As a middle-aged motorhead, I once held the belief that driving hybrids was penance for all the years I used more than my fair share of gas ripping up the pavement in over-motored muscle machines, ponderous SUVs and sleek sports cars.
If heaven was a weekend in a Porsche 911, then hell was a first-generation Toyota Prius -- to which I stoically submitted myself so I could sleep at night and not have nightmares of some dystopian future where the horse was once again the primary source of transportation.
However, over the past decade, hybrid technology -- and the number of gasoline/hybrid models available -- has advanced to the point where, if I'm not exactly giddy with anticipation, I at least look forward to the experience.
The fact there are copious versions out there helps -- at least 27 different cars, plus sport-utes and pickups, as does the fact not all of them are strange-looking. Actually, more than a few, namely the Kia Optima Hybrid and its Hyundai Sonata near-twin, as well as the new Lexus GS 450h, are rather attractive.
Add to that the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid.
As much as the previous Fusion Hybrid performed its fuel-saving mission with a high degree of competence, the four-door sedan blended into the scene. Not so with the new model. Highlighted by a fresh face that almost everybody agrees was "borrowed" from Aston Martin (formerly a Ford-owned company), as well as a sleek and aggressively styled silhouette, the 2013 Fusion brings an extra wow factor to the whole mid-size family sedan segment.
The car line comes loaded for bear, with a broad selection of fuel-efficient powertrains. It offers hybrid and plug-in hybrid alternatives, a pair of EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder engines, a normally aspirated four-cylinder, an automatic start/stop system to shut off the engine when stopped, front-wheel and all-wheel drivetrains and a choice of automatic and six-speed manual transmissions (although a CVT for the Hybrid).
In hybrid form, the front-wheel-drive sedan comes with an all-new 141-horsepower, 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gas engine, significantly downsized from the previous 2.5L unit while giving up only a little power and maintaining reasonable performance results.
As for the electrical side of things, there's a 118-hp electrical motor/generator, with lithium-ion batteries to save weight and generate more power than the previous nickel-metal hydride batteries. Combined output is 188 hp.
Stomping on the gas pedal, which probably would feel improper to most hybrid drivers, will get the Fusion to 100 kilometres an hour in 8.9 seconds, not exactly eyeball-flattening, but about average for hybrids of similar size and persuasion. Pulling off an 80-to-120-km/h passing move is decidedly quicker at just 5.7 seconds.
Under more typical driving conditions, the gas/electric combo works well, propelling the car through traffic in a reasonably seamless and quiet manner (the four-cylinder can get a little growly under certain load conditions) while delivering the sort of real-world fuel economy that will gladden the hearts of all but the most hardened tightwads.
I averaged 7.2 litres per 100 km during my week with the sedan, spending most of my time in the city. And, yes, being frugal with your driving habits will add green leaves to the vine (the rather silly Efficiency Leaves display on the instrument panel).
Ford engineers retuned the Fusion's handling and ride to give it a more dynamic, if not quite sporting attitude. It's really quite well-balanced for a family sedan with no illusions about chasing BMWs over twisting bits of tarmac.
The only thing that takes some getting used to is the sensitivity of the regenerative braking system; it punishes a heavy braker with rather abrupt stops. When all is said and done, however, the Hybrid takes just 42.4 metres to come to a complete stop from 100 km/h.
While not at the same level as Lexus and its tomb-like approach to interior quietness, kudos are due to the Fusion for an impressively hushed cabin. Look to the acoustic underbody shields and weight-saving sound-absorption material -- both help minimize road and powertrain noise while supposedly boosting aerodynamic efficiency. The Hybrid and plug-in Fusion Energi models are also equipped with active noise control, which uses the audio system to reduce extraneous road noise.
The cabin is characteristic of a $30,000 family car, with a decent amount of comfort and room. Rear-seat legroom might be a little tight for those on the leggy side if the front-seat occupants are tall as well.
Standard equipment is typical of the family segment, with the Fusion including Ford's controversial Sync communications and entertainment system. The tester was further equipped with the optional MyFord Touch, which allows a driver to interact with vehicle systems through voice control, tapping the touchscreen or using conventional buttons. Since I was able to program my satellite radio stations and access the optional navigational map without fuss or bother, it should prove no more annoying to consumers than other typical touchscreen systems -- nor of any further benefit.
As a family four-doors, the only real downside of the hybrid system is a significant loss of trunk space. There's only 12 cubic feet of storage versus 16 cu. ft. for a non-hybrid model.
The Fusion Hybrid is one of those cars that doesn't elicit an exclamatory OMG the second you drive it. But after a few days, it truly starts to impress with a smooth powertrain that makes you forget it's a hybrid, pleasant accommodations and a modest thirst that's easy on the wallet. It was named Green Car of the Year at the L.A. Auto Show in November and has also been awarded Best New Family Car over $30,000 by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.
These will not be its only accolades.
-- Postmedia News
-- Type of vehicle: Front-wheel-drive, mid-size hybrid family sedan
-- Engine: 2.0L DOHC four-cylinder, electric motor
-- Net power: 141 hp
-- Brakes: Four-wheel disc with ABS
-- Tires: P235/45R18 (optional)
-- Transport Canada fuel economy (L/100 km): 4.0 city, 4.0 highway.
-- Base price/as tested: $29,999/$33,429
-- Destination charge: $1,550