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Aug092018

2018 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi: A Dying Breed

By Ted Orme

This review can serve as a eulogy for a dying breed: the great American sedan, at least Ford sedans. In the face of an unrelenting onslaught of crossovers and SUVs, Ford announced in April that it plans to stop selling all Ford brand sedans in North America. First to go will be the full-sized Taurus and subcompact Fiesta next spring, followed by the Fusion sedan by 2021.

The Fusion nameplate will reportedly live on as (what else?) a high-roof hatchback crossover based on the same chassis and aimed at going head-to-head with the Subaru Outback. It’s not hard to see why. A look at plummeting Fusion sedan sales tells the story – from 306,860 in 2014 to 209,623 in 2017, according to Automotive News.

So why review a model that has already heard its death knell? Well, for a couple of reasons. First, it is a damn decent car that I like; and, second, time is running out to own one.

Granted, I’m in the geezer stage of life, where comfort and civility hold higher priorities and the Fusion is a good fit. I’m also a cheapskate who really likes the gas-saving benefits of a plug-in hybrid. In this case the first 21 miles in electric-only mode. Yes, there are several plug-in hybrids that do better than that but they don’t offer the comfort and safety of the Fusion Energi.

Teamed with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission, the Energi makes 195 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough to power this midsize, 5-passenger, nearly two-ton sedan in a safe and civilized (if not inspiring) fashion through most driving situations.

If you need more go, the Fusion line offers multiple powertrain offerings, including a 245- horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines and a 325- horsepower 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6 – all coupled with six-speed automatics.

But the payoff for the Energi, in addition to the first nearly free 21 miles on electric-only, is a combined EPA rating (which I matched) of 42 mpg (43/41/42) gasoline only, 97 mpge (104/91/97) electric and gasoline, and a range of 616 miles. With a feathery foot, you can easily go from Washington to New York City and back and still end up a quarter-tank of gas.

And you can do it in comfort and style. With the front and rear revised and standard LED exterior lighting added in 2017, the Fusion Energi is, for my money, a handsome car. And tricked out in the top-of-line Platinum trim level, it includes almost all the options available for the Fusion Energi SE Luxury and Titanium models as standard.

And it’s quite a list: everything from posh quilted leather upholstery and heated and ventilated front seats that are exceptionally comfortable to an upgraded 12-speaker Sony audio system and an improved, easier-to-use (than the old MyFord Touch system) Sync 3 interface with an 8-inch touchscreen and twin 4.2-inch configurable screens in the instrument cluster. There’s also a full suite of the latest high-tech safety aids as well as excellent crash test numbers. Throw in a sunroof, ambient interior lighting, voice-activated navigation system, to mention just a few lux features, and, as Car and Driver Magazine noted, “With a car like this, who needs a Lincoln?”

Which is why the full-boat, $41,305 price of the Platinum Energi doesn’t seem excessive.  My test car added $1,515 in options (tri-coat paint, 18-inch wheels and inflatable rear seatbelts) plus $875 delivery for a total of $41,695 (after a $2,000 “Fusion Energi discount). But what you’re buying is a tech-laden, luxurious sedan that can match up with mid-size competitors at far higher prices.

And it’s fun to drive…in a different sort of way. After a healthy session with the owner’s manual and a few trips to help you settle in with the slightly weird rotary shifter and other hybrid features, you’re ready to become a bonified hyper-miler. I was fascinated and entertained by the animated “efficiency leaves” growing on the right instrument cluster. The more leaves you can grow, the higher your mpg.

But you have choices. The EV Mode button makes it possible to toggle among three distinct settings: EV Now for all-electric operation, EV Auto lets the computer make efficiency decisions, and EV Later that saves the battery for use in optimal conditions like stop-and-go traffic.

Using mostly EV Auto mode, I was a surprised by how smooth and “normal” the Energi operated. As expected, performance is somewhat sluggish in all-electric mode, but in normal driving I could barely tell when switching from all-electric to gas-electric power. The automatic stop/start system was also nearly flawless.

I’m not a big fan of continuously variable transmission, and would have preferred the six-speed automatics in the rest of the Fusion line, but the more efficient CVT in the Energi felt right. Give it some right foot and revs build quickly enough to pass safely or roar down interstates. The Energi's brakes, as well as most regenerative brakes in hybrids, have come in for criticism for their spongy feel and herky-jerky grab. But I got used to the pedal's feel and did not find it a problem. And in a real life emergency situation, the brakes worked fine and saved some crunched sheetmetal.

Pleasurably quiet and smooth riding, the Fusion Energi also handles well for a midsize sedan. The only drawback I could find was a full third less truck space in order to house the battery pack. But once you adapt to the quirks and limitations of green technology, it quickly wins you over.

But I must confess I am part of the reason for the Fusion sedan’s demise. A few years back I joined the growing ranks of those opting for a compact crossover, which fits my needs to a T. But maybe I can ease the guilt a little by hardily recommending the Energi!

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