2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE review: New car, same old name

2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE

2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE

If ever a next generation model from Ford needed a new name and didn’t get one, it would have to be the 2013 Ford Fusion. Park a new generation Fusion alongside the previous iteration and it would be hard to pick the later car as the successor to the earlier, they’re that different. What had looked like an electric razor with headlights was replaced by a shape that could go on a junior Aston Martin. And even more so technologically, with new engines and transmissions, and with the Ford Fusion Hybrid, a new engine and a new battery.

To say we liked the 2013 Ford Fusion during our first drive was like saying Sonny liked Cher, Porgy liked Bess or Mamma Cass liked another helping. The variety of advanced powertrains was impressive, and included a choice of one naturally-aspirated and two EcoBoost four-cylinder engines, a plug-in hybrid, and the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

The big news admittedly for 2014, when for its sophomore year almost all of the Fusion is carry-over, is a new 1.5-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, but that’s for later. For now, we’re taking another look at the Fusion Hybrid because, well, we can. We’re intrigued not only in the ambiance of the Fusion overall, but how that meshes with the hybrid’s fuel stinginess, as well as whether we’ll match, in hilly Pennsylvania in November what we did in the relatively flat, definitely hot summer venue around Dallas, Texas.

2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE engine

The engine of the 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE hybrid system is a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder. (click to enlarge)

As we’ve noted, the powertrain in the 2013 Fusion Hybrid wasn’t carryover from 2.5-liter engine of its predecessor, but rather a new 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle engine,  and a lithium-ion battery replacing the heavier Ni-MH unit of its predecessor. Less weight, of course, means the powertrain has to work less for the same performance, and as a result means better fuel economy.

The old 2.5-liter engine in the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, for example, also using Atkinson cycle technology, was rated at 156 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. Adding the output of the electric motor brought peak power up to 191 horses, with a 0-60-mph of 8.7 seconds. That’s not steamingly fast but it’s good for a hybrid in this class, though admittedly that’s a low bar to hurdle.

The new 2.0-liter produces 141 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque, seemingly a step back. However, with the electric motor’s peak of 118 horses and 177 lb-ft of torque, the new Fusion Hybrid maxes out at 188 horses.  On the other hand, the new Fusion Hybrid weighs less than the one before, at 3,668 lbs versus 3,720 lbs. With the minimal decrease in overall power, the lighter weight means that performance should be just about the same.

2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE interio

The interior of the 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE has a high quality look and feel. (click to enlarge)

The advantage goes to the new Ford Fusion Hybrid, however, when it comes to gas mileage. The smaller gasoline engine of the 2013 Fusion burns less fuel. According to EPA test procedures, the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid got a 41 city/36 highway mpg. Our tester, a 2014 Fusion Hybrid, had an EPA rating of 47/47 city/highway.

Our experience didn’t reflect the EPA tests. Driving the 2010 Fusion Hybrid netted us 33.8 mpg. Driving the 2014? How about 33.7 mpg. There’s climate, however, to consider. Our Texas tester recorded just over 39 mpg in the 2013. For our tests with the 2010 and 2014, the temperature was much colder, with the newer car actually seeing snow on the ground. When it’s colder, the engine has to run more at idle, just to keep itself at operating temperature as well as supply heat to the cabin.

We would expect more from the new drivetrain—and doubtless would have under equal conditions. The new Fusion Hybrid can operate on its electric motor alone up to 62 mph, and with the new schematic of hybrid drivetrain operation, we could see the fuel flow to the engine run and stop (indicative of the engine shutting down) and run again as the electric motor also went through similar offs and ons as we drove on winding roads with minor ups and downs that required a lot of on-and-off the gas to maintain a semblance of a constant speed.

2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE instrument cluster

The 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid instrument cluster is reconfigurable, showing “driving coach” on the left and “efficiency leaves” on the right. (click to enlarge)

The good news is that in that kind of driving the engine could be off about half the time. The bad news is that in a hilly area, the energy expended going uphill isn’t necessarily recovered coming back down, especially if the downhill is steep, requiring braking to keep from going too fast, and braking at the bottom where there’s invariably a stop sign. The Ford Fusion Hybrid has regenerative braking, but it only recovers energy until the battery is full. Then all that kinetic energy goes into heating the brake pads.

And that’s where the old phrase, “your mileage may vary,” earns its keep.

2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid energy flow schematic

The 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid energy flow schematic is one of the best in the business. (click to enlarge)

Speaking of changes, the instrument panel has seen some simplification. The large circular speedometer is still at the center with color screens to either side, but they’re less gimmicky. Gone is the pictorial representation of fuel in the tank, and the “efficiency leaves,” a pictorial representation of a growing—or dying—plant depending on how economically one drives, remain but is simplified. New is a “driving coach” that judges you on your use acceleration, cruising and braking, the point being to move bars in a bar graph to the right as a reward for economical driving. The graph’s bars are normally are blue, but too aggressive driving with turn them a scolding orange.

The power flow schematic however is probably the best in the business. One of the neater aspects is the lines to “other” and “climate” as places where electricity is used.