For The Associated Press
(AP) – Who says that fuel-thrifty gasoline-electric hybrid cars have to be snub-nosed, rounded and ho-hum to look at?
Not designers at Ford Motor Co., whose 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid is arguably the prettiest hybrid car in the U.S. market.
Most people won’t recognize this new, curvaceous model as a relative of last year’s Ford Fusion. Some sports car enthusiasts thought the test 2013 Fusion Hybrid had styling cues from an Aston Martin luxury sedan.
Better yet, the extensively-revised-for-2013 Fusion Hybrid is quiet inside and larger than its predecessor, has European handling and is rated at 47 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving by the federal government.
This rating makes the five-seat, 2013 Fusion Hybrid second only to the long-running, mid-size, five-seat Toyota Prius hatchback in fuel efficiency in the U.S. market. The 2012 Prius is rated at a combined 50 mpg by the U.S. government. No 2013 Prius rating is posted yet.
Just as notable is the 2013 Fusion Hybrid’s starting retail price of $27,995. This includes the latest technology lithium-ion battery that stores electricity that’s generated while the car travels.
The price for the new car is $1,575 less than the starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $29,570 for last year’s Fusion Hybrid with last year’s styling and older, nickel-metal hydride battery.
And, not to be missed, Ford offers a slew of standard and optional safety equipment on the new Fusion Hybrid.
There are eight standard air bags, including two knee air bags for the two front-seat passengers to keep them from “submarining” from their seats during a frontal crash. Optional safety items include a new warning system to alert a driver that an impending frontal collision is possible and attention needs to be directed to a vehicle ahead.
Say a truck just ahead slows, but the Fusion Hybrid driver’s foot remains on the gas pedal without change of pressure. The warning system flashes bright red lights onto the driver-side windshield and makes an audible warning sound.
Competitors to the new Fusion Hybrid obviously include the Prius, which has been the top-selling hybrid in the United States. The 2012 Prius has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $24,795. No 2013 Prius pricing has been released.
Toyota’s Camry Hybrid has a retail starting price of $26,785 as a 2012 model. This is $1,210 less than the stylish 2013 Fusion Hybrid. The five-seat, mid-size Camry Hybrid is rated at a combined 41 mpg.
Meantime, another stylish gas-electric hybrid _ the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid _ starts at $26,626, or $1,370 less than the new Fusion Hybrid.
The 2013 Fusion Hybrid is one of three Fusion offerings.
One is a plug-in model that’s due later this model year, and the other is a gasoline model that provides a choice of three, four-cylinder engines: A naturally aspirated four cylinder and two turbocharged four cylinders. For 2013, there is no V-6.
All the new Fusions have a new front-wheel drive platform that’s a reworked platform from the European Ford Mondeo sedan.
The test car won high marks for its looks, and people didn’t stop with compliments about the exterior.
The interior, too, seemed upscale, with a high-quality look to the plastics and tester’s comfortable seats that felt neither too firm nor cushy.
Note the dashboard sits higher than those in a Camry or Honda Accord, though.
The Fusion Hybrid’s electronic aids take some getting used to, and yes, the new hybrid can be had with the often-criticized MyFord Touch system that puts audio, ventilation and navigation controls on a display in the middle of the dashboard.
But the buttons there don’t provide any tactile feedback, so drivers also can use some steering wheel buttons that are redundant for the radio or use voice control, if they learn the proper commands.
The Fusion Hybrid is an easy traveler, with decent spirit in most driving situations. The combined engine-electric system delivers 188 horsepower but it feels like more.
Sadly, the real-world fuel mileage was just 26.9 mpg with much pedal-to-the-metal driving.
Most impressive in the test car was the seamless way the engine and electric power worked together.
Already a quiet car, the Fusion Hybrid became super quiet when the electric power was on by itself, powering the car. The only annoyance was a slight high-pitch whine from the electric motor.
This hybrid car also conserves fuel by shutting down the engine at stoplights and other situations. There was no hesitancy or feeling that the car was going to stall when the engine started back up on its own.
Power comes from the same 2-liter, double overhead cam, inline four cylinder with Atkinson cycle engine that’s in the new, fuel-efficient Ford C-Max.The engine is mated to an 88-kilowatt electric motor and battery pack _ all of which automatically deliver and store power as needed. The driver doesn’t do anything but drive.
As a bonus, Ford includes the same “brake coach” that’s in the C-Max to give drivers feedback on whether their brake application is collecting and retaining as much regenerative power as possible.
A small display in the instrument panel tells instantly how much braking energy was recouped in a just-finished stop. .
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)