary concern. You will drive with a full battery and regularly get readings like 300.9 miles per gallon, as we did on a 21.7-mile journey in Los Angeles. Regenerative braking allows you to get many more electric miles than you would on a non-hybrid vehicle. You’ll also take short trips where the reader says you got 999.9 miles per gallon.
In a trip from Echo Park (L.A.) to Riverside, we achieved 53.3 miles per gallon across 65.9 miles. Local driving around Joshua yielded readings of 62 miles per gallon and 156.7 miles per gallon in trips lasting between 10 and 20 miles. When we made one long trip from Joshua Tree to Long Beach (156.7 miles), Fusion Energi proved a worthy adversary to any car — including Prius — with an average of 49.5 miles per gallon.
The 2016 Ford Fusion Energi is a bona fide winner. Outside of the new Hyundai Sonata PHEV, there is no midsize sedan that can plug in and deliver this performance in such a pretty package. Capable of turning heads while you sit in comfort, it’s the ideal way to go green while bringing along family and friends. You will love the feel in long drives and short commutes alike.
Because of the plug-at-home charge capabilities, there is no reason to invest in a charging station. If you happen to have a Level 2 charger near your work, you may find yourself rarely filling up the gas tank. In a week of driving in which we covered nearly 800 miles, we only added three gallons of gas as insurance. (Had we not, we likely would have covered the entire trip on a tank of gas and seven full charges.)
A 2017 Fusion Energi is hitting the market in mid-2016, so dealers are offering major incentives on the SE model ($33,900) as well as Titanium ($35,730) editions. The incentives, combined with a decent inventory, have Fusion Energi selling briskly early this year. Buyers who like the chrome grille will see that feature change for 2017, though EV efficiency and other improvements are in store. With federal and state plug-in incentives on tap, the decision here is an easy one.