Intent on grabbing a considerably larger share of the hybrid limelight, Ford is preparing to launch a new and far more efficient iteration of its dual-mode gas-electric technology. This Gen II package will first appear on the 2010 Fusion and its Mercury Milan cousin, both of which are due in dealers early next spring. According to Nancy Gioia, Ford Motor Company's director of sustainable mobility technologies, this new hardware/software will handily surpass the performance of the system found in the 2009 Escape/Mariner Hybrids in literally every measurable way. More important to the Blue Oval cause, these mid-size sedans also are expected to lead their competitive set in fuel economy and markedly outpace their closest rival, the Toyota Camry Hybrid, by at least five mpg on the EPA's city cycle.

Ford's far-ranging hybrid remake involves both sides of the powertrain equation. Like the 2009 Escape/Mariner, these 2010's use the same basic 2.5-liter/155-horsepower four-cylinder Atkinson Cycle engine fitted with intake Variable Cam Timing (iVCT) that's specifically tuned to improve efficiency and facilitate smoother transitions between operating modes. While the architecture of the e-CVT continuously variable transaxle also is largely shared, numerous subtle internal modifications make the sedan version even smoother, quieter and more refined.

The most profound changes in the mix are found in the new battery pack and Variable Voltage Converter (VVC) unit. Although still a nickel-metal hydride design, the new battery pack is 30 percent smaller and 23 percent lighter than its Escape/Mariner counterpart. Cell count was trimmed from 250 to 208, but each one now produces 20 percent more power and the pack no longer requires a dedicated cooling system. To compensate for a reduction in nominal voltage from 310 to 275 volts, it teams with a new VVC that's 27 percent smaller and 42 percent lighter but is capable of providing 130 percent greater motor output and delivering 160 percent higher generator output than the latest-iteration 2009 Escape/Mariner system. The converter also can fully decouple battery voltage from the e-CVT to eliminate parasitic drain. All of this activity is seamlessly shuffled, as conditions dictate, by all-new Ford-designed control software. Even the anti-lock brakes got a redo, incorporating regenerative circuitry that can recover up to 94 percent of the energy normally lost to friction while offering a more linear and natural pedal feel.

So what does it mean in the real world? Ford claims that its second generation hybrid system will allow the Fusion and Milan to reach speeds of up to 47 mph in pure electric mode and travel up to eight miles on battery power alone -- although at a considerably slower pace. The new package also permits double the previous rate of start/stop cycling, an advantage that will further elevate their projected class-leading fuel economy numbers. Collectively, the upgrades should allow the 2010 Fusion and Milan Hybrids to make a gallon of gasoline last for 38 miles or more in the city. That quest will be further assisted by Ford's slick new SmartGauge with EcoGuide dash display that's also slated to make its debut in this green duo. No word yet on price or projected volumes for either vehicle -- or when the Escape/Mariner SUVs may transition over to this new technology.
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