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car review

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford wants to beat Toyota where it counts most – beat the big Japanese auto maker like a dusty rug on the back fence. Ford wants to pound the "green" out of Toyota and is going to great lengths to tell us exactly how.

There's nothing like a good dust-up between two hungry fighters and, when both are multi-billion-dollar car companies intent on winning a global brawl, well, fire up the popcorn maker and sit back to watch the haymakers. Slowly but steadily, with the patience of Job, the perseverance of Sisyphus and the killer instinct of Muhammad Ali in his prime, Ford is punching away at Toyota, intent on knocking Toyota from its perch as the car company most commonly associated with industry-leading fuel economy.

Don't believe me, though; believe Ford: "EPA: New Ford Fusion Energi Delivers 620-Mile Range, 21 in EV Mode; Beats Honda Accord, Toyota Prius PHEVs," screams the headline atop the Ford press release touting Ford's most fuel-efficient sedan. And it goes on: "Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid delivers up to 21 miles in electric-only mode – nearly triple the electric-only range of the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid and double the Honda Accord plug-in hybrid."

Or this: The Fusion Energi, with EPA-rated fuel economy figures of 108 MPGe city, 92 MPGe highway and 100 MPGe combined, the Energi is "up to 5 MPGe greater than Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid." If you're a U.S. buyer, you might save as much as "$6,850 in fuel costs compared with an average new car over the course of five years." Yeah, and as Ford triumphantly points out, "J.D. Power says Ford now beats Toyota for leading fuel efficiency in every segment where both compete."

Like everyone else in the car business, Ford knows that Toyota's astonishing success with the Prius hybrid has given the world's No. 1 auto maker a "green" glow that keeps pushing Toyota up the sales charts. So, if Ford can top Toyota on fuel economy, consumers should see Ford as the new Emperor of the Environment in the car game.

Thus, the 2013 Ford Fusion is stunningly important. This is the first truly all-new model to arrive as a result of the One Ford product plan, but only auto industry geeks and hungry investors care about that insider stuff. What matters in showrooms is that Ford can now offer the Fusion with gasoline, hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. And you can get the Fusion with all-wheel-drive, with prices starting at $22,499 for the cheapest gas car (2.5-litre four-cylinder engine), $35,499 for the Hybrid and $38,899 for the Energi plug-in hybrid.

"We brought our global teams together around a blank slate with the charge to develop a mid-size car with groundbreaking design and jaw-dropping fuel economy – one that featured technologies to help make our customers safer and better drivers. This car is the result," Ford's recently retired product czar Derrick Kuzak said about the Fusion lineup.

Soft-spoken, Kuzak carried a big stick. And he used it to beat the "green" message into his product team. In an age marked by volatile markets and a squeezed middle class, consumers are both worried about global warming and fearful for their economic future. Saving money at the pump helps the planet and saves the budget.

Now, not only are there the hybrid Fusions, you also have the choice of a pair of EcoBoost four-cylinder engines, a normally aspirated four-cylinder engine, an automatic start-stop system, front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive and a choice between automatic and manually shifted six-speed transmissions.

If you don't choose to pony up the big money for a battery-powered Fusion, the version with the 1.6-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder is the best choice. To get it, you'll need to move up to the SE version of the Fusion ($24,499) and then throw another $900 into the pot for the optional EcoBoost engine (173 hp/184 lb-ft of torque) which is rated 9.2 litres/100 km city/5.8 highway. It's worth it.

Your better "green" choice is the Fusion Hybrid with its all-new lithium-ion batteries. This Fusion is rated at a combined 188 hp and Ford boasts fuel economy of 4.0 litres/100 km in the city, 4.1 on the highway. Exceptional for a big four-door that weighs 1,640 kg and can do 100 km/h under electric-only power.

Camry Hybrid? A combined 200 hp and fuel economy at 4.5 city/4.9 highway. Ah, but you can get the starter version at $27,710. Yes, Toyota has a huge pricing advantage over the least-expensive Fusion Hybrid. That's a problem for Ford. The Fusion Hybrid has best-in-class fuel economy, but you pay for it.

You're also buying what I'd argue is the smoothest hybrid out there among mainstream models. The transitions between gas and electric are indistinguishable.

The Fusion is the most handsome family car you can buy. This is a smashing design. You can also get a Fusion with a stunning array of electronic goodies, including voice-activated controls, adaptive cruise control and a Lane Keeping System that alerts the driver it senses is growing drowsy or driving erratically.

Take that, Toyota.

Tech specs

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Type: Mid-size hybrid sedan

Price: $35,499 (freight $1,550)

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 141 ho/129 lb-ft

Electric motor/lithium ion battery pack: 118 hp/117 lb-ft

Hybrid net power: 188 hp

Transmission: Two-speed CVT

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 4.0 city/4.1 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Kia Optima Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

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