Ford hybrids keeping fuel budgets low
By Mark Sherry
The 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid (above) and the 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid (right)

I have a somewhat embarrassing confession to make.

I was sitting alone in the driver’s seat of a 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid last week at Mike Burkart Ford in Plymouth. Sales Manager Tommy Blagoue had kindly set me up to do a test drive and had left to get a C-MAX Hybrid ready for me to drive as well.

I inserted the square key and turned the ignition, but nothing seemed to happen. For a few seconds I thought I might have to go back inside the showroom and ask for help in getting this car started, but then it dawned on me— this is a Hybrid, and maybe it was on. Sure enough, I put the car in drive and pressed the accelerator—you can’t really call it a gas pedal in that car—and off the car went, quiet as a mouse.

And that is the whole point of a hybrid— combining the energy of an electric motor with a 2.0-liter Atkinsoncycle gas I-4 engine to provide all the power needed in a passenger vehicle but with some amazing fuel efficiency and a quiet, smooth ride.

Not much gas...don’t need much

As a matter of fact, before I took off from the lot Blagoue checked to see how much gas was in the vehicle— and it wasn’t much. But running only on the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery much of the way, I wouldn’t need much gas for this quick spin. The Fusion is rated at 47 mph city or highway and I got 41.2 mpg on this very short trip, according to the new SmartGauge® with EcoGuide screen in the car.

What makes the Ford Fusion Hybrid really stand out is the fact that, according to Ford, the car will operate in all-electric mode up to 47 mph, much faster than most of its competitors. This not only keeps the Fusion Hybrid quiet for longer stretches but it could also save a lot on fuel. Ford claims it is possible to drive as far as 700 miles on one tank of gas. If you drive in areas with lower speed limits, like a neighborhood or busy city streets, you could potentially take nearly all of the car’s power from the electric motor, lowering emissions and saving a lot of money in gasoline.

I did get the car up to highway speeds heading south down STH 57, and the gasoline engine kicked in without me really noticing. The Fusion ran quietly even with the gas engine engaged. As I slowed to turn around and head back north, once again there was silence.

Once I got back to Mike Burkart Ford, I discovered a couple other useful feature of the Ford Fusion—by accident. Well, actually, it might have prevented an accident. I had pulled the Fusion out of a parking spot which had a light pole with a cement base next to it. Wanting to return the car to the same spot, I started to back up into the spot when an alarm bell began to ping. I quickly figured out this was warning me of an object nearing me as I backed up. I also then noticed the rear view camera had engaged and I could see on the touchscreen on the dash how close I was to the light pole, making backup a breeze.

The Fusion had plenty of other fun features as well. Hybrids have been around long enough now that they are not treated as experimental vehicles— when Ford provides upgrades to its vehicles, the Fusion is right in line to get the same upgrades. It has all the plug-ins for electronic accessories found in new Fords these days, along with such features as keyless keypad entry, a capless fuel system, a 110-volt electrical plug facing the spacious rear seats, dual temperature controls, and Sirius satellite radio, to name a few.

The 2014 Fusion also has an electronic continuously variable transmission (e-CVT), a type of transmission that provides better fuel efficiency by constantly changing through an infinite number of gear ratios. Anyone who might be worried that a vehicle with this much new technology might have some problems can rest easy with the three-year, 36,000-mile bumper to bumper warranty and the five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

The color of this particular Fusion would not have been my first choice if I were buying a Fusion, nor does a guy of my considerable size necessarily like a passenger vehicle. But the 2013 C-MAX Hybrid I got a chance to drive certainly took care of that second concern.

A lot of room inside

The crossover C-MAX provided some of the best headroom I have seen in any vehicle, not to mention excellent legroom throughout the vehicle. Combine that with all the benefits of a hybrid, and Ford definitely has a winner with the C-MAX. As a matter of fact, Mike Burkart Ford had just sold its last 2014 on the lot (there are more on the way) the day before, so I drove a 2013 which was there.

There are a few differences between the C-MAX and the Fusion under the hood. The C-MAX uses a state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery along with the gas engine to provide its power. The C-MAX Hybrid is projected to operate electrically up to 85 mph, allowing the electric traction motor to power the vehicle, providing maximum efficiency. The engine kicks in extra power when needed, such as when passing or merging, and provides the main source of power. The gas engine and the electric motor work together to deliver maximum horsepower. The C-MAX Hybrid battery uses an air cooling system to regulate battery temperature and help maximize battery life. The C-MAX Hybrid has an EPA-estimated fuel efficiency rating of 45 city and 40 highway and a range of 522 miles per tank of gas.

But fuel efficiency and range are dependent on what type of driving a person does and how they go about it. That is where the new Dual LCD next-generation SmartGauge® with Eco-Guide comes in. The screen provides real-time information to help drivers get the most efficiency from their engines. I can imagine that in a short amount of time a hybrid driver will figure out ways to boost their fuel efficiency, which in turn will cause pictures of green leaves to spread across one of the screens.

The 2014 Fusion I test drove listed

a base price of $27,200 plus $2,275 in options and a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $30,270. A new C-MAX is a couple thousand dollars more than that, but a great value given all that it is and all it can do.

Also available is an all-new C-MAX Energi plug-in, which can deliver an EPA-estimated 108 city/92 highway/ 100 combined mpg. C-MAX Energi has an EPA-estimated total range of up to 620 miles. The plug-in capability allows people to fully charge C-MAX Energi in under three hours using the available 240-volt charging station, or overnight using a standard 120-volt outlet.