Want proof that great styling sells cars? Look no further than the 2013 Ford Fusion Energi, and the Fusion Hybrid upon which it is based. According to Ford, buyers cite design as a key reason for choosing the Fusion Hybrid, and this model is attracting the youngest buyers in the midsize sedan segment. In major California cities, more than 70 percent of Fusion Hybrid buyers are new to the Ford brand. Dealers are taking in a wide variety of models as trade-ins, including luxury vehicles. These trends support the notion that getting the engineering, interior or technology right is only part of the equation for success.

Now Ford is rolling out the Ford Fusion Energi, a plug-in hybrid version of the standard Fusion Hybrid. Plug-in hybrid cars are proliferating, and the new 2013 Ford Fusion Energi is one of the latest versions of the breed to go on sale, combining full electric vehicle (EV) operation with a traditional gas-electric powertrain.

How a Plug-in Hybrid Works

Plug-in hybrid vehicles get a larger battery than standard hybrids -- one capable of storing enough energy to provide the car with a limited pure-electric driving range for commuting in cities or running errands. When the battery reaches a minimum state of charge, the gasoline engine kicks in and the car works just like a normal hybrid car. The result is a vehicle that can be used as an EV for short distances, and one that eliminates "range anxiety" -- the feeling of panic sometimes associated with pure electric vehicles as they approach the end of their range of travel.

To learn more about the new 2013 Fusion Energi, we traveled to the west side of Los Angeles to meet with Ford representatives and get a small taste of what it's like to drive the Fusion Energi on city streets.

What's Under the Hood

Take one 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid, swap in a larger 7.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack to replace the 1.4-kWh battery, install a charge port on the left front fender of the car and you've got the new Ford Fusion Energi. Like the Fusion Hybrid, the Fusion Energi uses a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine, an 88-kW electric motor and an electronic continuously variable transmission (e-CVT). Total system horsepower rises with the Fusion Energi, from 188 to 195.

Real World Driving Range and Flexibility

According to Ford, the new Fusion Energi delivers a claimed maximum EV range of 20 miles and an estimated 550 miles of total vehicle range. Top speed in EV mode is 85 mph, and the car is rated to get 88 mpge in combined driving.

During our brief drive from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica and back, our test sample delivered 94.4 mpge. Keep in mind, though, that this reflects a couple of maximum acceleration tests, combined with no attempt to drive as efficiently as possible. Instead, we kept up with the flow of traffic, and often led the parade from traffic light to traffic light. Indeed, the SmartGauge with EcoGuide display contained few of its signature green leaves upon returning the keys to Ford -- more a reflection of how the car was driven than any fault in the Fusion Energi's powertrain.

With the Fusion Energi, the driver selects between three powertrain control modes by pressing the EV button on the center console, cycling through a menu on the car's left SmartGauge. The driver can choose to operate the vehicle in pure electric mode, in traditional gas-electric hybrid mode or with only the gasoline engine to conserve battery power for use at a more appropriate time.

This design gives Ford a globally viable vehicle that can access restricted driving zones inside major cities in Europe while giving Americans the option of saving EV operation for local errands, city driving or congested traffic. Similarly, if the Fusion Energi is taken on a road trip, the driver can operate the car using only its 141-hp gasoline engine, which supplies plenty of oomph to maintain a steady rate of speed on level ground. To further conserve fuel, an Eco Cruise Control system relaxes the rate at which the Fusion Energi resumes a set speed compared to a standard cruise control system.

How to Charge a Ford Fusion Energi

Every Fusion Energi has a power cord compatible with a standard household outlet, and Ford says the car recharges in seven hours. Install the 240-volt quick-charge upgrade and a full battery pack is yours in just two and a half hours. The automaker estimates it costs less than $1 to fully recharge the Fusion Energi, based on average energy costs nationwide.

Owners can determine the car's state of charge by looking at the translucent charging ring surrounding the charge port on the left front fender, which is divided into quadrants to provide a visual estimate of EV range. This ring illuminates when the car is being charged, when the driver unlocks the car using the remote keyless entry fob or just after the driver's door is closed.

Alternatively, Fusion Energi owners can remotely check battery-charge level via the standard MyFord Mobile app, which includes a free subscription for the first five years of ownership. Using a smartphone, tablet or computer, the Fusion Energi's owner can check charging status and vehicle range, schedule charging times for when utility rates are lowest, find the nearest charging station and most efficient route and receive estimates on savings in fuel costs and carbon-dioxide emissions. Additionally, owners can use the MyFord Mobile app to find the car in a crowded parking lot, pre-condition the vehicle with heat or air conditioning while it is still connected to the electrical grid and remotely lock or unlock the car's doors.

Driving Impressions

We'll be honest: Our drive in the new Fusion Energi lasted all of 20 miles, half of them spent as a passenger, with a route limited to city driving except for a brief 60-mph fling on the Pacific Coast Highway. Yet, since the Fusion Energi is at its best in traffic, and because it takes forever to get anywhere in LA, this proved a great opportunity to drive the car in its natural habitat.

Getting into our Fusion Energi SE test vehicle (seen in the photos and painted a color called Ice Storm), the SmartGauge with EcoGuide indicated 17 miles of EV range. That turned out to be optimistic, as the system ultimately delivered about 15 miles of electric-only operation before it switched over to gas-electric hybrid propulsion.

With 3,913 pounds of weight to motivate, the Fusion Energi isn't going to win any drag races. Not that you'll be drag racing; you bought a plug-in hybrid, after all. Rather, the observation relates to the car's ability to merge with higher-speed traffic. On two occasions we needed full powertrain thrust, and like any EV or gas-electric hybrid, the Fusion Energi felt strong right off the line. However, the car's nearly 2-ton curb weight, combined with a torque curve that falls as revs climb, ultimately results in average acceleration when getting up to highway speeds. Based on our brief test drive, Fusion Energi owners are going to want some extra runway when driving outside the city.

As may be expected of an electric vehicle, the Fusion Energi is silent and refined, thanks to Ford's excellent electric steering. Even better is the Fusion Energi's refined regenerative braking system, which feels completely natural instead of inconsistent, grabby or unresponsive -- traits common in such systems. A Brake Coach feature is standard, and designed to encourage more efficient driving and extend the car's range. A screen in the SmartGauge display shows the percentage of potential brake energy recaptured with each stop.

Suspension tuning is terrific for city driving, the car feeling relaxed and composed yet taut and athletic at the same time. We couldn't discern the added 250 pounds of battery weight during our brief drive in heavy afternoon LA traffic, and the Fusion Energi's 17-inch 225/50 low-rolling-resistance tires weren't a liability when taking city corners.

Equipped with Sync connectivity, SmartGauge with EcoGuide and MyFord Touch, a Fusion Energi's various screens, menus and settings are daunting at first, but owners can program certain displays to specific preferences, and owners become acclimated to the technologies in short order. We're happy to report that the next-generation version of MyFord Touch is easier to use than previous iterations.

Like other Fusion models, the Fusion Energi is comfortable for the driver. Our test car provided a power adjustable driver's seat and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel. The front passenger's seat lacks height adjustment, so the passenger is, in effect, sitting low and close to the floor, which restricts outward visibility for smaller adults and makes it harder to exit the vehicle for larger and older people.

The installation of a larger battery pack does not affect the Fusion Energi's rear seat. However, the trunk is affected, shrinking from 12 cu ft to 8.2 cu ft, compared to a standard Fusion Hybrid's trunk. The model still retains its 60/40-split folding rear seat, allowing it to carry longer items with ease.

How to Buy a Ford Fusion Energi

If you're interested in buying a new 2013 Fusion Energi, the car is offered in SE ($39,495) and Titanium ($40,895) trim levels. Both prices include a destination charge of $795. Add every option and a Fusion Energi Titanium wears a sticker price of $46,410.

To help reduce the price, the Fusion Energi qualifies for a $3,750 federal income tax credit, and Ford has launched the car with a $1,500 rebate. That brings the Energi SE model down to $34,245 before any state, local or employer incentives. In California, the Fusion Energi puts another $2,500 in the buyer's pocket and is eligible for carpool lane access, dropping the price tag to $31,745 and reducing the car owner's commuting time.

Ford is also offering a low lease payment for the Fusion Energi. In California, where this model is expected to prove popular, customers can lease the Energi SE for $355 per month with $3,950 due at lease signing. Just make sure you're not planning to drive more than 10,500 miles annually.

Converting Interest Into Sales

Consumer interest in hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles waxes and wanes with fluctuations in gas prices. As this article is written, gas is not that expensive, given recent history. However, there appeared to be plenty of interest in our Ice Storm Fusion Energi. Then again, the car's styling was likely responsible for attracting eyeballs on the streets of West LA. Now all Ford needs to do is to convert the Fusion Energi's visual appeal into sales. Thanks to the car's good looks and price-reducing incentives and rebates, that shouldn't be too hard.

author photo

Christian Wardlaw is passionate about the cars, trucks, and SUVs people actually buy, not the models about which they fantasize. An industry veteran and former editor-in-chief of Edmunds.com, this father of 4 loves to inform and entertain everyday car buyers.

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