Review: 2013 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid

Ford\'s shapely new hybrid promises 47 mpg... but does it deliver?

The 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid is a new take on a not-so-old concept. A hybrid-powered version of blue oval's midsizer, it is wrapped this time in a most handsome new skin.

Lurking behind that fetching new face sits an eco-friendly hybrid powertrain, the kind of gasoline-electric unit we've found both mind-numbing and engaging at the same time.

We say the former because of the constant awareness required to achieve truly optimal performance in return for the plunking down of your hard earned cash, and the latter applies if the car truly is a capable mover that doesn't lobotomize the whole driving experience.

Come along to see if this is truly brain salad surgery or a walk, er, drive in the park.

What is it?

A handsome looker masquerading as Ford's bread and butter offering, the Fusion is a fastback four-door, mid-sized five-passenger sedan with a grill that channels both Ford's EVOS concept car as well as the looks of some recent Aston Martins. And that's not a bad thing.

We've found in the past, with the exception of luxury hybrids, the act of owning one meant that you would give something else up in exchange for "making a difference.” For example, a hybrid from one particular company meant that you would be driving a space-aged looking car with seats made from reclaimed soda-pop bottles, or the interior of the car would be fitted with gauges and controls lifted from your local nuclear power plant.

Luckily for the consumer, Fusion goes in a different direction

Outfitted in mid-level SE trim, our tester is a step up from the base S model of the regular Fusion. For those who must have the very best of everything, Ford tops the range with the Fusion Hybrid Titanium model, which will have a base price of $32,995.

Built in Mexico, our Hybrid is powered by a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder Aktinson-cycle engine. Fed by a sequential multiport electronic fuel injection system, it manages 141 horsepower at and 129 lb-ft of torque and it is joined by a 118 horsepower AC synchronous motor that provides 117 lb-ft of torque. Combined together, the two means of motivation manage to provide the Fusion with 188 horsepower.

The motivation moves street-ward via Ford's electronic continuously variable transmission (eCVT).

What's it up against?

Nearly every manufacturer now has a mild- or full hybrid within their ranks. In the mid-sized segment, it would be logical to see cross shopping between the Buick Lacrosse eAssist, the Chevrolet Malibu Eco, the Toyota Camry Hybrid, and those South Korean twins, the Kia Optima Hybrid and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.

From a pure-numbers standpoint, they all start within the desirable $25,000 to $35,000 price range.

How does it look?

Like a 2013 Ford Fusion. Fresh off the fertile pen of Ford Director of Design J Mays and his crew, the Fusion channels some great looks of its own, like the new face of the marque, which also shows up on the new Taurus, Focus and Fiesta.

Along the way, the Fusion seems to channel some of the best designs in the business. With inspirations ranging from Audi's uber-sexy A7 to design cues from BMW, there's not a wrong turn happening here.

The look over all is slightly stocky when viewed in profile. Large slab-like door panels meet all sorts of safety regulations designed to protect occupants. The sloping roofline leads to a sexy rear end that would rival Kim Kardashian's if Kim were a car.

And on the inside?

Clad in full leather, the Fusion Hybrid takes the cake as one of the best-looking non-luxury hybrids we have seen. But it's not perfect. The interior is well done, but too black for our tastes. Like a black crow in a coalmine, we think it is only a result of the color combination Ford chose for the vehicle's launch. The power-adjustable driver's seat offered good support over long hauls, and the tapered feel of the Volvo-esque headrests were comfortable and non-intrusive unlike others from the Blue Oval's parts bin.

The Microsoft-developed Sync system worked without bugs and easily synced to an iPhone 5. Navigation and audio functions worked without a hitch, though we still think MyFordTouch crams a bit too much into each screen. A USB port resided in the center console armrest with iPhone and RCA connections.

Rear seating was comfortable for three adult passengers. We were impressed with the way engineers packaged the lithium ion cells partially below the trunk deck for 12 cubic feet of trunk space. As an added bonus, the rear seatbacks can be folded forward in a 60:40 split for extra cargo capacity, something we can't say about every rival.

Behind the wheel of the Fusion Hybrid, you can be as connected - or as disconnected, as you want. The programmable 4.2-inch displays on either side of the speedometer can be configured with everything from the driving coach tips and "Efficiency Leaves” that help to modify your driving tendencies, to something as simple as a compass, or the SiriusXM satellite radio station of your choice.

It takes some time to acclimate yourself to all of these screens, but they fit with the high-tech theme Ford is pushing with this car.

But does it go?

We found the Fusion Hybrid had a high tip-in, which helps to reinforce conservative driving habits. This Hybrid is not going to take you to the stoplight drag races for pinks, but we were happy to find the Fusion can throw down when required. A driving coach lets you know if your technique is too aggressive to actually save fuel.

We felt this Hybrid offered an extremely quiet ride, but we only managed to get a best of 35.8 mpg. Not the 47 mpg city/highway/combined as measured by the EPA. We'll sample another unit in the near future to see if our tester was a bit of a dud since missing the advertised target by more than 10 mpg is a pretty egregious concern.

On the other hand, we found the steering to be really good. It's an electric power-assisted unit, but it gave a good, direct feel. A light touch does not cause it to jump across three lanes. Nor do undulating roads abused by one-too-many big rigs. Overall, the suspension was able to handle all different types of road surfaces in a seamless fashion.

We actually liked the "Efficiency Leaves” as an interesting stab at behavior modification. Finding them kind of funny, actually, we observed how they reward conservative, mindful driving habits with leaves and vines that grow.

But put a heavy foot on the skinny pedal and you'll literally watch them blow away as though they were being subjected to hurricane-force winds.

Why you would buy it:

Because you want to have your Hybrid cake and eat it, too.

Why you wouldn't:

You aren't ready for an electrified lifestyle. The gas Fusion is enough car for you.

Leftlane's bottom line

The Ford Fusion Hybrid proves that fuel-efficient vehicles don't have to look bizarre to be good. With looks that rival its gas-powered brethren, and a price not too far off, we wonder why this hybrid wouldn't make any mid-size shopper's short list.

Still, we remain concerned about the less-than-stellar fuel economy we achieved in our tester. We'll have to measure another test car before giving this one our seal of approval.

2013 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid base price, $27,995. As tested, $31,890.

Luxury Package, $2,000; Technology Package, $895; Driver Assist Package, $1,000; Destination, $795.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.

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