Aesthetics may be subjective, but I believe the 2013 Ford Fusion is the best-looking midsize sedan of the current crop. Despite its trout-mouth grille, the Fusion exudes premium-car style. The only other midsize sedan that comes close in looks is the new Honda Accord.
But a midsize sedan must do more than look pretty. This class of car tends to be a multipurpose vehicle for a majority of Americans, a comfortable car for the daily commute that can also take the family to the relatives' on holidays. It is the weekend errand runner and road-trip vacationer.
The Fusion, with its spacious, comfortable cabin, fills all these roles very well. Ford offers the vehicle with a number of engines to suit different needs. The 2013 Fusion Hybrid, which I reviewed, looks like the best of the bunch with its 47 mpg EPA rating for city or highway.
However, it fell substantially short of that fuel economy in my testing. Further detracting from its practicality is a loss of 4 cubic feet in the trunk due to the lithium ion battery pack. The 12 cubic feet remaining is still a substantial amount, but might require smarter packing for a family of four on vacation.
What stood out when I reviewed the Ford Fusion EcoBoost last year was how the various driver assistance features give a preview of autonomous car technology. The Fusion Hybrid that Ford sent us came similarly equipped, including adaptive cruise control, automatic parallel parking, and lane departure prevention.
I made heavy use of adaptive cruise control, setting out on long freeway cruises in moderate to heavy traffic. With the car's speed set at slightly over the limit to keep up with the flow of traffic, the adaptive cruise control used its radar to match the speeds of slower traffic up ahead. For 100 miles, I did not touch the brake or gas pedals except in tricky freeway junctions or when other drivers cut in too close.
And in that latter circumstance, the Fusion Hybrid might have handled everything just fine if I hadn't given in to fear and hit the brakes.
The system seemed programmed to drop acceleration when something interrupted its radar fix, such as another car cutting in front. It took a short moment to reestablish its fix on the car in front, after which it dropped back to whatever following distance I had set.
Using the adaptive cruise control was not proof against the collision-warning system coming on. If cars suddenly began stopping on the freeway ahead, the Fusion Hybrid flashed a red light on the windshield, a good suggestion to take over control and get on the brakes.
Lane departure prevention is another proto-autonomous technology, this one using a forward-looking camera to recognize lane line markings. Drift over the lane line, and it steers itself back into the lane.
Testing this feature on a rural highway, I let the car drift over to the shoulder. At the lane line it steered itself back to the left, and I waited to see if it would hit the center line and nudge itself right.
Instead, the car lit up a message telling me to keep my hands on the wheel. Smart car.
Another couple of miles down the road, it brought up a message suggesting I pull over for a cup of coffee. I figured that next it would suggest I try a driver training program.
The Fusion Hybrid's electric power-steering system makes this feature possible, and also enables automatic parallel parking. Unlike older hydraulic power-steering systems, electric power steering not only makes it easy to turn the wheel, it can also steer the car itself.
To use the automatic parallel parking, I pushed a button on the console, then drove the congested streets around my San Francisco home. Whenever the Fusion Hybrid's sensors noticed a gap big enough for it at the curb on the right side, it sounded a tone. As it couldn't distinguish a driveway from a curb, I had to visually confirm a legal spot.
When it found a good one, I pulled forward until the car told me to stop, then put it in reverse and took my hands off the wheel. It did an amazing job each time I tried it, perfectly steering into the spot without touching the curb. I could do it that well maybe 85 percent of the time, but I would rather let the car get it right all the time.
As a hybrid car, the Fusion Hybrid employs a gas engine and electric motor, either of which can drive the front wheels. This drive system is the same as in the Ford C-Max Hybrid. The 2-liter engine makes 141 horsepower and 129 pound-feet of torque, while the electric motor is rated at 118 horsepower and 117 pound-feet of torque.
An electronic continuously variable transmission combines the output of engine and motor for total system horsepower rated at 188.
The Fusion Hybrid is not a fast car, something I found out once I stopped trying to hypermile the thing. The display next to its speedometer kept showing me fascinating information about how the hybrid system was operating, encouraging me to drive gently and maximize electric motor use. A braking coach even rewarded me by reporting a percentage of how much energy I recovered when I brought the car to a stop.
The Fusion Hybrid handles the transition from electric motor to gas engine very smoothly. The engine added a little sound and vibration to the silent running of the electric motor at low speeds, but at anything above 40 mph the beginning of the engine's combustion became lost in the general cacophony of wind and road. Not to say there was any excess cabin noise; the Fusion Hybrid offered a comfortable and relatively quiet interior.
On the highway, I found it very pleasing to see the displays indicating the car running under electric power.