By on June 16, 2010

A year ago, with gas prices high and the survival of the domestic auto companies never more in doubt, the media settled on the Ford Fusion Hybrid as the best evidence that Detroit deserved to survive. Roomy, reliable, economical, and fairly affordable, the FFH seemed to tick off all of the boxes. But what about love?

When the Ford Fusion was originally introduced, its exterior appeared crisply handsome. But that was five years ago. A refresh for the 2010 model year cleaned up the tail lights and enlarged the grille, but did nothing to update the thoroughly conventional three-box profile. Consequently, next to more recently designed sedans, the Fusion looks quite staid and dated. And, aside from multi-spoke alloys that do nothing to add visual excitement, the FFH looks just like the regular Fusion. Toyota’s breakout success with the Prius suggests that car buyers want a hybrid’s exterior appearance to reflect the advanced technology contained within. The virtually invisible FFH utterly fails in this regard.

The story remains the same inside the car. With an exception to be covered later, the Ford Fusion Hybrid’s interior styling is plain to a fault. Neither imagination nor attention to detail appears to have played a role. The engineers might well have phoned it in without even involving the designers. But not the human factors engineers—they would never locate the HVAC controls so low on the center stack. Much of the IP is soft to the touch, yet even with the optional leather upholstery the ambiance suggests “fleet.” Oval-shaped hard plastic door pulls resembling those that provide such a poor first impression when entering a Chevy Cobalt, Revell-worthy interior door levers, and geographically disadvantaged HVAC knobs look and feel especially cheap. One nice touch: white stitching on the black leather seats.

The FFH’s conventional styling pays some benefits. The relatively thin, relatively upright A-pillars and generous greenhouse contribute to excellent forward visibility and a familiar driving position.  As in the regular Fusion, the unfashionably unarched roof-line permits the insufficiently contoured rear seat cushion to be mounted a comfortable height off the floor. Knee room is generous. But, unlike in the regular Fusion, the rear seatback cannot fold to expand the trunk. Which could use some expanding, as the battery pack takes up its forward third. Want a hatch? Well, Ford offers the same powertrain in the Ford Escape Hybrid. Want a hatch with the handling of a car? Then Ford doesn’t have a hybrid for you.

The FFH’s interior appearance does have two bright spots—literally. Unique to the Hybrid, a pair of reconfigurable LCD displays flank the analog speedometer. Precursors to the MyFord Touch instrumentation that will debut in the 2011 Ford Edge, and then spread to many other Ford models, these displays have graphics that are both vibrant and functional. After mucking about with digital displays for a quarter-century, the auto industry has finally figured out how to make them more than a light show.

In the FFH, the reconfigurable capability is used to provide information about the power flows to and from the various powertrain components in multiple alternative formats. The intent: educate the driver how to drive to maximize efficiency. The theory is sound, but in practice, the FFH’s displays aren’t as helpful as the simpler, less colorful displays in the latest Toyota Prius. Unlike in the Prius, there’s no indication of the point in throttle application at which efficiency falls off. There’s also no indication of the point in brake application at which the conventional brakes jump in to assist the regenerative system. The latter would be especially helpful, since the entire point of a hybrid is to recoup the energy used to accelerate the car when braking the car. Use the conventional brakes, and energy that might recharged the battery pack instead heats up the rotors.

Instead, some of the display options indicate how far you can apply the throttle before the engine kicks in. Interesting information, but with no clear connection to maximizing overall fuel economy. This is still a conventional hybrid with limited battery capacity. No matter how you drive the FFH, you’re not going far before the engine has to kick in to recharge the batteries. Another option: vines that grow leaves when you drive efficiently. Rewarding until the novelty wears off, perhaps, but hardly useful feedback.

One thing Ford offers that Toyota does not: a tach. Perhaps I’m just old school, but the tach provided the most useful feedback for me. Keep the engine speed low, and fuel economy goes up. With the tach it’s also clearer how much power remains in reserve.

So how about the Ford Fusion Hybrid’s fuel economy? In suburban driving I generally managed about 42 MPG, about ten fewer than in the smaller, lighter, less powerful Prius. Drive the FFH aggressively, and this drops into the high 20s. More than in the typical hybrid, you might even want to drive this one aggressively. With no powertrain modes to choose from, there’s no “eco mode” that feels sluggish. Drive the FFH like you would a normal car and it feels like…a normal car. Or at least a normal car with a CVT. Aside from engine noise and the instruments, there’s little indication when the FFH switches from all-electric operation to gasoline power. Dip more than halfway into the throttle, and the FFH actually feels quick. Not as quick as a V6-powered Fusion, but definitely quicker than the conventional four. Unfortunately, when pushed, the FFH’s four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine turns agricultural. The quantity of power delivery is easily sufficient, but the quality of power delivery leaves much to be desired.

It’s not possible to hold the CVT at a fixed ratio—the power-distributing role of a hybrid’s CVT generally precludes this—but shifting into L does bump engine RPM a couple grand. This is primarily intended for engine braking while descending grades, but it can also serve to keep engine response snappy on a twisty road.

The FFH’s handling is good enough that the front seat’s above-average lateral support comes in handy. The electrically-assisted power steering (EPS) is no more communicative than most such systems, but it is fairly quick and nicely weighted. There’s little lean in hard turns, and body motions are tightly controlled. The taut suspension tuning’s downside: a lumpy, unrefined ride, with sharp vertical reactions even to fairly small bumps. Only driving enthusiasts might appreciate this ride-handling trade-off. Are there enough driving enthusiasts who buy hybrids to justify it? Most car buyers will prefer the smoother, quieter, generally more refined Toyota Camry Hybrid (though the TCH’s powertrain operation and chassis have their own shortcomings).

It’s easy to see why the Ford Fusion Hybrid has attracted so much praise, as it ticks off all the right boxes. With very good fuel economy, passenger room, and reliability at a reasonable price, it’s a rational choice. But permit emotions to intrude, and the FFH falls short. The engine’s character will put off enthusiasts, while the ride quality will put off non-enthusiasts. For enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike, the Fusion looks boring and feels rough around the edges. As much as there is to like, there’s too little to love. Ford best not infer from the FFH’s awards that it can rest on its laurels. The next Ford Fusion Hybrid needs to be both more refined and more special.

Ford provided an insured vehicle with a full tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, a provider of car reliability, real-world fuel economy, and price comparison information.

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33 Comments on “Review: Ford Fusion Hybrid 2010...”

  • avatar

    “Toyota’s breakout success with the Prius suggests that car buyers want a hybrid’s exterior appearance to reflect the advanced technology contained within.”

    Or they want the car to be instantly recognizable as a hybrid, so that everyone who sees them can kiss their feet/worship the ground they walk on/give them a Nobel prize/thank them for being so environmentally conscious/etc.

    • 0 avatar

      There could be some point to that exterior appearance, shame that the FFH don’t look more “high tech futuristic” or something more distinctive. I bought my Prius because I liked all the room, the hatch, and after spending 12 years in a CRX, some more weight for when those SUV drivers might hit me. That it gets 54mpg is all gravy.

      I’d consider a FFH in a few years, but they need to figure out how to package it better to get some trunk room back, and make the back seats fold.

    • 0 avatar

      With so many Priuses in my neighborhood, there’s no real sense of “uniqueness” that the Prius once offered. If I had to choose between the Prius and the FFH, I’d choose the former simply because it looks more futuristic. The FFH as the review notes looks bland. Too jejune!

    • 0 avatar

      The primary audience for a car’s styling is, in most cases, the person who drives it. Someone who buys a Prius for its technology doesn’t want it to look like a bland sedan any more than someone who buys a car for its sporty driving experience would want it to look like a bland sedan. People want a car’s styling to reflect their personal feelings about a car.

      There are quite a few people who like to buy whatever product–car, TV, refrigerator, phone–has the latest technology. The Prius appeals to this group in addition to those seeking high fuel economy.

    • 0 avatar


  • avatar

    “Toyota’s breakout success with the Prius suggests that car buyers want a hybrid’s exterior appearance to reflect the advanced technology contained within”

    This line got to me too; I’m sure the appearance has something, or a lot even to do with the Prius’ success, but for the life of me I don’t get it. I would get a FFH for the ability to fit my whole family plus the economy for a city commute. I really wouldn’t care if the exterior screamed “hybrid” or not.

  • avatar

    Michael –

    There is a tach, it just doesn’t look like the traditional tach gauge. Set the display to the ’empower’ mode and you get a column that shows engine RPM or ‘EV’ when the car is in pure electric mode.

    Regarding trunk space, the Fusion Hybrid has the largest trunk of any of the hybrid sedans on the market. Yes, the battery eats up space, but you still have more than you get in the Camry Hybrid or any of the competitors.

    The brakes provide regenerative charge pretty much any time you touch them. If you want to see if you are charging the battery by braking, the battery charge level light has up and down arrows that light up when it is being charge or being drained. If the up arrow pops up when you apply the brakes, you are in regenerative braking mode.

    You are being a bit hard on the interior. The Fusion Hybrid comes standard with automatic climate control, so, once you have it set to the temperature you like it, most people aren’t going to fiddle with the nob again very often. The materials inside are much nicer overall than the Prius, and are on par with the Camry Hybrid, Altima Hybrid, or Malibu Hybrid. No, it isn’t a luxury car, but if you want that the MKZ hybrid comes out later this year.

    Eco/power modes are pretty gimmicky. The draw of the Fusion hybrid is that it looks, feels, and drives like a regular car. You can have the green cred and mileage benefits of a hybrid without having to sacrifice a normal driving experience. Yes, some people want their hybrid to stand out, plenty of others want something that feels like a regular car. The leaves are a better alternative to an instant eco gauge (although you do have instant fuel economy readouts as well) because they encourage efficient driving habits over the long haul vs. micromanaging small details constantly. This makes them both less distracting and more rewarding.

  • avatar

    I like this car, hybrid or not. Its a good size, i see them alot around here.

    However, your comment about a hatch is noted – I own a Golf, and I’m lookin to get something a little bigger. I absolutely do not want any suv’s or cuv’s or anything like that. A hybrid fusion wagon would be perfect. Alas no. I will prob get a another golf, maybe a jetta wagon or something like that. I know I can get a saab or volvo, but they tend to be expensive, and do not offer a hybrid. I dont really like the way the prius looks, in spite of their popularity.

  • avatar


    Can a car really be this visually and dynamically boring?

    They might as well roll out a Crown Vic Hybrid.

  • avatar

    “As much as there is to like, there’s too little to love.” There you have it.

    I believe this car came first in a calculation of payback for the ‘hybrid premium’, and it was something like 3-5 years. That’s pretty good.

  • avatar

    I liked the Ford Fusion but it didn’t have interior space as open as the Toyota Camry. Regardless what the specs say, the Camry is much less restricting.

  • avatar


    It sounds like you misread my review. I note that the Ford has a tach UNLIKE the Toyota hybrids, which do not. ‘

    I’m aware that regenerative braking is engaged when you used the brakes. My question is when do you reach the point that the regenerative system cannot slow the car fast enough, such that the conventional brakes must be engaged. The Prius appeared to indicate this point. The Ford’s gauges despite their four different modes do not.

    I did not mean to imply that the trunk here was any worse than in other hybrid sedans. This is a common weakness. But why is it possible to package the battery beneath the cargo floor in the Prius an Escape?

    • 0 avatar

      My bad on the tach, you’re right, I just read it wrong.

      As far as the braking goes, if you are mashing the pedal to stop fast, mostly likely it’s because you need to stop fast. It might be sort of cool to show you when regen braking is acting alone, in combination, or not at all when combined with friction braking, but is that a detail that most drivers are going to care about?

      There is a fundamental difference in the design philosophy between the Prius and Fusion – Toyota designed the Prius to be a hybrid that was different from normal cars, Ford designed the Fusion Hybrid to be a great car that works just like any other car, but also happens to be a hybrid. That is one of the big reasons why Ford worked hard to make it so seamless to switch between EV mode and gas+electric mode. The power steering and air conditioning are both electric so don’t lose cooling power and the feel of the handling of the car doesn’t change when the engine cuts out. The cut-out was also designed to be super-smooth because ideally, you shouldn’t even feel the switch, which will happen dozens of times in a typical commute. The driver really shouldn’t have to worry about what mode the car is in, drive it like any other car and be rewarded with improved mileage.

    • 0 avatar


      “As far as the braking goes, if you are mashing the pedal to stop fast, mostly likely it’s because you need to stop fast. It might be sort of cool to show you when regen braking is acting alone, in combination, or not at all when combined with friction braking, but is that a detail that most drivers are going to care about?”

      I use this feature all the time on my Prius, it’s pretty fun to try to stay in regen only mode. I can take most highway exists in regen only mode all the way to a red light, without driving like a jackass. If my next hybrid didn’t have the feature it I would be disappointed. It’s a no brainier Ford should update their software and offer something comparable.

    • 0 avatar

      NulloModo – “Toyota designed the Prius to be a hybrid that was different from normal cars, Ford designed the Fusion Hybrid to be a great car that works just like any other car, but also happens to be a hybrid.”

      Are you saying that being a great car was specifically the design criteria of the FFH and not the Prius? I’d venture to say that the Fusion’s design criteria was to sandbag the EPA tests because independent tests show negligible fuel economy differences between it an the other full hybrid sedans available on the market.

      I’m not saying the FFH is a bad car. By all accounts, it is a great car. Something in the numbers that they are touting and how they got those numbers smells of marketing.

  • avatar

    One thing Ford offers that Toyota does not: a tach. Perhaps I’m just old school, but the tach provided the most useful feedback for me.

    +1. And if you manually row the slush box, the rev limiter bell sounds just like the RX-8’s. And the leafy greens turn brown.

    Ok, sorry – I made all the above up. I never drove the hybrid. But I did the Fusion 4 with a stick – it would make a fine daily driver…

  • avatar

    Since they don’t know how ugly and tacky it is, I think the guvmnt is going to have to step in and explain to interior stylists what is meant by glare. When will they stop with the silver-painted plastics? Enough! JFC!

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Mikey K….in one of my many former lives, I worked for a company which manufactured automotive switchgear, including HVAC controls….one of the things one of my engineer friends taught me is that ERGONOMICALLY and for safety reasons, the HVAC controls SHOULD be at the bottom of the stack…the reason is the fact that the vast majority of drivers change the radio, or (currently) the nav system settings, much more often while driving than the HVAC controls, which in most modern cars have an auto-temp setting, meaning you set it and forget the HVAC….heat or a/c is turned on automatically. Most drivers change the radio station frequently….I probably do it several times and hour I don’t have satellite radio and I loathe commercials…having the radio/sound system controls on top of the stack makes the most sense, since doing so takes the drivers eyes from the road less, less often…So, before you diss engineers or interior designers for putting the HVAC at the bottom of the stack, stop and think about safety and driver distraction….

    • 0 avatar

      He isn’t complaining about them being at the bottom in relation to the head unit. He is complaining about having to reach around the shifter to get to the controls. My GTI, 4Runner, and MINI all have the HVAC controls at the “bottom” of the stack, but they are still all above the height of the shifter so that there is nothing in the way of your controls. All 3 of my cars have manual HVAC controls (and the oldest car of the bunch is 5 years old… newest is 3 months) and I find myself messing with HVAC more than changing radio stations. Plus, most cars have steering wheel controls and that will switch between your sat radio favorites (as in my 4Runner). So, I’m w/ Mikey. It sounds like Ford bottled the positioning of the HVAC controls.

    • 0 avatar

      Did you ever have to consider the ergonomics of displays after dark? I would think all the blue and green light would crush night vision unless it switched over to something easier on the eye, like some navigation displays I’ve used.

  • avatar

    This whole trunk/rear seat issue really needs to be addressed if companies want hybridized sedans to sell more. The loss severely limits functionality.

    Regarding the review, I really think more time should have been spent comparing it to other hybridized sedans instead of a purpose-built vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree with you on the trunk space issue for sedans – that’s the problem with the Camry, Fusion, and Altima sedan models – seat doesn’t fold down (which is a deal-breaker for me) and the space is smaller as well.

      The Prius was designed from the ground up as a hybrid vehicle so presumably the designers/engineers were able to not have to compromise so much on the cargo space matter.

  • avatar
    M 1

    All I see is another bland car featuring an engine that is impossible to maintain outside the franchise dealership’s garage.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I’ve only driven one example of this car family — a Lincoln MKZ that was given to me as a rental when the car I had reserved was not available. I certainly saw nothing about the MKZ that merited a price premium over its Ford or Mercury siblings, or made it comparable to offerings from European or Japanese manufacturers with a similar sticker price.

    That said, I thought the car was right-sized for 4 passengers and their stuff.

    The one thing that I really noticed — and which paralleled a comment in your review of the FFH — was the really crude, stiff suspension. Not that the MKZ was a canyon carver (it wasn’t), but on the winter-damaged roads of Wisconsin, it beat you up pretty badly on anything but perfect pavement. If the FFH has that kind of ride, I would consider it a serious drawback for its intended market.

    Not that I’m a fan of floatmobiles. My other cars are a Saab Aero wagon and a Z3. Recollections are always suspect, but I would put the ride of this car as almost as punishing as my ’87 Mustang GT and definitely inferior to my ’92 SHO.

    On the marketing question, I think there’s a lot to the argument that the distinctive shape of the Prius is part of its success. Only the Prius and the Insight are hybrid cars, versus other hybrids that are simply hybrid powertrain versions of conventional cars. Oh, and I forgot the LEXUS IS 250H, which TTAC has reported is going to be dropped because it isn’t selling. The fact that the hybrid car is a distinctive car may be a necessary condition for its success, but it does not mean that being distinctive is a sufficient condition. The car still has to deliver the goods, which the failure of the Honda Insight and LEXUS IS 250H demonstrate. I don’t think we can label any of the hybrid versions of “regular” cars to be marketplace successes yet.

  • avatar

    I’ve grown to hate those wheels. I realize that they were designed with a purpose in mind, but still I cannot stand them. Then you have the color….it makes the car downright dowdy in appearance.

    The center stack could have been designed better, but how often are you adjusting an auto climate control setup outside of the temp (which requires a simple twist of the knob)? With the car in park none-the-less?

    • 0 avatar

      PennSt8 you’ve never met my wife apparently.

    • 0 avatar

      Or me. How would a computer know what flow direction and fan speed I want at any moment in time? I frequently make adjustments.

    • 0 avatar

      “Or me. How would a computer know what flow direction and fan speed I want at any moment in time? I frequently make adjustments.”

      Most automatic climate control systems are pretty good at figuring out how to keep a vehicle cool/warm. Yes, you might have to adjust the temp a few degrees here and there, but I fail to see why it’s so hard to believe that automatic climate control systems are capable of doing their job.

  • avatar

    Mediocre car…mediocre company.

  • avatar

    Does anyone actually own one of these? Did meet one gent at a dealership who was buying one; The day the before Uncle Sugar was finished putting huge piles of cash in trunk of select hybrids, but haven’t see one on the road since.

  • avatar

    For me the Fusion Hybrid is a much more satisfying choice compared to the oddball Prius which tries so hard to stand out but fails miserably because millions of clone examples are running around everywhere you look. Every Prius looks the same with very little to identify a higher end model other than alloys and leather seats. The Fusions are much easier to tell apart model wise with the Sport model and it’s ground affects, larger more aggressive wheels, rear spoiler and chrome dual exhaust to the more basic 34 MPG S model that still manages to have std alloy wheels and a pleasant appearance. The Prius also has the dumb centerally located hard ot read dash, the weird center console that looks like a bridge, piss poor rear visibility with the divided mail box rear window, cheap interior plastics and trim in the dash and door areas and the silly sci-fi electronics and gear shifter that is geared towards the playstation set. With all the troubles affecting Toyota I should would not want to be at the mercy of there electronics system either. The fact that with all the options including leather, roof, Navigation, XM radio/Sirius with upgarded sound system, alloys, dual power heated seats and all the bells and whistles each car is within a few hundred dollars of the other is icing on the better performing Fusions cake. Isn’t the Prius’s government rebate now gone too?

  • avatar

    This review is similar to how I feel about my Altima Hybrid. As an enthusiast I really like the bit of starch in the suspension and the really effective brakes. The brake pedal feels great, too. I loath mushmobiles – my father’s Avalon is an example of what kind of suspension tuning I simply can’t own. A few interesting differences, though. The Altima returns a solid 34 MPG; pretty good for rush hour driving and my less than light foot. How smooth is the Fusion on engine restart? The Altima’s engine restarts rather roughly if you are stopped and HAL decides the engine needs to run. The small trunk is expected, but the interior finish is rather poor, especially in light of the interior which is really nice for the price range.

    One interesting thing to note is what was noted under the “Hybrid” plastic cover under the hood. In prominent letters it says “Toyota”!! Another interesting thing was the comparison between my Altima and my mother’s MKZ. I drove from work to my folks and then jumped into her MKZ and drove for 8 miles. Such a back-to-back drive was quite enlightening. Structure wise, the Altima felt much more substantial than the MKZ. Funny thing is that while I was rather critical of the MKZ’s interior appointments, I always thought it had a good stiff structure. It seems that it does, but the Altima is just a bit better in that regard. Bottom line is that it is a good car, not just a good hybrid. The fact that is looks like a regular car is a plus to me, and I am an outspoken pro-environment guy.

  • avatar

    I’ve always found many of the 4 door sedans rather humdrum IMO. But as to the Ford Fusion Hybrid, have no experience there but DO have some experience with the 2002 Honda Civic Hybrid a friend of mine bought new.

    It was rather cool for the day in that it looked just like the 4 door EX grade Civic but had the sunroof if I recall right and was the same hybrid drive train as earlier Insight. That said, one thing it DID have was a conventional A/C compressor and I think power steering so at a light in eco mode, you could note the engine was off as no AC, although the fan was kept running – as long as certain conditions were met and your foot was ON the brake and once you released the brake, the engine would restart, the lag was barely perceptible when taking off, otherwise, it hauled 3-4 adults just fine and seemed to have decent acceleration, much like a normal 4 pot Civic would have had, but that was 2002 and I’m sure the technology has improved since then.

    As for being environmentally friendly, I do that by not living where a car is needed for EVERYTHING one did as I live in the big city and can walk to do most of my daily errands, you know, drug store, grocery store, stuff like that and I CAN walk or take the bus downtown where most of where I shop is located so my aging truck (all I can afford right now) can sit the entire weekend even though I DO drive to and from work 5 days a week.

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