When an all-new product is launched it's introduced to a lot of fanfare, hyperbole and expectations that it will blow away the competition.
At least that's what the automakers tell us. The reality is that when you're delivering consumer products there really isn't a "sure thing," unless Steve Jobs was behind the wheel. Once and a while even good products just don't connect with the market.
But since I locked eyes on the all-new Ford Fusion, I didn't think that would be a problem. Not one bit.
Sporting a bold and fresh face that many people compared to an Aston Martin — ironic considering Ford divested itself from that brand — it already knocked the exterior styling out of the park. And on the inside it got only better with an interior that strangely reminded me of a Volkswagen. Considering VW is known for having the best interiors for a price that won't hurt your wallet, this is great news.
There was just one question left: How does it drive? Finally, I got to find out.
Like the last Fusion Hybrid I took delivery of, this all-new generation car was also painted a light blue, silver hue. With that British-inspired face and a greenhouse that's a cross between a normal sedan and the Audi A7, it definitely has a premium look to it while sitting on the street. That whole rental car vibe that was omnipresent in the last-gen Fusion has been whisked away. Everything about its exterior styling has a whiff of European to it. Clearly, Ford wasn't kidding when it said it would shifting to a globalized strategy with its products.
Getting more comfortable behind the three-spoke steering wheel you'll note that the interior is very well done for a vehicle in its price range. Much like the Explorer, it's clear that Ford upped the ante and is striving for quality that is much more Volkswagen like. We chuckled to ourselves when we saw slides about Ford benchmarking Audi for its interior quality but it seems that Ford has made some serious headway in this capacity. That's because in its efforts, it has actually turned out an interior that is more modern than VWs of today. With its touch-sensitive controls and large-diameter infotainment display, it's clean and crisp while being intuitive. I didn't find myself wondering how to change the climate control or navigate the user interface.
While the all-new Toyota Avalon also uses touch-sensitive controls its infotainment screen is decidedly "low rent" when compared to the Fusion in terms of size and its software.
One of the elements that Ford loves to ramble on about is the configurable instrument cluster but there wasn't anything significantly different from the last-gen product that I noted. That's not a bad the last-gen cluster provided all the information one could ask for or need.
All said and done, I only had two beefs: 1) Ford has to figure a way out to disguise or hide those massive cupholders. There's gotta be a better way to execute that. 2) The leather on the steering wheel didn't feel like leather at all. It felt more so like a cheap pleather jacket you get at some outlet store at a bad mall. Otherwise, so far so good.
Now that the philosophical, subjective matters are taken care of, let's get down to what people really care about: does the hybrid drive like a hybrid? To sum it up in one word, "No."
Powering on the Fusion Hybrid, it is eerily silent. Thanks to the start-up chime you actually know its on. Most of the time you launch the vehicle it'll be running on the battery power unless, of course, you've drained it with some lead footing. What's remarkable about the Fusion Hybrid is how far the company has come in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). To be more specific, hybrid cars have a BIG problem when switching on the gasoline powerplant. Typically speaking there's a bit of "shock" and you actually feel the motor power up — usually with an annoying, buzzy tone.
In the Fusion Hybrid that issue is virtually eliminated. The transition is seamless and I couldn't discern or feel when it happened. For me and anyone else that's wavering on the obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) spectrum, it's a big deal because it becomes excruciatingly annoying when you have to deal with that jolt on a consistent basis. On a recent drive of a 2013 BMW X1 — no it's not a hybrid — with start/stop it literally ruined the entire car for me — 001 has confirmed the issue has been addressed on 2014 model year vehicles, namely his own.
Stepping on the throttle, power is more than adequate with the total system putting out 188 horsepower and 117 lb.-ft. of torque. On the highway passing is a quick happening and the CVT transmission is not cumbersome.
Particularly impressive areas for the Fusion Hybrid are the steering and suspension departments. The wheel's feedback is predictably numb — were you expecting anything less from a midsize saloon (?) — without any communication, BUT it is more direct and enjoyable than its rivals from Toyota and Honda. And the suspension deserves a standing ovation. While it's not as comfortable as your standard issue Lincoln, it's getting there without being too soft. In fact, I'd argue it's just right as it feels secure at high speed and is able to deal with some of Manhattan's pock-marked streets.
The good news is that this hybrid works as advertised. After one good week worth of driving with a solid mix of city and highway driving, I chalked up a mix between 38 and 40 mpg. For a midsize sedan with a proper backseat, that's a helluva accomplishment. The last time I drove more focused hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight they only earned several mpg better. Considering the arguably better looks and better interior space, I'd say this is worth a little more relative pain at the pump.
Just remember that the Fusion Hybrid does suffer in the trunk department due to the location of the battery pack. The Fusion Hybrid only has 12 cubic feet of space while vehicles like the Prius boasts 21.6 cubic feet and the Insight brings home 15.9 cubic feet of space.
By now you're probably saying "Well, 00R, it's sounding like the Fusion Hybrid is a 'champ!'" And you'd be right. It's been a very long time I've been so pleased with a domestic throughout the entire course of my test period.
The Fusion Hybrid is a properly done up vehicle by all accounts and I'd be quick to give it a solid "A" if I were to write up a report card; however, I have to note that there's one coffee stain that more or less makes me a bit hesitant.
On the second to last day of the week-long loan, the Fusion Hybrid's check engine light (CEL) illuminated upon start up. Sad face.
It happened after I went for a walk in a nearby park, and the vehicle continued to operate completely normal until the next day when I returned the product. Clearly it was not a serious mechanical issue, which leads me to believe it must have been a software malady.
I followed up with Ford's New York area office point person, Bill Collins, who informed me that the particular car I had piloted was a pre-production vehicle that was shipped back to Dearborn for a program and after my loan and, "the team had no issues with the car after it came back."
So, it was a bittersweet ending. For a vehicle that had performed flawlessly and easily sold me over its competition from Toyota and Honda, it had this one hiccup.
I guess the one thing everyone is curious about is if I would STILL purchase one over the respective competition. The answer is simple. Yes.
The Good:- Hands down the best looking vehicle in its class, inside and out
- Downright amazing suspension
- Easily can obtain 40 mpg
- A couple of interior faux pas — bad leather on the steering wheel and exposed Big Gulp-sized cupholders
- When all is said and done I had a perfectly enjoyable week with the Fusion Hybrid and I would suggest anyone shopping for a midsize hybrid, this is the best pick of the lot