One in an occasional series reviewing consumer vehicles that are powered by water, natural gas, electricity, hybrid motors, high-efficiency gasoline engines or some other alternative source.
Perhaps you have seen the television commercials for the plug-in hybrid Ford Fusion.
The ads claim that with a full tank of gas and lithium battery at full charge, you can drive from San Diego to San Francisco without having to visit a service station.
I had never seen or heard about the TV spot until the day after I was given an opportunity to drive a 2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi, which is the top-of-the-line model among the many Fusion hybrids that start as low as $26,000. The Fusion Platinum Energi starts at $42,000.
The loan coincided with an extended weekend trip I was making to Berkeley to celebrate my son’s birthday. Thus, I was able to discover something viewers have been wondering about since the Golden Age of Television:
Are these commercials full of hooey?
Yes, no doubt in many cases, but not when it comes to my own Ford Fusion Hybrid SoCal to NorCal challenge.
There are some caveats: I did not leave from San Diego but an hour or two up the coast in Orange County, and my first stop would not be in Baghdad by the Bay but the East Bay.
But there is another big BUT: I burned gas and depleted the battery before leaving on my trip because I could not wait to tool around town in the Fusion—you know, to turn knobs and press buttons while in motion so I understood the features (and certainly not because I wanted to listen to Howard Stern and Opie and Jim Norton on the satellite radio, oh no, no, no).
And so, my challenge was to make it 412 miles, from Costa Mesa to Oakland, on three-quarters of a tank of gas and half a battery charge without stopping to fill up either.
I made it splendidly, with about 30 miles of range to spare. According to my Fusion loaners, with the tank and battery full at the time of departure, I would have had 100 miles and change of range after arriving in San Francisco. Either way, it left enough available juice to drive around a NorCal town to find the cheapest gasoline as well as a commercial port to plug in the battery.
At no time during the trip up and back did I suffer a hint of the range anxiety that has been described in other Ride Me posts. An indicator on the dashboard or the navigation/entertainment screen in the center console informed how much range remained based on the available petrol and battery charge.
The only thing I'd change about this particular Fusion, if I could, would be the trunk space. Car designers are left with two choices when it comes to placement of the bulky battery compartment. It can either be distributed throughout the cabin, which will then reduce leg and elbow room, or placed in the trunk area, cutting the space there. Ford chose the latter.
I suspect Ford knows a California commuter will drive the car more often to and from work and around town for errands. With the battery compartment in the back, the Fusion hybrid has three levels that resemble stairs in the trunk. The shorter top step can hold very flat items, the next step down is a little bit higher ledge and the bottom provides the deepest storage area. This setup is perfectly fine for a purse and briefcase and five or six paper bags filled with groceries.
However, when it comes to traveling—and especially that involving luggage—it gets much trickier. At least it did for us. My wife's large backpack-style suitcase and my smaller rectangle bag that would fit in an airliner's overhead compartment would not fit in the Fusion trunk, no matter how many different angles we came up with to force them inside.
The answer would be to use or purchase luggage that fits that space if you are going to be going on long trips all the time. That or a roof rack. We made due by putting one of our bags in the backseat.
If that sounds like a deal breaker, shop on. There are other hybrids out there that have the battery compartments farther forward if you can live with less roominess for passengers.
I found the trunk to be one small annoyance that was more than made up for by the rest of the Fusion Platinum Energi's features. Thanks to the first significant changes since 2013, this hybrid looks spiffier with a wider and more angular grille, new LED headlights, tail lamps, fog lamps, rear fascia and lower deck lid, redesigned 18-inch wheels and chrome garnishes throughout. Through my eyes, it resembles a sleek, European sedan on the outside.
There are interior changes as well, including a rotary-style gear selector, plenty of cup/water bottle holders throughout and a center storage area that begins under the dashboard and extends back to a large covered box between the driver and front passenger that is big enough to hide a small Chihuahua in.
(Disclaimer: It is not advisable to hide a small Chihuahua there.)
Between the lid and that box is a flip-up tray with its own latch for keeping small items like change and chargers. The design provides a long center armrest, which like the one on the door is covered in leather on the Platinum. Along with the leather seats and stitched, thickly padded leather on the dash top and steering wheel, it’s as if you’re driving a comfy recliner. (Given the electronic seat adjustments, you kind of are.) What is really cool about the inside of the Platinum I drove was how the same cocoa color was used on the leather and non-leather areas throughout the compartment, giving the illusion they were all cut from the same soft material.
Other cool features I enjoyed on my test ride were two USB ports, the remote starting system, the keyless entry system, the power moon roof, the rear-view camera, rear inflatable safety belts and the dual zone climate controls. Speaking of climate, punch a button and the front seats can be heated or cooled. You can even have one side hot and the other cold.
The star of the show inside is the Sync 3 navigation/infotainment/climate control/energy use system, from which you can listen to AM/FM radio, Sirius-XM (if you subscribe) and whatever is on your smartphone, which quickly and easily syncs to the Sync 3. Bluetooth and voice command technologies are also a snap.
Another cool safety feature stops the driver from fiddling with the Sync 3 touch screen while in motion, but the front passenger can take it over. There are arrow buttons on the steering wheel that allows the driver to, say, change radio stations, with the name of the new song and station playing it displayed on the front instrument panel so the motorist can keep his/her head facing forward.
Beep sounds and flashing lights on the dash and side mirrors indicate if other vehicles, obstructions or pedestrians are getting too close to the Fusion. There are also driver alerts for drowsiness, an adaptive cruise control works down to a full stop and back up to speed and BLIS (Blind Spot Info System).
According to the materials I was given, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has not yet rated the 2017, but previous year models have received five stars (the highest rating) for overall safety, five stars for frontal crash and four stars for a side crash and rollover. The Fusion Platinum Energi is loaded with airbags throughout.
This sucker will also parallel park itself, something that came in quite handy during a visit to my brother and sister-in-law in parking space starved San Francisco. Engage this feature, drive alongside a row of parked cars and an on-screen command informs you when a space has been found, when to brake and when to take your hands off the wheel. The car then parks itself, although you do control forward, reverse, stop and go.
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Once back in command, you enjoy a very smooth and unusually quiet ride in the Fusion Platinum Energi, which I must say is one huge area where Ford has other automakers beat, at least when it comes to the dozens of hybrids and electrics I have driven. It handles the corners well, had no problem going up the steep Grapevine and returned some energy to the battery when I coasted down the Grapevine. The Fusion's regenerative brake-to-battery system is considered an industry leader.
Environmental Protection Agency data for the 2017 is not yet available, but the previous year's Fusion got 42 mpg combined (44 mpg city, 41 mpg highway). The latter is pretty much the average of what showed up on the screen when I was on the open road, where I'd bounce between 39-point-something and 42-point-something mpg depending on the roadway.
The Platinum Energi is pricey, and other Fusion plug-ins start around $8,000 cheaper at $34,000. But Ford also offers reasonable lease deals and government rebates. You'll be saving money (and cleaning up the air) by filling up much less often than you would with a gas-guzzler. Plug into a standard 120-volt household outlet with the charger that comes with the Fusion and, via the Sync 3 screen, schedule the six-hour charge to begin and end during the window of time overnight when per-watt electricity costs are at their lowest. You can even get an alert on your smartphone informing when it's fully charged.
It comes with warranties of three years bumper-to-bumper, five years or 60,000 miles on the power train and roadside assistance and eight years and 100,000 miles for hybrid unique components.