Auto Word

By Mark Maynard

August 21, 2009 5 min read

The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid made headlines recently when a team of Ford engineers, with Wayne Gerdes, noted hypermiler and CleanMPG.com founder, and NASCAR driver Carl Edwards, drove 1,446 miles on one 17-gallon tank of 87-octane fuel. The team took turns driving over three days and varied routes and elevation changes from Mount Vernon, Va., to Washington, D.C. The car averaged 81.6 miles per gallon, or about twice the estimated EPA fuel-economy ratings.

That's praise to Ford for producing a mainstream, family-type sedan that sells for less than $30,000.

And it's the kind of vehicle consumers want. The standard Fusion and hybrid model had record sales in April, selling 18,321 cars -- and that was only the first full month of sales for the redesigned 2010 model. Ninety percent of retail orders are for the hybrid, Ford said.

Gerdes, an engineer from Illinois who coined the term "hypermiling" to describe the mileage-maximizing techniques, provided the pointers that Ford used in the run from Virginia to Washington, D.C. They include:

* Slowing down and maintaining even throttle pressure.

* Gradually accelerating and braking smoothly.

* Maintaining a safe distance between vehicles and anticipating traffic conditions.

* Coasting to red lights and stop signs to avoid fuel waste and brake wear.

* Minimize use of heater and air conditioning to reduce the load on the engine.

* Close windows at high speeds to reduce aerodynamic drag.

* Apply the "Pulse and Glide" technique while maintaining the flow of traffic.

* Minimize excessive engine workload by using the vehicle's kinetic forward motion to climb hills, and use downhill momentum to build speed.

* Avoiding bumps and potholes, which can reduce momentum.

The Fusion debuted just three years ago, but the 2010 model has been put through an extensive midcycle "refresh" to address quality, materials and fuel economy.

Technologically, the hybrid sets a standard for driving distance on battery power and speed -- up to 47 mph in electric mode. And to help drivers eke out more mileage, there is the digital SmartGauge with Eco Guide. In the gauge array, a series of charts can be viewed to monitor fuel, battery power, efficiency and more. And the various components can be switched off, for those not dedicated to hypermiling.

The Fusion Hybrid has a starting price of about $28,000, which does not factor a $1,700 federal tax credit. The hybrid is equipped as a top-line SEL model, with such standard equipment as remote locking and Securicode keyless entry pad, dual-zone automatic climate control, power (and heated) outside mirrors with puddle lights, leather-trimmed seats with an eight-way power driver's seat and six-way power front passenger seat. And the seat fabric is recycled from industrial castoffs.

Options include a voice-activated navigation system and a driver's vision package, featuring blind spot monitoring and rearview camera.

The hybrid model extends the improvements with more lightweight materials and enhancements for aerodynamics. The alloy wheels are styled to reduce drag, vents around the fog lights are filled in to redirect air flow and the front fascia was lowered, but not so much as to be in danger of hitting parking curbs.

The Fusion Hybrid isn't an obvious green do-gooder, such as the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight, but it is a well-tested vehicle -- and roomy, comfortable and easy to live with.

Sightlines are open and the driver area is orderly and functional. Ride quality is smooth and firm. While riding in the back seat, I was able to look down, read and take notes without feeling any motion sickness -- and that's a miracle.

With the battery pack placed vertically against the seat back, trunk space is trimmed by 4.7 cubic feet. The remaining 11.8 cubic feet is broad and flat, but challenged to hold all the family's luggage on a driving trip.

Throttle uptake is smooth and consistent. And transmission calibrations were designed to avoid the "motorboating" effect -- noticeable engine revving followed by gradual engagement of the continuously variable transmission. It is a good balance of drivability and fuel economy.

There is strong acceleration potential because the power of electric motors is much more direct, but the Eco Guide is a constant reminder to mind the mpg.

As a visual reward, the driver earns "Efficiency Leaves" on a vine that "grows" digitally on the right side of the Eco Guide screen. The leaves reward customers for efficient driving, but no matter how demanding the drive has been, the vine will always show one leaf -- because the driver was smart enough to buy a Fusion Hybrid.

Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at [email protected]

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