Nov. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Driving through New Jersey in the days following Hurricane Sandy, I gaped at gas lines not seen in the U.S. since the 1970s.
I was in a German sports car that sucked down gas by the keg, so I kept the pressure on the gas pedal light. How I wished for the super-efficient car I’d driven weeks before, in Michigan. Not a Toyota Prius or an all-electric Nissan Leaf, but a $28,000 Ford.
The new Ford Fusion Hybrid gets 47 miles per gallon, both in the city and on the highway. With that kind of economy and its 13.5-gallon fuel tank, I could have whooshed between my homes in New York and Pennsylvania seven times without worrying about stopping at a gas station overseen by the National Guard.
The hybrid is one of several powertrains offered in the brand-new Fusion. The low-end model starts at only $22,500, with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that gets 34 mpg highway. There are also two turbo-charged engines available, with 1.6 liters or 2.0 liters, that have more pep and still get up to 37 and 33 mpg.
A plug-in hybrid will also be available down the line. Perhaps Ford is doing penance for all the over-sized SUVs foisted upon us in the 1990s and 2000s, because they’re taking efficiency seriously.
Ford’s ambition is for the Fusion to become as wildly popular as the Taurus once was. After all, it’s a mid-size sedan with a mid-size price and great gas mileage. (Ford still offers the Taurus, but it hasn’t been a big seller for years.)
Completely revamped inside and out, the Fusion takes on the other middle-class stalwarts in the field, like the Toyota Corolla (which is as beige as a car that you’ll likely to find), the redesigned Honda Accord and the Nissan Altima.
Too often mid-size cars are studies in bland design. The Fusion neatly avoids this foible by grafting on the front end of an Aston Martin.
No, really. Take a look at the flat-faced, oval grill laced with horizontal lines, and note the uncanny resemblance to models found on Aston Martins, a high-end brand that Ford once owned.
Would Mr. Skyfall himself be found driving it? Not terribly likely, as the novelty of the front end only goes so far. The Fusion looks sturdy, but it lacks overall harmony or any real sexiness. You really can’t hope for supercar proportions from a one-size-fits-all sedan.
Park it next to the Accord and Altima, and you’ll find that their shapes and dimensions are awfully alike. I don’t envy the guy who buys any one of the models in silver paint, and then forgets where he parked it at the shopping mall during Christmas.
The similarities are due, in large part, to regulations, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Europe, for instance, has pedestrian impact regulations that require hoods to be a certain height and a crumple zone between the top of the engine and the hood. You can no longer get away with the kind of low hoods or rakish fins once found on cars of the 1950s and 1960s.
And buyers want rear seats that are comfortable and an ample trunk. It’s no wonder that the result is a glut of mid-size cars that would look depressingly similar if you took away the different grills, the brightwork and the badges.
My Fusion Hybrid had options including navigation, adaptive cruise control and active parking assist, so it came to $34,770. I drove over three days around Michigan, starting at an early hour. It was very dark and quite chilly and the roads were empty.
Once the heater kicked on and the car warmed, so too did I to the hybrid system. I’m generally lukewarm on hybrids. Tricks with gas engines like direct fuel injection and turbo-charging have offset the gas mileage perks of a hybrid, which has to carry a load of heavy batteries. Hybrids are best around town.
The Fusion cruised capably on the highway, however, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine spinning merrily in the background. The electric motors added more juice on demand, for a total of 188 horsepower, and I had no issues powering past other cars.
The continuous variable transmission is exceptionally well-mated to the powertrain, and all the systems work quietly and without vibration. The car drives really nicely, and isn’t too loud, even on hills.
The top-of-the-line Fusion with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine has 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. That would have been nice, but I might have had to stop for gas -- something I never even had to consider over 400 miles of driving the hybrid.
I didn’t, however, actually see 47 mpg. With my typically leaden foot, I averaged 36.9 mpg. No worries, I have only myself to blame.
The 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid at a Glance
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a 35kW electric motor
with a combined 188 horsepower.
Transmission: Continuous variable.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in about nine seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 47 city, 47 highway.
Price as tested: $34,770.
Best feature: That gas mileage!
Worst feature: Ford’s infotainment system is still clunky.
Target buyer: The driver who wants to avoid those gas
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Today’s Muse highlights include: Rich Jaroslovsky on technology and Lance Esplund on art.
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.
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