If you're interested in a new plug-in hybrid, it's likely that you've run across the 2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium during your car search. If not, allow us to explain: The Fusion Energi is a plug-in hybrid version of Ford's highly popular Fusion midsize sedan. It's different from the standard Fusion Hybrid, as it offers drivers the ability to run solely on electric power for an Environmental Protection Agency-rated 21 miles before a gasoline engine kicks in. We spent a week behind the wheel of the Fusion Energi Titanium to see how well it measures up to its fuel-efficient rivals.

Trunk Space Woes

If you're looking for a plug-in hybrid that's indistinguishable from a typical car (except, of course, for the money it saves you at the pump), then we'd recommend against the Fusion Energi for one major reason: trunk space. Yes, it's that bad.

The main problem is that the batteries powering the Fusion Energi's electric motor are located beneath the sedan's trunk floor. Because they're so numerous and so large, they rob the car of a considerable amount of trunk space. In fact, the Fusion Energi's 8.2 cu ft of trunk space is actually half the cargo-volume figure of the gas-powered Fusion sedan.

Worse, many of those 8.2 cu ft are located on an awkward shelf found deep in the trunk. In truth, the Fusion Energi offers only a very small amount of usable trunk space, meaning you'll often find yourself throwing bags in the more spacious and, unfortunately, highly visible back seat.

On the plus side, the rear seats do fold down, leaving a small pass-through that may allow you to carry some oddly shaped pieces of cargo.

Smooth and Comfortable

The trunk space issue is clearly forgotten as you pilot the Fusion Energi in fully electric mode. Of course, it's quiet; that's a given, considering that an electric motor makes practically no noise. We also found the sedan's seats to be highly comfortable, its ride to be luxury-car smooth and its steering to be effortless and easy. We also enjoyed its high-quality interior, a hallmark of recent Ford products. In Titanium trim, this plug-in Fusion rivals even the Lincoln MKZ's interior.

We also like the updated version of Ford's love-it-or-hate-it MyFord Touch system, which is now easier to use than ever before. The 4-corners layout is intuitive, and predictive address entry for the nav system is better than ever.

Still, for drivers interested in performance, make no mistake: The Fusion Energi isn't a driver's car. But if you want a comfortable sedan that's painless and pleasant to drive, it's hard to argue against the Fusion Energi.

Loud Gas Engine

Well, it's a comfortable sedan that's painless and pleasant to drive until the electric motor runs out of juice and the gasoline engine kicks in. Each of our staffers reported issues with this transition. The problem is that the Fusion Energi is a great electric car, but once the gasoline engine kicks in, the party is over. It's not so much that you can feel it; that part is managed fairly well. The issue is that you can hear it.

Honestly, if that gas engine were running the whole time, we'd probably have nothing but praise for the whole car, but because the car is so quiet and smooth in full EV mode, the gas engine kicking in is all the more noticeable. We've experienced a similar issue with other electric cars. The Nissan Leaf, for example, is so quiet that wind noise is more obvious at higher speeds simply because the car isn't making all the usual mechanical sounds.

Of course, drivers who rarely use the gasoline engine won't mind this problem, right? Yes and no.

The Fusion Energi's electric-only range is 21 miles. By comparison, the Toyota Prius Plug-In has an EV-only range of just 11 miles, and the Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid has an estimated range of 13 miles. Suddenly, the Fusion's 21 miles seems generous. During our two weeks with the car, the best we could do was 19 miles, and one driver reported getting as little as 15 miles in EV-only mode. Still, that means the Fusion's worst day is better than the Prius and Accord Plug-In's best.

The real issue here is about expectations. If you're expecting the Ford Fusion Energi to work like the Chevy Volt and its 38-mile electric-only range, you'll be disappointed. But if you want a comfortable, good-looking car that uses an electric-only mode to bring the fuel economy way up, then you'll like the Fusion Energi.

The Chevy Volt may be a good comparison on paper, but in reality the Fusion Energi is bigger, more comfortable, feels more like a premium sedan and is arguably better-looking -- in short, it's a better car unless EV range is your No. 1 priority.

Simply Too Expensive

There's one car, however, that highlights the Energi's shortcomings: Ford's own Fusion Hybrid (a gas-powered hybrid rather than a plug-in like the Energi), which offers many of the Energi's benefits and few of the drawbacks.

The Fusion Hybrid also touts an impressive 47 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, placing it near the top of the fuel-efficient midsize sedan world. Better yet, the Fusion Hybrid starts at around $28,000 with shipping, vastly undercutting the Energi's $35,500 base price -- a figure that's still excessive, even after a major price cut for the 2014 model year. And, of course, the Fusion Hybrid has more trunk space than the Energi, though it's still a few cu ft short of the standard Fusion.

Our view: You should only buy a Fusion Energi if you absolutely must have a plug-in hybrid. And even then, do a little research before you sign the papers. After all, the Chevrolet Volt offers a much longer range (38 miles) but only seats four and is much less plush inside. The Toyota Prius Plug-In boasts a considerably lower base price but about half of the Fusion's EV range. Both the Prius Plug-in and the Volt, however, offer better cargo volume than the 2014 Ford Fusion Energi.

The Chevy Volt is probably the best of the bunch, but at this point, all plug-in hybrids force you into some kind of compromise.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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