Ford is making a dedicated effort to make hybrids appealing and affordable for people who genuinely like cars and enjoy driving.
The 2014 Ford Fusion Energi proves that. For car lovers, the problem with many hybrid cars isn’t that they’re hybrids. There’s nothing in the gearhead manual that fossil fuels must be used to power a vehicle. The problem with a lot of hybrids is that they are ugly tin boxes deliberately styled to attract drivers who not only know nothing about cars but who actively hate them.
In other words, the more popular hybrids were built deliberately to look enough to knock a buzzard off the crap wagon. They creep off assembly lines as dull as a soccer exhibition to appeal to people who hate cars and resent having to own one.
The automakers behind the plan essentially made a rain forest of money by building statements car for non-drivers. I once described the dedicated hybrid owner as a car hater. They don’t like the internal combustion engine. They have no appreciation for performance. They don’t find cars visually or sensually compelling. They’re more turned on by yoga-themed haiku, reclaimed hemp underpants and arugula flavored snacks.
To prove my hypothesis, I always point to the failed hybrid designs from Honda. Their old models looked identical to their pure gasoline cars. They flat-out bombed. Those hybrids didn’t sell well because green car lovers don’t want want a cleaner, more fuel efficient – and more expensive – car unless they can constantly announce to the world that they drive a a cleaner, more fuel efficient car. There’s no point in “saving the planet” if you can’t call attention to your heroic deeds by suffering behind the wheel of a wheeled toaster.
It’s great that hybrids reduce emissions and increase mpg. Still, hybrids need to look like cars. They need to drive like cars. They need to be built with the same quality and comfort of their gasoline or diesel powered sisters.
If you can get your hands on a 2014 Ford Fusion Energi, you’ll see how that can all come together.
Ford recently handed me a Fusion Energi with a simple test of its driving ability and fuel efficiency: Drive the 2014 Ford Fusion Energi Hybrid down the great American road of Route 66 from the St. Louis to Tulsa in two days on one tank of gas. The only replenishing the Fusion would receive was a full electric recharge from Ford overnight after the first day.
Of course, along the way, I was invited to take in all of the budget American glory of Route 66. While the miles rolled by, I visited the Meramec Caverns in Missouri – a hideout for Jesse James. The outlaw used the 4.6 mile deep limestone caves to escape a posse during the height of his crimes.
As the dual carriageway miles ticked away, the Fusion Energi unpacked Ford’s hybrid party piece. The automaker’s EV+ feature allows vehicles to track and follow a driver’s destination. In other words, a route selected for the satellite navigation – or a frequently traveled spot like your home or work – can be monitored by the car. Once a route is selected, EV+ then monitors its charge level and gasoline supply – changing the way power is used in the vehicle to provide the best possible fuel economy. In other words, the car learns where you’re going and rations gas and electricity to get your there the lest expensive and most efficient way.
Since the car knew how much juice it needed, I didn’t have much else to do than drive to hit The World’s Largest Gift Shop and World’s Largest Candy Store in Phillipsberg, Missouri. I can’t confirm if both spots really could legally claim their alleged super-sized status, but this is still a car review – not Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
I headed toward Cuba, Missouri, home of The Fanning U.S. 66 Outpost and The World’s Largest Rocking Chair. Rising 42 feet above a quiet offshoot of Route 66. Then, a stop in Catoosa, Oklahoma unveiled a big Blue Whale hiding in a little fishing pond.
Along the way, the Fusion Energi was ruining all of the suspense of Ford’s stated test. As I closed in on Tulsa, it was clear the car would make the run with a couple hours to spare and about 100 miles of total range left in its tank. That more than 400 miles on one tank of gas. Mission accomplished.
Between taking in concrete totem poles and haunted theaters, I got to know an affordable ($38,891) American built hybrid sedan that drove entirely like a car – with adequate power, a comfortable ride and sporting the same styling as the standard Fusion.
If Ford and its rivals keep making hybrids like the Fusion Energi, I might just come on board with all of this eco fuss.
No, I won’t, actually. But this is a good car.