We recently undertook a comparison test of mid-size sedans and the standard Ford Fusion was one of the cars (you can read about the test in upcoming posts). On a recent trip to Chicago, I had the opportunity to drive the hybrid version, which coming on the heels of that test provided an interesting contrast-not only in fuel economy (the main drawing card in buying a hybrid) but also in utility and the driving experience.

First off, aside from the badging, there is little that distinguishes the hybrid from conventionally powered Fusions-the car is perhaps the most handsome in its class, from its Aston-inspired grille, to its clean, sleek lines. The interior on the SE trim level of this 2014 Fusion Hybrid is decidedly upscale. The leather seating is stitched, there's an abundance of soft touch and high quality materials throughout the cabin, ample storage space in the center console and the requisite USB ports to complement the Bluetooth Sync/MyFord Touch system. Speaking of which, the system has more redundant controls, making it easier to use...still, programming the nav system manually or with voice commands, was not as quick or intuitive as an iPhone equipped with Google Maps. Ford's system is getting better, though.

Smooth operator

The hybrid system in the Fusion is seamless in operation. If you're not familiar with the technology, especially one that relies on sole electric motivation at low speeds, it can be disconcerting to twist the key and then, nothing. The car comes to life, but it's ready to move off in full EV mode, which is silent. Eventually, the 141-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder kicks in to provide additional thrust. Total output of the hybrid system is 188 horsepower. The fuel economy ratings are nothing short of amazing for a car this size, 47 mpg city and highway, though in Chicago, with a combination of stop-and-go driving and 70 mph freeway runs, we saw closer to 43 mpg during our time with the car. This is pretty remarkable for a vehicle that seats five.

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Of course, having an electric motor and a battery pack has its compromises. The trunk's capacity is diminished, though we could fit two good sized roller bags, a duffel bag and a briefcase, but that was about it. And while the Fusion is nicely proportioned, the rear seat legroom could be more generous in a car of this length. The hybrid also has its own unique driving characteristics. The stop/start system works quite well, there's no sense of the engine cranking up to restart since the vehicle rolls off from a standstill in EV mode. The extra weight of the battery pack may give the car a lower center of gravity, but the suspension feels a bit floaty compared to the standard Fusion, which in our comparison test, came across as the driver's car in the group. I also noticed some wind and road noise, NVH issues I don't recall with the standard Fusion in our comparison. Also, the hybrid was equipped with optional lane departure warning that vibrated the steering wheel so subtly as to come across as either a steering anomaly or mere road irregularities. 

High fuel economy and value

Considering that the average new car costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000, the 2014 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid's sticker of $35,460 did not seem wildly out of line considering the level of equipment, which included such standard features as remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, dual-zone automatic climate control, tilt steering with cruise control and audio controls as well as such optional goodies as a rear view camera, park assist, adaptive cruise, blind spot and cross traffic warnings. This full complement of equipment along with handsome looks and above all, stellar fuel economy makes a compelling case for considering the Fusion Hybrid.

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