By on March 23, 2009

Many of our Best and Brightest have flagged the fact that cold weather may ding the Chevrolet’s gas/electric Hail Mary Volt’s performance. And now we have anecdotal, real world evidence for the challenge. Underneath an innocuous headline, “Fusion Hybrid Game-Changer for Ford,” a WardsAuto scribe gives us the 411 on the difference between the vehicle’s heavily advertised EPA number (38.5 mpg combined) and its cold weather efficiency. Byron Pope reveals, “The best we can squeeze out of the Fusion Hybrid is a combined 33 mpg (7.1 L/100 km). In all fairness, our seat time came in the midst of a brutal Michigan winter cold snap. Running the heater at nearly full blast most of the time siphons power from the battery causing the car to rely more often on its gasoline engine.” And that’s because using the heater changes the way the Fusion hybrid’s power-train works . . .

The weather also limits the speeds at which we are able to drive in all-electric mode. Ford says the Fusion Hybrid can travel up to 47 mph (76 km/h) on juice alone, significantly higher than most other hybrids on the road today.

However, we only are able to achieve about 30 mph (48 km/h) in all-electric mode. And that requires a feather-light touch on the accelerator. Pressing the pedal too hard immediately kick-starts the gas engine.

Otherwise, they love it! So what’s with the “may well be” and “game changer” defense?

Our tester stickers at $29,590, including a $725 destination and delivery charge. That’s a lot of money for a midsize sedan but about middle-of-the-pack for a hybrid. And when you add in the $3,400 available government tax credit, the Fusion Hybrid starts to look like quite the bargain.

Overall, the Fusion Hybrid is able to compete with, and often surpass, other hybrids in the market.

But its largest contribution may well be as a game-changer for Ford.

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34 Comments on “Ford Hybrid Drops 5.5 MPG in MI Cold...”


  • avatar
    zerofoo

    Why someone would buy a hybrid like this over a small turbo-charged diesel is beyond my comprehension.

    As far as the HMV (Hail Mary Volt) goes – Who spends $40k to save money on gas?

    -ted

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    They all do that.

    No, really, they all do. All cars, and certainly all hybrids. And it’s not just running the heater or A/C that causes it, it’s just the nature of trying to run a powerplant that depends on a certain level of therman efficiency in freezing temperatures.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    I remember reading the same info in another review, on autoblog I believe, although it may have been their look at the Milan hybrid. And as psarhjinian noted, this isn’t a problem unique to the Fusion/Milan hybrids, the Prius, Insight, and Volt also behave like this. Unfortunately there are just some limits to the technology, and those that live in extreme climates get to put up with it.

    On the plus side, the new gauge cluster does have a moving EV range display that will show drivers exactly how fast they can accelerate if they want to stay in pure EV mode for as long as possible. Ford has also changed the way the AC works on the Fusion Hybrid vs the Escape Hybrid, so that you don’t need to run the engine to run the AC compressor.

  • avatar
    John B

    I’m not surprised, I have two acquaintances with Civic Hybrids whose mileage drops significantly during the winter (Toronto and Montreal).

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    Hybrid or not, $30K is way too much for a mid-sized Ford.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    Sounds about right for any car in that climate. My 98 Camry I-4’s winter mileage averages about 22 mpg, versus 28 mpg in the summer. My other cars are similar.

    Mind you, I take a 4 mpg hit just going from all-seasons to studded winter tires.

  • avatar
    niky

    Pfft. Like this is news.

    Fifteen minutes in sweltering summer traffic and the AC drains the Prius battery flat.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Sounds about right. My 98 Camry I-4’s winter mileage averages about 22 mpg, versus 28 mpg in the summer.

    That would be a 22% drop, compared to a 14% drop for the Fusion Hybrid, even though the nominal MPG drop appears similar.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    I remember reading the same info in another review, on autoblog I believe, although it may have been their look at the Milan hybrid. And as psarhjinian noted, this isn’t a problem unique to the Fusion/Milan hybrids, the Prius, Insight, and Volt also behave like this. Unfortunately there are just some limits to the technology, and those that live in extreme climates get to put up with it.

    Some hypermilers block their radiators to improve mileage in really cold weather. Redneck Prius drivers? Who knew?

  • avatar

    Dude, this is a pretty lame story. You could have put any hybrid car’s name as the subject of this post. You have to be pretty new to the car game not to know that all hybrids suffer efficiency losses in cold weather. Conventional ICEs suffer similar losses. This isn’t a Ford Fusion problem, and it’s odd that you’ve chosen to single out what has otherwise been recognized as a great car and segment leader (mainstream midsize sedan hybrids, where competition isn’t too great (Malibu (ha) & Camry)) and crapped on it for a universal problem.

    What’s next, a big expose on how the Fusion Hybrid loses efficiency when you stomp on the pedal at every green light? SHOCKER!

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    I think they’re missing the point re: the 47 mph all-electric threshold. That doesn’t mean you necessarily can accelerate up to 47 mph using only electric power, though I suppose that’s theoretically possible if travelling downhill with a tailwind. The point of that is if you’re already travelling up to 47 mph in whatever mode, and you don’t need the gas engine’s power to maintain speed, the gas engine will shut off and you can rely on electric power to continue at that pace. It is a much higher threshold than other current hybrids (Prius, Highlander, etc., all kick gas engine on at 25 mph or so, regardless of load/power needs).

    As noted, the environmental conditions are what affected the Fusion hybrid’s numbers, which can happen to any car. All cars get notably worse fuel economy before reaching operating temperature, in stop-and-go traffic (except hybrids), when using the A/C, on hilly terrain, etc. This doesn’t diminish the car in my opinion, and other testers (Edmunds, Automobile) have seen the upside of 40 average mpg in mixed conditions with the new Ford.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Why someone would buy a hybrid like this over a small turbo-charged diesel is beyond my comprehension.

    Because diesels stink, spew pollutants, require fuel that might not be commonly available, cost almost as much, aren’t available in a lot of areas, require expensive emissions-control systems and fuel injectors, not to mention a much stronger and more expensive block and all the plumbing and control equipment that comes with forced induction.

    That you have to suffer with Volkswagen’s or Mercedes’ “legendary reliability” when it comes to things like radios, lights and power accessories is just icing on the cake.

    And they still use more fuel in the urban cycle than a hybrid and don’t have any easier a time of it in winter.

    Turbodiesels have their place (trucks, long-haul highway), but there’s a really good reason that the only place they do well is where diesel fuel is artificially cheap.

  • avatar
    tced2

    This is not surprising. The energy delivery of the battery system is diminished at colder temperatures. When operation of the vehicle requires more energy (moving the vehicle and running heater fans), the “other” source of energy kicks in – the gas engine. I agree with previous posters, this is not a Ford hybrid problem – it’s called using more energy – resulting in more fuel consumption.

  • avatar
    MrDot

    $30k? The Insight/Prius price knife-fight is going to eat Ford’s lunch.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    P71_CrownVic :
    March 23rd, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Hybrid or not, $30K is way too much for a mid-sized Ford.

    Price the Camry hybrid, which is the only current competitor to this car. No, I don’t consider the half-assed Aura/Malibu quasi-hybrids worthy of mention (neither does the general public, judging by their sub-100 unit sales per month).

    Further, car prices are simply increasing. It’s hard to get a well-optioned (which this was) conventional midsize sedan for less than $25-28k, and if you add in the hybrid tech, $30,000 seems reasonable to me. Yes, you can buy the four-cylinder base Fusion for far less, but you get less equipment and green car snobbery appeal. As has been hammered ad nauseam, hybrid price premiums do not make fiscal sense when only looking at fuel savings.

    Finally, have you checked some other vehicles recently launched? The Edge has massive discounts, but stickers start in the mid-$20,000s and go up. The four-cylinder, front-drive Toyota Venza (a car that has deservedly been panned on this site and others for its sheer stupidity and uselessness) starts at $26,000*. Ridiculous. For this vehicle, I feel the price is right.

    *=when it goes on sale. Right now, only V6 AWD Venzas can be bought, starting over $30,000.

  • avatar
    Bancho

    zerofoo :
    “Why someone would buy a hybrid like this over a small turbo-charged diesel is beyond my comprehension.”

    Then broaden your horizons. You’re not from the US, are you?

    We generally don’t have that choice. The VW TDI has been the only small diesel somewhat consistently available here and although the powerplant is fine, the vehicles wrapped around it aren’t always the best.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    @KalapanaBlack: 09 Sonata Limiteds are selling for $20K

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    All cars get worse mileage in the cold Winter months, even the vaunted amazing Prius. And I know which Hybrid I would pick out of these two competitors. Southern states and such are a bit luckier but folks like me in Upstate, NY must face a solid 6 months of cold temps that drag down gas mileage in our cars but also drive energy costs for heating our home through the roof. I think they should find a way to do away with Winter altogether. Just think how much money we would save and always have temps in the 60’s-90’s.

  • avatar
    menno

    We’re buying a brand new 2009 Hyundai Sonata with package 2 (nicer interior, trip computer, power seat) – it’s approximately a $22,000 car – for $16,400 including 6% sales tax, after tons of rebates ($1500 because we’re a prior customer).

    Why isn’t Menno buying another hybrid to go along with the Prius?

    Look at the price of the Ford hybrid, again. Or the Toyota Camry.

    Even at $4 a gallon (the “floor price” desired by the President of General Motors and for all I know, the President of the Untied States – or soon to be untied, anyway…) I can buy a LOT of gas over the lifetime of the car for the different in price between the conventional Sonata and the Hybrid Ford or Camry. Oh yes, plus I want to actually be able to tow 1500 pounds (a small pop-up trailer). Neither hybrid can tow one single pound. Nor can PRius.

    As for MPG on hybrids, yes, I do think the MPG difference is actually not only a larger percentage than conventional cars, but because the MPG starts out at a higher level, any given percentage drop “looks worse”.

    10% reduction from 40mpg = 36mpg (ouch! 4mpg!)
    10% reduction from 15mpg = 13.5mpg (eh, only 1.5mpg!)

    The reason I think hybrids actually “do worse” is because you actually have the normal IC (internal combustion) engine ‘issue’ of loss in efficiency at low temperatures, but also the handicap of the battery system working less well.

    My own personal experience over 72,000 miles in two (2005 and 2008) Prius hybrids, in northern Michigan over four winters, shows that:

    Prius optimum: Drove to the UP with two passengers, luggage, guitars, extra food; 600 mile average was over 57 mpg, including some 70 mph driving, much 55 mph driving, some towns/villages, no hypermiling. It was late spring time, no a/c needed, no snow tires.

    Prius average optimum: 50 mpg overall, mostly commuting 15 miles to work on 55 to 35 mph roads and in town; this is spring and fall, temps above 37 degrees F., no snow tires, little to no a/c needed.

    Prius summer average: 48 mpg overall, due to the air conditioning working hard. Sometimes plummets to significantly less to cool the car, but this is a good average figure.

    Prius winter average: Had been 44 mpg, now about 42 mpg (a knobbier, better for traction set of winter tires replacing a prior worn out set seems to have caused this difference)

    Interestingly, my average this winter had gone to 33 mpg due to E10 fuels being solely available (I thought); that’s approximately a 22% drop in MPG due to 10% ethanol in the fuel.

    This was confirmed when my MPG went back up to 42 mpg this winter, after locating ethanol free 100% gasoline again.

  • avatar
    cardeveloper

    When you actually calculate the fuel cost difference on a hybrid v non hybrid, even at high fuel costs, it takes several years to pay back the extra investment. The higher the fuel economy, the greater the difference needs to be to have any real impact. And that’s using rated fuel economy… actual fuel economy is a cold dose of reality.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    Richard Chen :
    March 23rd, 2009 at 8:57 am

    @KalapanaBlack: 09 Sonata Limiteds are selling for $20K

    That’s a fantastic deal for a great car. I’ve been in a million Sonatas (rentals) and the ’09 interior upgrade brought it to a truly competitive level.

    The Fusion is a bit smaller and more nimble, and as I said, the hybrid gas savings don’t fully explain the huge price premium over a conventional sedan, but you have to pay for the tech if you want it. Hybrids aren’t truly mainstream yet because of this.

    I’m anxious to see where Hyundai prices the forthcoming Sonata hybrid, which I think is to debut during the ’11 model changeover.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Menno
    Last summer you were stating the Prius was the greatest car on the market, even stating things like 60mpg on your gauge. What gives?

  • avatar
    menno

    The Prius is great for what it is, Juniper. I’ve seen 60 mpg, but I was referencing “averages” which is a different kettle of fish (even that 57 mpg trip was averaged out over a couple of partial tankfuls – I don’t like running below 1/2 tank).

    The Prius also has limitations, as does every car. I cannot turn off the traction control; in northwestern Michigan, this is a HUGE problem two or three times a winter, depending upon whether I’m likely to be driving on wet ice or heavy wet slush at low speeds. I’ve actually never gotten stuck yet, but it’s not impossible.

    I actually prefer the Sonata to the Prius is every category except MPG’s and the fact that the Prius is a hatchback so is very flexible for carrying “stuff”. Yes, you read that right. And our current Sonata is a 2007, not a 2009. As for last year, wasn’t gasoline at $4.19.9 per gallon just that little while ago? (Yes). Yeah, I loved my Prius especially well, then. Wouldn’t you have?

    The Prius has a pretty good ride a lots of interior room, but the roads up here are getting towards those of a 3rd world nation and over the 4 years since I’ve first had the Prius, it is getting so bad that the new Prius is now crashing and banging down these “so-called roads” while the Sonata at least while crashing and banging on the same roads, has a better ride, handles as well and seems to be less stressful on our backs.

    I’m very aware of the upcoming Sonata hybrid, Katalpa, and would LOVE to see it.

    But I’m going to do the math when it comes out and whether I get a 2011 Sonata or 2011 Sonata Hybrid to possibly replace the 2008 Prius, well, I’ll have to do the math and look at the tea leaves (so to speak) to figure what future gas prices might be, and parse out the numbers then.

    As I get “unyounger” though, the quality of the car’s ride seems to be more important to me. You won’t “get that” until you start heading north of 40….

    Yes, Victoria, there is a Santa Clause and there is an actual reason why wrinklies buy Buicks (or Lexus or Hyundai Azeras) too.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Makes me wonder why the Prius (or other hybrids with similar design) doesn’t offer a plug-in heater for the “thermos” as standard equipment – wouldn’t it be useful to keep it in EV mode longer as it would supply heat for the initial few miles?

  • avatar
    menno

    I like your idea, shaker. They could bundle a block heater, battery keep-warmer and thermos warmer.

    A real “plug-in” Prius, as it were. Added benefit: the heater would warm up faster for the driver & passenger(s).

    I may take the low-tech solution next winter with my Prius and put some cardboard in front of the radiator (with a hole in the middle of it to let “some” air through).

    The tiny 1.5 litre engine and mid-sized interior don’t work for heating human beings in a -11 degree F. morning. Actually, the 2008 car is better in this regard than the 2005, but that is like saying being in a 65 degree office with a draft is better than being in a 60 degree office with a draft… I’d rather be in a 70 degree office without a draft!

  • avatar
    gslippy

    My 05 xB gets 31 mpg in the summer, and 26 mpg in the coldest snap of winter.

    The Fusion’s change in cold is no surprise. The buyer should just compare its winter mileage with the winter mileage of the conventional Fusion, if they care to.

    But I still doubt the economy of buying any hybrid, period.

  • avatar
    mart_o_rama

    Don’t forget to run the A/C on Recirculate in the winter, helps keeping warm inside the cabin without burning too much extra gas.

    My car has an auto Recirc. function and it alone can add 1MPG on the very cold days.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Don’t forget to run the A/C on Recirculate in the winter, helps keeping warm inside the cabin without burning too much extra gas.

    It also fogs the bejeezus out of the windows.

  • avatar
    mart_o_rama

    It also fogs the bejeezus out of the windows.

    Good point, but my system doesn’t do that unless I vigorously sing along with the radio, then again it would fog even without recirc…

  • avatar
    mcs

    I think hybrids are better in one situation – heavy urban traffic. Crawling along for an hour and a half along 128 in Boston, our Prius stays in the 50’s. The conventional 38 mpg car drops to sub-20 mileage in the same situation.

    Of course, a diesel with a start-stop feature similar to a hybrid (like the MINI Diesel) would be simpler, lighter, and cheaper and you’d get the same mileage.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    KalapanaBlack :

    Price the Camry hybrid, which is the only current competitor to this car. No, I don’t consider the half-assed Aura/Malibu quasi-hybrids worthy of mention (neither does the general public, judging by their sub-100 unit sales per month).

    Further, car prices are simply increasing. It’s hard to get a well-optioned (which this was) conventional midsize sedan for less than $25-28k, and if you add in the hybrid tech, $30,000 seems reasonable to me. Yes, you can buy the four-cylinder base Fusion for far less, but you get less equipment and green car snobbery appeal. As has been hammered ad nauseam, hybrid price premiums do not make fiscal sense when only looking at fuel savings.

    Finally, have you checked some other vehicles recently launched? The Edge has massive discounts, but stickers start in the mid-$20,000s and go up. The four-cylinder, front-drive Toyota Venza (a car that has deservedly been panned on this site and others for its sheer stupidity and uselessness) starts at $26,000*. Ridiculous. For this vehicle, I feel the price is right.

    *=when it goes on sale. Right now, only V6 AWD Venzas can be bought, starting over $30,000.

    There is a fundamental difference. One is a Toyota, and one is a Ford.

    Toyota can charge whatever they want and people will pay it. And that is because Toyota has a good reputation and great perception.

    Ford on the other hand, does not. Yes the Fusion gets slightly better mileage, but Ford is amazingly arrogant if they think they can charge Toyota prices for a hybrid Fusion with a ton of goofy electronic gimmicks.

    Toyota and Honda did not get into the position they are in today by selling gimmicks like being able to talk to your radio and cup holders that light up. Instead, they created very simple and cost effective solutions to problems over the years.

  • avatar
    Jared

    I have to agree with psarhjinian when he said “They all do that.”

    Cars get worse mileage in the winter. Batteries are far less efficient when cold. Since hybrids are far more dependent upon batteries, their gas mileage suffers more in cold weather than regular cars.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    P71_CrownVic :

    Toyota can charge whatever they want and people will pay it. And that is because Toyota has a good reputation and great perception.

    Toyota doesn’t have. It had good reputation. A friend of mine recently was shopping for a car to replace his 1993 4-cylinder Camry LE with 370,000km. He said I wish I could buy same car new. And he replaced it with 2009 Fusion SEL.

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