There’s no denying small SUVs have had a remarkable impact on the automotive market: in Canada, they have dethroned compact cars, while in the United States it is midsize sedans that have given way before the tide of small utility vehicles. Midsize sedans used to dominate the market south of the border, but have seen their sales in North America fall by 10.7%. Only two makes have bucked this downward trend in the category: Chevrolet with its new, redesigned Malibu (+25%) and Nissan with its Altima (+6.3%). The negative side of the ledger includes Ford’s Fusion (-6.3%); its 2016 Canadian sales total of 14,424 units put it in second place behind the Camry from Toyota, which sold 15,683 units (down 8.7% from 2015).
Like a number of its rivals, including the Malibu and the Camry, the Ford Fusion, which was slightly retweaked for 2017, is also available in a hybrid version. However, only the Fusion is offered in a plug-in hybrid version – which Ford dubs the Energi. This is the version we looked at and are picking apart here.
New for 2017
While the Energi version was already available with the previous generation of the Fusion, it never got the publicity it deserved. The attention it did get was often of the negative variety; many took it to task for the trunk space being eaten up by the outsized battery. And yet, so many more positive things merited pointing out.
On close inspection the 2017 version of Fusion is recognizable by its revised front end, which houses thinner headlights (the Titanium and Platinum versions sport LED lights), as well as a lower and slightly stretched-out grille that evokes those of the Aston Martins. All Fusion models also feature LED rear lights traversed by chrome trim.
The biggest changes were brought to the interior. The materials used are just as pleasant to the touch as before, but one new feature Fusion buyers may really appreciate is the new rotating gear shift knob. Though less fully adapted to sporty driving, it frees up a part of the console in relation to the old one. More room is now available for the two cup-holders as well as for a storage space that is more able to house accessories.
Elsewhere, the new dashboard, with its highly detailed (too detailed, perhaps?) instrument panel, now features the SYNC 3 system with 8-inch screen display. This new system has received kudos from automotive journalists for its clarity and ease of use. The only thing lacking in our view is having speed displayed in a reflection on the windshield – a feature which is considered to increase safety.
All versions of the Fusion have very roomy interiors with exceedingly comfortable seats, especially in the back row. In fact even larger adults enjoy considerable legroom when seated back there. As for the trunk, the one in the non-hybrid Fusion is more-than-sufficient, but there is a notable loss of space in the hybrid (a common problem among all makes when it comes to hybrids), and this is even more pronounced in the Fusion Energi.
What drives it?
Almost all the 2017 Ford Fusion versions come with a 4-cylinder – the exception being the Sport with its powerful V6 – and with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The Energi has its own distinct 2.0L 4-cylinder with Atkinson cycle (a 4-stroke engine with an additional movement to eliminate pollution), which combines with a powerful electric motor to produce a maximum total power output of 188 hp. As in the other hybrid models from Ford, the only available transmission box is a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) automatic, which provides power to the front wheels.
But just what is the difference between a Fusion Hybrid and a Fusion Energi? While the former functions like all other hybrids, with an internal-combustion engine supplemented by an electric motor), the Energi uses first and foremost the electric motor, which can produce 118 hp. It’s fed by a large, 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery, and it’s the sole engine that will power the vehicle for a distance of up to 30 kilometres or so (in ideal conditions).
Driving a Ford Fusion Energi
Ford of Canada had provided us with a 2017 Ford Fusion Energi, and as it was registered in Quebec, it had to be equipped with winter tires – in this case Goodyear Ultra Grip WRT. One of the first things we wanted to verify was how long it takes to recharge the car’s battery. Plugged in to an outside 120-volt outlet (intended for a block heater), it took seven hours to get a full charge. The car is started by pushing a button on the dashboard, and it’s a source of constant amazement that the gasoline engine does not start when doing so. The indicators tell the driver the car is ready to go, and all that needs to be done is to turn the knob to the “D” position (after having unplugged the car, of course!), and press on the accelerator.
We should mention that it does take a few seconds to unplug the charger, roll up the cable and store it in the trunk (which has a designated spot for it). In winter, this cable can get pretty dirty, making the job messier. Currently in development, induction plates on the ground will eventually ease the battery-recharging process. We can’t wait…
Out on the road, the Fusion Energi runs purely on the electric motor, as mentioned earlier. If more power is needed, pressing hard on the accelerator kicks the gasoline engine into action. Otherwise, virtually all city driving is done using the electric motor, in near-total quiet.
Not a sports car
This fact is very quickly apparent, as going from a stop to 100 km/h takes 15 seconds. Putting pedal to the metal and thus bringing to life the gasoline engine brings that time down to around nine seconds. But more than anything, it was gear shifting that I found a bit laborious. As for braking, you can feel that the Fusion Energi is heavier than a regular Fusion. Still, once you learn to manage the brakes and drive accordingly, this potential issue turns into an asset, since the battery charges whenever the car is braking, increasing the range of the car in electric mode. Keep in mind however that the car can cruise at around 100 km/h on the electric engine, but only for short distances.
For this and other reasons – and this is actually a plus – the Fusion Energi requires an adjustment in one’s driving attitude. If we accept the car for what it is and not a racing car (this even if Fusions have had some success in NASCAR), then what we have is an exceptional vehicle that can drive farther than the promised 30 km, thanks especially to the regenerative braking system! On the highway, if you head out for, say, a drive of 60 km or so, you can expect fuel consumption to be around 5-6L/100 km. During our week-long road test of the Fusion Energi, of which half was carried out in an urban environment, we obtained an average of 4.8L/100 km.
There is still, however, the problem of the shrunken trunk; it can only hold around 230 litres. And since the rear seats don’t fold down, space can’t be gained this way. In truth, though, other than on the longest road trips, how often will you actually need to use all the available trunk space?
Price and equipment
The base price of our 2017 Ford Fusion Energi SE is $35,088. If you add the $100 federal excise tax (which is pretty outdated, when you think about it), $1,250 for the sunroof and garage-door opener package, $600 for the active braking system, $100 for the block heater, $150 for the extra carpets, $800 for the navigation system, $700 for the special 18-inch alloy wheels, $200 for the paint-protection treatment and $1,650 for the drive-assist package (lane-deviation and blind-spot detection), you’re up to $42,288 (including $1,650 in transport and preparation).
The good news comes when you factor in government incentives: In Ontario, buyers of a new Ford Fusion Energi benefit from a $7,730 incentive! In Quebec, the reduction amounts to $4,000, while in British Columbia drivers get back $2,500 (these figures are at moment of writing, and subject to change). In truth, at under $39,000 the new Fusion is quite affordable for such a well-equipped midsize sedan. And if you spend most of your driving time in the city, what you save in fuel expenses will give your budget a significant break – not to mention help you to help the environment!