Review: 2014 Ford Fusion Energi Plug-In Hybrid SE
By taking the best-selling Fusion and adding an EV option to their line-up, Ford looks to take market share away from the Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt, and Nissan Leaf. Does the Energi, a mid-sized sedan live up to it’s fuel efficient billing? Is the price tag worth it? We put it to the ultimate test with a 2,000 mile road trip.
While the electrical power is all the talk of the 2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE, the vehicle features a 141 horsepower 2.0 liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine which combines with a 118 horsepower electric motor to net 188 horsepower. Which, when combined with Ford’s continuously variable transmission (CVT), sounded low for a mid-sized sedan causing us to immediately wonder what was in store for us during highway merge situations.
From the get-go, it was obvious the Fusion Energi wasn’t going to win any trophies on the 1/4 mile however we were pleasantly surprised at the available power. There was just enough acceleration the few times we needed to jump on the gas (or electric) to make you not think about a lack of power.
Even on cruise control, the switchbacks of the West Virginia and Tennessee mountains we encountered during our extensive road test were no problem and we truly never took note of the transmission as it toiled away in the background.
The Ford Fusion entered the world in 2006 as a mid-size sedan with rather bland, fleet vehicle features. It became slightly better looking with some front and rear fascia changes, but was still not much of a looker. That all changed with the second generation redesign that hit the market as a 2013 model.
The redesign- seen on current Fusion models, features sheet metal seams and creases that evoke Jaguar sedans of the mid-2000’s and a grill and front fascia that look like they were pulled from the Aston Martin parts bin. The car is just plain good looking.
Despite it’s good looks, however, we had few quibbles with the exterior. The door covering the external outlet on the front driver quarter panel came open at one point while we were driving though it wasn’t noticeable until pointed out several hundred miles later when we stopped to refuel. Because it only happened once, we’re leaning toward the fact that it the circumstance was a fluke, but still worth noting.
The flexible, almost flimsy windshield wipers looked awkward during operation, especially during a classic mountain driving mid-afternoon downpour and didn’t seem as effective as they could have been. That being said, the wipers certainly weren’t a deal breaker.
Like other vehicles in the Fusion’s mid-sized sedan category, the Energi features adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning that senses when the vehicle is approaching slowed or stopped traffic (or any other obstruction you should not run in to) at a potentially unsafe speed. The system ran as advertised with the vehicle automatically notifying the driver of the action by flashing red lights across the dashboard while the regenerative braking technology was activated giving us at least some benefit of being stuck behind the slowest person on the road.
Easy to use employ, the cruise control and lane-keeping system visual displays reside to the left-most side of the dashboard, showing how close you are to the line with graphics also showing your distance setting for the forward collision warning system. Lines on either side of the displayed vehicle icon blink before the car’s computer kicks-in automatically guiding the vehicle back between the lines when you’ve gone off-course. While the wheel steering itself took some getting used to, it was a welcome addition to the long highway driving experience.
Beware, however, the lane-keeping system only works on brightly colored lane lines. On the notorious pothole-covered, patch-filled roads of Pennsylvania the Energi’s sensors did not pick up the lanes. Lines faded by years of winter weather salting also were not bright enough to pick up the sensors.
No matter what the road maintenance issues however, the Fusion Energi’s adaptive cruise control senses slower traffic ahead and automatically slows the vehicle based on which of the three levels of closeness you wish to achieve. Once traffic ahead moves or speeds up, the cruise control brings the car back up to your pre-set speed. While we enjoyed the feature as a whole, we were not fans of the ECO mode setting for the cruise control which strives to bring the vehicle back to speed in the most fuel efficient way possible (i.e. slowly… VERY slowly).
In city driving this may not be such a huge deal (not that you’d be using cruise control in these situations) but getting back up to speed in interstate driving is best accomplished in a slightly less efficient manner. Thankfully, a simple cancelling of the cruise control and a push on the gas pedal until you get up to speed solves the issue.
No matter where you’re planning on driving the Fusion Energi, you’ll be pleased to know that the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) works like a charm- except in one scenario. Using radar found in the rear quarter panels, a small amber colored light brightens to indicate when a vehicle is residing in what would typically be a blind spot. The only issue we found with the system was motorcycle detection which was regularly not picked up by the radar reminding us that technology isn’t always the perfect substitute for human observation.
Along with the advances in safety features regarding accident avoidance, Ford has also taken extra steps to make being a passenger safer. While we were hesitant to point them out to the kids for fear they’d somehow discover something new to complain about just because it’s different, they mentioned the new-for-2014 rear seatbelt airbags (though not by name) when telling us, “this seatbelt feels extra squishy.”
“Is that a good or bad thing,” we asked, practically holding our breath.
“They’re much more comfortable than other ones!”
We were suddenly relieved. Not only were the children safer with the supplemental restraint system (an industry first in the mid-sized sedan category) but they were also happy with the way they felt.
The Fusion Energi interior feels big and while the car does not drive like a full-size sedan, its interior volume feels full-sized. We put over 2000 miles on our tester with two tween-sized kids in the back seat who never complained of being uncomfortable or lacking room even though they were frequently packed in with enough provisions for four folks who enjoy snacking during an extended drive drive- not to mention coloring books, DVD players, stuffed animals, pillows, and books.
The leather interior of the Fusion Energi we drove was matched well with the molded plastic dashboard and door construction. Looking not-quite-Cadenza chic with its plastic styling yet definitely an upgrade from previous year’s models, the fabrics and materials that made up the Energi’s interior seemed to fit the price tag of the vehicle.
Under the category You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Til It’s Gone, the Fusion Energi came equipped with an auto-dimming rearview mirror which worked brilliantly, to the extent we did not notice it working. Then we got into a different model vehicle that did not have it for a nighttime drive back home. The difference is noticeable and notable.
Just as comfortable as the rear seatbelts are each of the seats. Even on the extended trip, we never thought once about the seats- perhaps the best compliment a seat can get. They were just the right mix of soft and hard.
Speaking of just the right mix, Ford deserves a hearty “Bravo!” for the in-car storage components in the Fusion Energi. From a perfectly size center console (big enough for passenger and driver elbows with some wiggle room), to in-door storage that can easily fully hide a sunglasses case from any neerdowells, to easy-to-reach and store charging areas for phones and DVD players, these little bits of extra storage made our road trip SO much easier.
When compared to SYNC systems as recently as two years ago, the infotainment system (loaded with the joint Ford/Microsoft SYNC system) in the Fusion Energi was much more intuitive and easy to use- not to mention faster and having a cleaner screen appearance.
Navigation was a breeze to use and more than once accurately guided us through Rust Belt farm country on roads that may not have even had names.
We were also pleasantly surprised with the Sirius/XM reception on some pretty overcast days. The only real interruptions were understandable–large overpasses and tunnels. Even during heavy rainstorms and in thick canopy cover the reception never cut out.
The Fusion Energi is a plug-in hybrid with the charging outlet conveniently between the driver’s door and the front wheel well. Our tester’s 7.6 kWh Lithium-Ion battery was fully charged after 6.5 hours of being plugged into a standard household 120 volt outlet. On our initial drive, the EcoGuide in the instrument panel showed we had a 22 mile range on battery power. We ran a few errands while studiously taking advantage of the regenerative braking (up to 90% of braking energy is returned to the battery) and found we added 7 miles to our range for a total of 29 miles on electric power only.
We experienced an overall range of approximately 620 miles per full charge and fuel tank which is, needless to say, really nice to have when roadtripping and trying to put some miles behind you. With that type of range, it’s easy to drive along and forget to look at how much fuel you have left. At one point during the trip, the information center’s low range/fuel indicator politely informed us we had approximately 40 miles of driving left. We pleasantly discovered, when traffic slowed ahead of us between getting the low fuel message and reaching a gas station, that the low range indicator does not account for mileage added through the regenerative braking though the “countdown” does slow to take in those miles.
We did a majority of our plugging in using two separate residential 120 volt outlets. One we had no trouble with, but the second tripped its breaker more than once. We figured out the tripping was likely due to a large freezer drawing on the same circuit. We switched outlets and didn’t have anymore issues.
The actual plugging in could not have been easier. Everything necessary to do so is stowed neatly in the trunk. A heavy duty cord with a household three-prong plug on one end and the vehicle plug on the other is neatly spooled and stowed in the trunk in an out-of-the-way compartment. When planning to charge your vehicle during an extended trip, it’s important to remember that the cord is likely going to be under your luggage, so plan accordingly.
Overall handling provided a solid feel. We encountered some downpours on our journey which the Fusion Energi handled with a confidence inspiring sure-footedness.
Across the frost-heaved streets of the Northern United States, the Fusion Energi stabilized its riders valiantly making the ride as comfortable as possible. However, across the shopping center speed humps the Southern United States is so fond of, the Energi was a bit bumpier than anticipated with the frame feeling very rigid, even at slow speed.
While we did experience dissatisfaction with the resuming of speed after an avoidace system slowdown, the cruise control held fast and we were extremely pleased with how the system maintained a constant speed even on the uphill climbs and downhills steeps of the Appalachian Mountains.
Braking was smooth with an unexceptional pedal feel that was neither touchy nor heavy while the gas pedal was equally responsive.
Important Numbers for Families:
- 620 – Though the EPA rates the vehicle with mile range of 550, with a battery that is fully charged and 14 gallon tank, we got closer to 620 miles to the tank. Don’t use the air conditioning and it will drastically improve your fuel consumption, as will following Ford’s Driving Efficiency Tips.
- 41 – In a combination of city and highway driving using hybrid technology, we experienced an average of 41 mpg
- $45,000 – The MSRP could be considered steep in the mid-sized sedan category but when you consider how much you’re saving on gas, over a three year period (the length of a typical auto loan) the savings really adds up.
- 12 – The cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk is reduced by 25% in the Fusion Energi as opposed to the Fusion’s 16³ ft
- 911- 911 Assist (the Ford equivalent of OnStar) can contact first responders via your Bluetooth connected phone when airbags are deployed
Family 5 Test:
- Car Seats – The spacious interior of the Fusion Energi allows the most legroom for any sedan in its class. This pays off whether traveling with four adults or if your family includes are car seat rider. There is plenty of room for any car seat rider, even when the front seats are moved as far back as possible.
- Coffee Cups – The Fusion Energi’s center console cup holders are a drinker’s dream. Ford’s three spring-loaded stabilizer approach to keeping your cup in place works on something as small as a can of Red Bull and something as large as a to-go flexible cup from a convenience store. Throughout our entire journey, we never had a spill.
- Luggage – With the Fusion Energi being fueled by electric power, and with the gasoline powered engine taking up the space under the hood, it seems only logical that the battery for the Fusion Energi, which is larger than the Fusion hybrid’s battery, would be stored in the trunk area. Because of this, rear storage space was severely limited- basically 75% of what it could be. We were, however, able to load the trunk with two large duffel bags, one overstuffed backpack, a toiletry case, and on the return trip a stuffed life-size Airedale Terrier (that last item is a story for a whole different blog and post).
- Golf Clubs – With the lack of storage space in the trunk thanks to the Fusion Energi’s battery, fitting more than one set of golf clubs in the trunk may prove to be a challenge. If you’re riding to the course without backseat riders, however, the clubs easily fit in there instead of the trunk.
- Groceries – One of the major differences in grocery shopping when you’re loading into a sedan versus an SUV is that you have to place items that may roll behind the front seats instead of in the trunk. With the Fusion Energi’s battery placement, it creates a space in the trunk just deep enough and wide enough to hold bags of groceries in place while driving back home- a feature we definitely appreciated.
The Bottom Line:
In 2012, Ford began their “Power of Choice” campaign. The “Choice” is evident in the powertrains available in the current Fusion line–gasoline, plug-in hybrid, and standard hybrid. This availability of choice and the handsome lines of the Fusion may be what has the Fusion poised to knock Camry from the top selling mid-size sedan position, which it’s held for decades.