Growing wary of escalating fuel prices as Chicago's warmer weather (finally) approaches? Fear not. More and more opportunities are coming to market in the form of pure electric vehicles (Nissan's Leaf), extended range vehicles (Chevrolet Volt), gas-electric hybrids (the conventional Toyota Prius) and combinations thereof.
The best-selling alternative powered vehicle remains Toyota's compact Prius hatchback, available since 2000 as a gas-electric hybrid with a self-charging Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack never needing a wall-socket. What may be less known is the Prius family of vehicles offers a 'plug-in hybrid electric vehicle' (PHEV) in select markets squeezing more out of a gallon of fuel with a longer 'all-electric range' (requiring a plug in port to juice up the pure electric drive).
What may be even lesser known is that Ford Motor Company also has impressive gas-electric hybrid versions of its mid-size Fusion sedan available with or without plug-in technology.
From a marketing standpoint, Ford vehicles utilizing plug-in, hybrid electric (PHEV) technology receive the 'Energi' moniker; without the cord, vehicles adorn simply the 'hybrid' suffix.
Both Fusion Energi and Fusion hybrid utilize a fuel efficient 2.0-liter Atkinson four cylinder gas engine working in tandem with an 88 kilowatt electric motor and an electronic continuously variable transmission. Both take advantage of kinetic brake energy (or regenerative braking) by recapturing energy when the brake pedal is engaged and storing it for later electrical use (while tweaking up overall mileage). This system by itself generates an outstanding 43 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving.
Fusion Energi adds a large lithium Ion battery pack (stowed behind second-row seats), rechargeable from a conventional 110-volt outlet or higher-output, 220-volt (a larger, washing-machine sized port outlet) system. Fusion Energy can be driven longer distances in all electric mode (without burning gas) than the Fusion hybrid. Early adaptors will pay a premium for fuel saving technology, as Fusion Energi once added as much as $15,000 to the price of a gas-exclusive Fusion, but this gap continues to narrow as price cuts intersect with generous state and federal incentives along with falling battery prices.
A wide range of Federal Tax credits applicable to personal income tax forms are available ($2,500-$7,500) depending on the alternative-powered vehicle selected. Fusion Energi qualifies for a $3,750 tax credit is most instances. In addition, Fusion Energi qualifies for Illinois' 'electric vehicle alternative fuels rebate program.'
Now could be a prime time to purchase an all-electric or PHEV as automakers battle to keep hard-earned sales momentums rolling.
Last August, General Motors shaved $5,000 off the starting price of its extended range, four-passenger 2014 Chevrolet Volt (now $34,995) with one of the longest pure electric ranges (38 miles) before the gas engine kicks in. Toyota slashed the starting price of a base 2014 Prius PHEV by $2,000 ($29,995) sans the $895 destination charge. Ford followed suite with a $4,000 price cut for the larger and creature-comfort laden Fusion Energi in 2014.
Our 2014 Fusion Energi SE trim started at $34,700 and with two options ($295 reverse sensors, $795 in-dash navigation) the bottom line was $36,585 with $795 destination charge. A second, up-level Titanium trim is available adding push-button start and an upgraded audio system.
Another HUGE plus for Ford's Energi is a larger dealership foot print. Toyota's 2014 Prius PHEV is only on sale in 15 states, on the left and right coasts and nowhere near the Midwest heartland. Ford's Fusion Energi is available nationwide as are Ford's two other 2014 vehicles with cords: the five-door compact C-Max Energi and all-electric (no gas engine) version of the compact Ford Focus. Honda offers a PHEV version of its popular 2014 Accord sedan, but as with the Prius plug-in, is only in select coastal states.
Ford's Fusion Energi debuted in the 2013 model year; three years after the Fusion hybrid entered the market. Fusion Energi changes are minimal in 2014; including two new exterior colors and an inflatable rear safety belt if sever impacts are encountered.
The Blue Oval automaker debuted an all-new, second-generation makeover of its mid-size Fusion sedans in the 2013 model year with a longer, wider body, new front grille (replacing a tri-bar design) and handsome bodylines. Fusion's first generation debuted in in the 2006 model year. The iconic Blue Oval logo moved upstairs, out of the grille and closer to the hood. Headlight housing narrowed substantially. Side view mirrors incorporate lower-tech, yet highly effective concaved cornered mirrors visually highlighting the blind spot. Narrow side windows enjoy chrome framing while the short, raised rear deck lid ads to the most modern stylish look of any plug-in hybrid on the road today.
Unlike the Prius which takes strides to announce its hybrid initiative, Fusion Energi takes a stealthier approach with its exterior characteristics little changed from its gas-exclusive counterpart save for small 'Energi' badging and the front fender's circular plug-in port.
A fully charged Fusion Energi travels up to 21 miles in pure electric mode (at speeds up to 85 miles an hour, any faster and the hybrid system kicks in) before very seamlessly switching to gas/electric hybrid mode. Total range of a fully charged, full-tank Fusion Energi is up to 620 miles according to EPA ratings. With a total horsepower of 195, Fusion Energi never felt underpowered during testing.
Keep in mind in all-electric mode, utilizing seat warmers, ventilation fan or other electronic controls zap power from the electric reserve, reducing available all-electric miles. This holds true for any all electric or PHEV transport.
Testing was done in late March with relatively cool Chicagoland temperatures, which impacted all-electric range. Aaron Miller, Ford Product Communications specialist for the Fusion Energi confirmed some chilling effects, "Twenty-one miles is the expected range on a full charge, however, this value will decrease in cold weather." Indeed, after a full six-and-a-half hour charge with a 110-v outlet in sub-freezing temperatures, our all-electric range registered was only 14 miles, but promises to increase as weather warms.
As with many pure electric or gas-electric hybrids, once the ignition is started, expect eerie silence as the gas engine has not yet been summoned. Braking is immediate and swift once the right foot steps onto the pedal. Fusion Energy is a heavy vehicle, tipping the scales at about 4,000 pounds; a gas-exclusive Fusion, by comparison weighs 3,615.
Inside, Fusion Energi is one of the only plug-in hybrids available to Chicagoans with five-passenger seating; four is the norm is this category. Ventilation functions may be controlled via a touch-sensitive panel below the in-dash touch screen, or through touch screen tutorials. The instrument panel includes several tutorial options visualizing remaining battery power and current mpg calculations.
The charger plug and cord stow in a compartment under the small, flat trunk floor. The charger head, about the size of a hand-held hair dryer, fits snuggly into a circular port located on the Fusion's front left fender. Once connected, the outer LED light ring illuminates and pulsates with a blue hue. Portions of the pulsating ring change to solid as the charging progresses, until the entire process is completed, and the ring fades to off, an indication the charge is complete. Also during the charging process, a small light on the base blinks until full charged, upon which it turns off.
The fuel tank holds 14 gallons of regular, unleaded fuel. When fueling, remember Fusion Energi includes Ford's cap less fuel tank, so there's no end twist cap; just a self-sealing barrier for the nozzle to push through and close on the way out.
Ford estimates the cost to fully charge the battery to be less than $1 based on an average cost of 0.10 per kilowatt hour. One notable difference between a Ford Fusion Energi and its gas-exclusive counterpart is trunk volume. Since Lithium-Ion battery storage takes place behind second-row seats, Energi's trunk volume gets squeezed to 8.2 cubic feet, down considerably from 16 cubic feet.
Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment is an aftermarket, 240-volt charger available for installation (between $1,000 and $1,500) in garages to speed up the charging process. Illinois offers a rebate of up to 50 percent of these installation costs. Utilizing this equipment, Ford estimates a full charge from a depleted battery in approximately 2.5 hours.
After fully charging the battery from a standard 110-volt outlet, it was off to an early spring weekend getaway to picturesque Galena Illinois. By the time the Fusion Energi and its human cargo pulled into Galena's historic Desoto House hotel (one of Illinois' oldest, constructed in the 1850s) some three hours later, fuel consumption was a mere quarter tank. Upon inquiring at the front desk about electric ports for the plug-in Fusion, the front desk folks stated that question had never been posed in the past...and the answer was "no."
But, vacation destinations including the long-standing Desoto House would be wise to consider adding a few electric plug in ports to woo customers as this technology builds in popularity.
Having tested both the Chevy Volt and Prius Plug-in during the past couple years, habits develop quickly. For example, as soon as the car pulls into the home garage, it gets plugged in. Even if only for a couple hours, enough electric-only range can be accumulated for short jaunts. Of the three, Fusion has the most luxury appointments and the greatest comfort level.
2014 Fusion Energi
Gas Engine: 2.0-liter, Inline four
Gas Engine Horsepower: 141
Battery Pack: Lithium Ion
Combined horsepower: 195
Hybrid-only fuel economy: 43 mpg
Electric only range: Up to 21 miles
Length: 191.8 inches
Width: 75.2 inches
Height: 58 inches
Gas tank capacity: 14.0 gallons
Battery warranty: Eight years/100,000 miles
Powertrain warranty: Five years, 60,000 miles
Assembly: Hermosillo, Mexico