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Ford Fusion Hybrid, the Special Investigation Package

If the green initiatives adopted by your municipality include the purchase of hybrid vehicles, the Ford Fusion Hybrid is more than a feel-good, political solution. All things considered, from the vehicle itself, to the hybrid drive, to the actual fuel economy, to the initial price—this one is actually worth buying.

The Fusion Hybrid is widely heralded as the best mid-size hybrid sedan on the market—period. This high praise comes from a wide cross section of green car proponents, journalists, bloggers and car enthusiasts. The Fusion Hybrid is called “better than” the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid, and yes, better than the Honda Insight Hybrid and the Toyota Prius Hybrid. The Fusion Hybrid has an 8 mpg advantage over the Toyota Camry Hybrid in city driving and a 2 mpg advantage in highway driving.

The Ford Fusion was introduced as a 2006 model. For 2010, the Fusion was restyled with a new front and rear fascia, headlight bezels and taillight lenses. The hybrid drivetrain has about a $3,300 upcharge over the base four-cylinder Fusion. For that, you get a “full” hybrid—not a wannabe “mild” hybrid. The Fusion Hybrid has an MSRP of $27,995.

Green and Goofy

Most hybrid vehicles are weird and quirky. You know you are in a green vehicle. You can feel it; you can see it. Most hybrids are also slower, smaller or less fuel efficient than the Fusion Hybrid. You give up a lot in the name of green with these vehicles. In comparison, the Fusion Hybrid is an otherwise normal sedan. Green no longer means it is all for show.

Transparent, seamless, smooth—the Fusion Hybrid does not give any feeling or audible indication that the powertrain is transitioning from electric motor, to gasoline engine and electric motor, to gas engine only. And you simply cannot tell from the driving sensation what is going on. There are no abrupt transitions, no weird noises, nothing to let the driver know, in no uncertain terms, that he is in a goofy, green machine.

The Ford Fusion Hybrid propels the vehicle with its electric motor. “Mild” hybrids simply shut off the gas engine as the vehicle comes to a stop, then restart the engine as soon as the brake pedal is released. With these systems, the gas engine does all of the work to move the vehicle.

Full Hybrid

With a “full” hybrid, the gas engine shuts off as the vehicle comes to a stop, if it was even running in the first place. Then the gas engine remains off as the battery-pack-powered electric motor propels the vehicle up to urban speeds under light throttle. Under heavy throttle, both the electric motor and the gas engine accelerate the vehicle. The electric motor does the hard part of moving the car from a dead stop to at least start it rolling.

The electric motor is more efficient from a dead stop and at very low speeds. The gas engine is more efficient at high speeds. In mid-range driving, the Fusion Hybrid almost always runs on both electric motor and gas engine. As a rule, the more throttle you give the Fusion Hybrid, the more of the gas engine you use.

With the hybrid drivetrain, acceleration is not compromised just because it is powered by a four-cylinder engine. You get to 60 mph with the electric-motor-assisted 2.5L I-4 just about as fast as you would with the 3.0L V6.

We reached 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, which ties with the Ford CVPI, and 100 mph in 21.5 seconds, which also ties with the Ford CVPI. The Fusion Hybrid is electronically limited to 108 mph, which we hit each time we accelerated to overtake a speeder. Freeway merging was a snap. Mid-range passing on rural roads was easy. It gets to 60 mph in 8 seconds. It’s a peppy sedan.

41 mpg City—Really

The EPA mileage ratings should catch your attention in two regards. First, it actually reads 41 mpg for the city. In comparison, the 2.5L I-4 non-hybrid has a city rating of just 23 mpg. In heavily urbanized traffic, we did indeed average 40.1 mpg. We made a conscious effort to go easy on the throttle and drive far easier than most officers to find the absolute maximum real-world mileage—and we got 40.1 mpg.
In less congested, suburban-type driving, we got 32.3 mpg, and that leads to the second point. Notice that the city estimate is much higher than the highway estimate. That is unusual. But it emphasizes that any hybrid drivetrain really needs to be used in stop-start driving for the advantage compared to a non-hybrid to be seen.

Under rural or other highway driving, the 2.5L Hybrid has an estimate of 36 mpg compared to an estimated 34 mpg for the non- hybrid. In reality, under these driving conditions, the Fusion and the Fusion Hybrid will get the same actual mileage. During routine highway driving, we got about 37 mpg, but for a usable, functional, mid-size sedan, this mileage is both remarkable and attainable.

Amazing Transaxle

The Fusion Hybrid uses an electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (eCVT) and not the six-speed auto used in the other Fusion sedans, because the eCVT is more compact than the six-speed. The eCVT is extremely smooth. You can’t sense the gear changes, not even a soft shift in gears, because there are literally no gear changes at all. The eCVT goes from under-driven to direct drive to over-driven by the position of a chain link belt riding up or down two cone shaped pulleys.

With no gear changes to make, the eCVT transmission keeps the engine at the rpm where it has the maximum efficiency. The 2.5L Atkinson engine likes 4,000 rpm. With medium throttle, the engine immediately goes to 4,000 rpm, and then the eCVT trans does the rest of the work. At Wide Open Throttle, you get both the maximum output from the electric motor and maximum engine speed from the gas engine. Again, because this uses an eCVT trans, the engine speed jumps up to 6,000 rpm right away.

Most other hybrid vehicles will reach 25 mph on the electric motor alone under light throttle. The Fusion Hybrid actually gets up to 47 mph in electric-only mode. And it can run about that fast for about 1-1/2 miles before the gas engine kicks in. This keeps the gas engine from starting in the first place in a lot of heavy traffic situations.

However, the real big deal with the Fusion Hybrid is the engine shutoff speed. It is not that you can slowly accelerate into the mid-40s before the engine starts. Instead, as you decelerate from highway speeds, the engine shuts off as you slow down past the mid-40s.

You are cruising at 55 mph on the gas engine and let go of the pedal to slow for a turn. As soon as the Fusion Hybrid slows to the mid-40s the gas engine shuts off. The gas engine stays off the entire time you slow down and brake for the stop, and the entire time you are stopped. If you are easy on the throttle, the engine will stay off until the mid-20s. If you are very gentle on the throttle, the gas engine will stay off until the mid-40s again.

Accelerating without activating the gas engine takes driver effort. If you drive like normal, i.e., keep up with normal traffic flow, you will end up giving enough pedal to activate the gas engine. On the other hand, decelerating with shutting down the gas engine takes no driver effort at all. It just happens. The driver has no control over it.

We gave the Fusion Hybrid a workout in Chicago’s heavy rush hour traffic. We feathered the pedal to keep away from starting the gas engine. In an hour of creep and crawl, the gas engine only started a dozen or so times. In each case, the gas engine only started to recharge the main battery.

In very heavy urban traffic, we found it easy to drive the Fusion Hybrid in a way where the gas engine only started to charge the HEV battery. With the electric motor at less than half output, the gas engine does not kick in. Of course, as the HEV battery gets low, the gas engine starts to recharge it regardless of throttle position.

The engine shutting off right away during a coast from highway speeds was the biggest deal. However, almost as big a deal was the engine shutting off during a steady cruise at suburban speeds. The Fusion Hybrid would hold almost any speed under the mid-40s with just the electric motor.

You will probably use a combination of gas engine and electric motor to keep up with the traffic flow up to suburban speeds. However, once at a steady speed, the gas engine often shuts off. You could prompt the gas engine shut down by lifting slightly off the pedal. The gas engine thinks it’s coasting and shuts off. Then apply just enough pedal to maintain the cruising speed using only the electric motor. This was easy to do.

With the key on, the Fusion Hybrid will “auto start” to recharge the HEV battery, then “auto stop.” In Park, the gas engine will shut off. Depending on the accessories running, the Fusion Hybrid will start the gas engine and run at high-idle for about 4 minutes, then shut the gas engine down.

Traffic Enforcement

Ford intends the Fusion Hybrid as a “Special Investigation” vehicle. The Ford police literature makes it clear: The Fusion Hybrid is intended as a “Special Investigation” vehicle. According to Ford, the “Fusion Hybrid may not be used as a pursuit vehicle (no excessive speed).”

All that said, some departments will use the Fusion Hybrid in that sort of high profile manner. The car was nimble and easy to maneuver in traffic. The Fusion Hybrid had a sport and very responsive steering and suspension. It was excellent in both accident avoidance drills and in sudden lane change exercises. We had no trouble catching even the 30-over speeders, but none tried to run. The Fusion Hybrid is speed-limited to just above 100 mph. Overall, it got the job done and we averaged 29 mpg doing it!

Traffic enforcement duties were an informal test on the retail brakes. We didn’t try to duplicate the brutal Los Angeles County brake tests. We did do a number of 60 to zero braking tests, followed by a number of 100 to zero braking tests, i.e., normal traffic enforcement. The brakes worked fine in our experience. Of course, for patrol use (instead of admin), the next set of pads should be semi-metallic, not ceramic.

The Fusion Hybrid is not the ideal traffic enforcement vehicle for a lot of reasons. The interior of the Fusion is small, but not tiny like most other hybrids. The Fusion sedan is a mid-size car—period. At 99.8 cf, the passenger compartment is just 2 cf smaller than the new 2010 Taurus. It is only available with a full-width center console. For the vast majority of detective and admin use, the front seat room is acceptable for officers without a duty belt. With a duty belt, it is a bit cramped.

For patrol use, the trunk is tiny. The Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack takes up a lot of trunk space. The non-hybrid Fusion has a 16.5 cf trunk. The police package sedan with the smallest trunk is the Dodge Charger at 16.2 cf in comparison; the Fusion Hybrid has just an 11.9 cf trunk. This will probably be enough for admin work but is definitely small for any sort of patrol or calls for service duties.

The Fusion Hybrid Modifiers guide is available for download at The Fusion Hybrid has Ford’s five-year/60K mile powertrain warranty and an eight-year/100K mile warranty on hybrid drivetrain components.

The Fusion is not better for patrol duty than the full-size sedans. It is, however, “right sized” for nearly all detective and admin use. Admin makes up about 20 percent of a police fleet. And among the mid-size sedans, the Fusion is the clear choice.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jul/Aug 2010

Rating : 9.0

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