We're Winnipeggers. Plugging a car in during winter? No problem! Whether it's a block heater or this Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, hooking the car to the grid should be a no-brainer for us.
Except I've discovered there is a massive difference between plugging your car in on the occasional cold night and connecting a plug-in hybrid to the grid at every available opportunity. And that's the only way for owners to ensure the $6,000 premium over the price of a regular Fusion Hybrid (which in turn is $1,500 more than the gas-only version) was not spent in vain.
I've had the Fusion Energi for a few weeks now, so it's time for an update on how one of the company's most technologically advanced vehicles is faring. This is truly a winter for the record books; as I write this I have to look at the calendar to know it's March -- the return of the polar vortex is making sure thermometer readings and wind chill levels are still firmly planted in January.
There are electrical outlets in parking lots everywhere, so provided the lot operator is okay with the idea of giving you what essentially amounts to free fuel, finding a place to plug in is relatively easy. We'll get more into how well the plug-in hybrid system performs in the next update; this one is about how the car performs day-to-day. After all, as plug-in hybrids and electrics go, this is one normal looking car and owners will expect it to behave just as a normal car does.
From a practicality standpoint, we've already touched on the first major difference -- the size of the Fusion's trunk. Its 232-litre volume is about one-third smaller than what you'll find behind the back seat of a Chevrolet Spark. So the kids shared the rear passenger area with my daughter's hockey equipment, including a bag that fits neatly in the hatch of my Volkswagen GTI with the rear seat up and the parcel shelf in place.
Aside from that, and the requisite penchant for always plugging the car in, living with the Energi is surprisingly normal. It's normal to look at. Actually, it's a pleasure to look at. The Fusion, even in its lowest trim, has the aura of a more expensive set of wheels. Of course, this Energi is a more expensive set of wheels. That it looks like a car half its price cannot be overlooked, but it gets my vote as the best looking of the current crop of plug-ins and electrics. Only the Volt thanks to its high-tech aura and unique body comes close. And as mid-size sedan beauty pageants go, it's a close battle at the top between this and the Mazda 6.
Inside there's more standard Fusion fare, although the Titanium trim level ensures that this is an upscale cabin. The heated leather sport seats look great and are very comfortable, but I wish they were a little firmer for better support.
Central to the interior environment is the MyFord Touch user interface, which is standard equipment on all Energi models but optional on the lower trims of other Fusions. With it comes an eight-inch touch screen; below that is a control panel nearly devoid of physical buttons. The entire affair has a very sleek look to it, but using it in winter proved challenging at times.
Surprisingly, the touch screen works well with gloved hands, as long as the gloves aren't so bulky that they apply pressure to too large an area. Navigating the touch screen functions through Ford's familiar quadrant based system (yellow for phone, green for navi, blue for climate, and red for entertainment) is intuitive, and it's always easy to get back to the home screen.
Unfortunately, the same ease of use doesn't transfer to the control panel beneath said screen. While most of its functions are redundant, this capacitive panel (unlike the resistive touch screen) does not respond to the pressure from a gloved finger.
The Fusion offers a quiet drive, not only because it sometimes runs in electric mode, but unless pushed the 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle engine is fairy unobtrusive. When it is pushed, the revs climb rather quickly and result in a bit of noise but it's actually quite refined at high revs. And the power-split device here cranks engine speed up much more quickly than it does in a Toyota Prius. This is a much more responsive setup.
Braking on slippery surfaces proved to be troublesome however. As with all hybrids, plug-ins and full electric vehicles (and even some conventional gas cars - see Mazda's i-eloop system), the Energi utilizes regenerative braking to charge the battery using the car's kinetic energy while decelerating. This takes considerable load off of the brake pads and rotors because the charging system is providing the resistance that slows the car down.
Regenerative braking is disabled when the anti-lock system is called upon to do its thing, leaving the conventional brakes responsible for stopping the car. That's all good, except that the transition is not a smooth one. On several occasions, the engagement of the anti-lock resulted in an unsettling forward lurch as the system changed over. Now I don't know about you, but the last thing I want to feel when trying to slow down on a slick surface is a momentary release of braking force.
I've learned a lot about Ford's fascinating Energi technology during these last several weeks. The next and final instalment of the Fusion Energi's performance in a Winnipeg winter will focus on what effect our frigid climes have had on its ability to fulfil its promise of gas-free driving for the typical commuter.