Electric Cars

By Eric Peters

September 6, 2018 6 min read

Electric cars have to plug in, and recharging takes time. Plug-in hybrids like the 2019 Ford Fusion Energi can plug in, but they don't have to. They can operate as electric cars do until the charge runs low and then switch to gas without having to stop.

That's called having your cake and eating it, too. But there's one catch: the cost.

*What It Is

The Energi is the plug-in version of the Ford Fusion hybrid. It can travel as far as 21 miles at normal road speeds on just the electric side of its hybrid drivetrain.

The regular Fusion hybrid -- like other non-plug-in hybrids -- can only operate on battery power for short distances at low speeds (30 mph or less). And it mostly uses the hybrid side of its drivetrain to power accessories when the car isn't moving or supplement the power of the gas-burning side when it is moving.

The base price is $31,400 -- in the same ballpark as the all-electric Tesla Model 3 ($35,000) but without the range/recharge issues.

*What's New

The Energi gets a more powerful 7.6-kilowatt lithium-ion battery pack, which increases the car range on the electric side by 20 percent.

Rain-sensing wipers and adaptive cruise control are now part of the standard equipment package for this model, and you can order Ford's new Co-Pilot 360 system, which bundles automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning and an automatic high beam dimmer.

The exterior of all Fusions -- hybrid and not -- has been tweaked slightly as well.

*What's Good

It's a part-time electric car without the full-time electric car gimps.

It has a much roomier back seat than the Tesla Model 3 or the Chevy Volt (a plug-in rival).

If you have to burn gas, mileage is excellent for a large car: more than 40 mpg overall.

*What's Not So Good

It's (just about) as expensive as an electric car.

Rival plug-ins like the Chevy Volt go twice as far on just electricity.

Its trunk is extremely small (8.2 cubic feet) to make room for the batteries.

*Under the Hood

The gas side of the powertrain is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission, or CVT; the electric side is a lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor, which can power the vehicle for up to 21 miles at speeds as fast as 85 mph.

The Energi battery pack can be recharged externally via a plug-in port on the driver side front fender. It accepts either standard 120-volt household current or a 240-volt current.

On 120 volts, expect to stay plugged in for seven hours to recover a full charge; on 240 volts, "fast charging," you can get 80 percent of a full charge back in two and a half hours. (Fast charging is harder on batteries, which is why charging is limited to 80 percent of capacity as a safeguard.)

*On the Road

Driving a plug-in hybrid is about managing how you drive. Because it is a plug-in, you don't have to drive it any particular way. If you don't have time to plug it in or you just forget to no worries. You can still drive, just like any other car. That's unlike a fully electric car, which you have to remember to plug in.

But if you want to get the most out of this car -- out of any plug-in hybrid car -- you do need to drive it as if it were a fully electric car. Otherwise you will be driving a car that's more fuel-efficient than the non-hybrid version but also much more expensive.

*At the Curb

The Fusion is a larger midsize car than the Volt and the Model 3, which are compact by the numbers. The Ford is 191.8 inches long whereas the Volt is just 180.4 inches long and the Model 3 is 184.8 inches long. This may be a pro or a con depending on the value you place on space.

The Ford has much more back-seat legroom than either of the others, 38.3 inches versus 34.7 inches in the Volt and 35.2 inches in the Model 3. That makes it more family-friendly when it comes to carrying passengers.

On the other hand, it won't fit into tight curbside spots the Volt and the Model 3 can take advantage of.

But the Fusion has a very small trunk, just 8.2 cubic feet, because the batteries have to go somewhere.

*The Rest

While Tesla tries to make up for the range/recharge issues with acceleration and the Chevy focuses on practicality, the Ford Fusion Energi leans on luxury to swoon prospective buyers.

My test car had quilted leather door panels, three-stage heated and cooled seats, individually fitted leather-covered dash panels, rain-sensing wipers and 4G Wi-Fi -- the works. The Energi is so loaded it can set you back almost $45,000.

*The Bottom Line

They used to say speed is just a question of money. How fast do you want to go? With plug-ins and electrics, it's a question of how much you want to spend to avoid burning gas.

Eric Peters' weekly column, "Peters' Garage," can be found at creators.com.

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