The plug-in hybrid movement seems to be gaining momentum, with new models coming on line every few months. Sitting halfway between regular hybrids and all electric cars, a plug-in hybrid offers a limited amount of gas-free driving, usually around 10-30 miles, depending on the model. After the batteries are drained, the car switches over to its gas-electric powertrain and drives just like any other hybrid, avoiding the dreaded range anxiety triggered by electric only cars.
Ford is the latest manufacturer to throw its hat into the plug-in ring, offering eco-conscious and gas-minded buyers the C-Max and Fusion Energi models. By adding a much larger lithium ion battery pack, each car can travel up to 21 miles on a fully charged battery before having to resort to its gas engine.
We recently had the opportunity to sample the Fusion Energi on a rainy afternoon in San Francisco. A brief 30 minute loop around the financial district proved that the Fusion Energi drives like the stylish and competent mid-sized sedan on which it is based, just without any engine noise. The steep San Francisco hills were the perfect place to showcase the benefits of an electric motor and its ample torque, especially when accelerating smoothly from a stop on a 20 percent incline.
The Fusion Energi gives the driver control over how to use these precious electric miles by offering three different driving modes. Put it in EV mode and the car will stay electric until the battery is drained. Auto mode lets the car figure things out, based on the conditions, while battery-saving mode preserves the battery for later use, such as urban stop and go traffic.
Drive frugally and the Fusion Energi can deliver up to 100 eMPG, according to EPA estimates. Given that it should only cost a couple of quarters to fill up the battery at off-peak hours, those first 21 miles of electric cruising are definitely easy on the wallet. Charging the battery takes about 2.5 hours with a 240 volt charger, and 110 volt charging is also possible, but will take quite a bit longer. After the battery is drained, the gas-electric powertrain should still deliver over 40 mpg.
To help coach the driver to maximize efficiency, Ford has developed its Smart Gauge display with Ecoguide. Every time you come to a complete stop, the screen gives you a braking score to let you know how well you are using the regeneration capacity. Scores for acceleration and coasting are also shown using a set of bar graphs. The urban traffic made it tough to maximize the acceleration and braking scores, but it was fun trying to keep the bars as high as possible.
Ford has also created a smart phone app to help manage this more complex technology. The MyFord Mobile app allows owners to perform key tasks remotely, such as monitoring the vehicle’s state of charge, or locating charge stations.
Even after only a brief test drive, the Fusion Energi comes across as a very well executed product that should appeal to buyers with shorter commutes. About the only sticking point is price, which starts at $38,700 for the Fusion Energi SE. A fully-loaded Energi Titanium trim is also available for $40,100. Given that a regular Fusion Hybrid Titanium costs around $32,000, that’s a lot of extra cash for a relatively short electric range, and would take quite a few years to pay back.
Luckily, the government is still kicking in some incentives for electric cars, including a $3,750 federal tax credit. California residents get a $1500 tax rebate, and the Fusion Energi is eligible for HOV access, a real perk given the heavily congested freeways here in the Golden State. Factor these incentives in, and the Fusion Energi even starts to look like a decent value.