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2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid -- an eco-driving game on wheels

May 27, 2009 |  2:46 pm

The new 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. Credit: Sam VarnHagen/Ford Motor Co. Conventional wisdom says that video games are becoming more like real life, but maybe it's the other way around. Trying to navigate the various screens and digital readouts on the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid was more of a challenge than navigating the twists and turns of Laurel Canyon. Like any new game, it took awhile to get used to all the buttons and readouts. Was I supposed to hit left, left, up, right? Did it have a Konami code? Where was the pause button?

Suddenly, on one of the car's multiple screens, a digital vine rewarded my efficient driving by growing a couple leaves. I wasn't sure what I was doing, but at least I was doing it well. Then I accelerated too fast with the 191-net-horsepower engine and a leaf fell off. I spent the rest of the drive obsessed with Ford's version of the Tamagotchi.

A keychain-bound digital pet wasn't my only late-90's flashback while sitting in the Fusion's drivers seat. Something about this midsized sedan reminded me of the fourth generation Nissan Maxima, a slightly larger car that completely outpaced expectations and delivered some serious bang-for-the-buck. Both of these comfortable vehicles looked pedestrian on the outside, but were a lot of fun behind the wheel. The Fusion, of course, achieves most of this with digital gadgetry that's sure to leave kids giddy and geezers confused. I'm closer to the kid generation, so I liked it.

Priced around $30,000, the Fusion isn't an entry-level hybrid, but you won't need a bailout to afford one. It's in that sweet spot between "Hey, look at me!" and "Psst, don't tell anybody about my good deal."

Our test drive covered about 30 miles and pitted several teams of drivers against one another to see who could achieve the best fuel economy. I didn't want to turn on the radio because I was already experiencing sensory overload. I didn't want to turn off the air conditioning because it was a hot Los Angeles afternoon. The latter decision pushed my fuel economy down to 37.3 mpg, but the only CAFE standard I was thinking about involved the words "ice" and "blended." Several other drivers were able to handle the heat and easily eclipsed the 41-mpg rating.

A view of the Smart Gauge showing the Ford Fusion Hybrid ending position at 1445.7 miles showing an average of 81.5mpg. The Ford team went 1445.7 miles on a single tank of gas in Alexandria, VA, ending at 5:37am Tuesday April 28, 2009. The car had been running for 69 hours continuously. Credit: Sam VarnHagen/Ford Motor Co.

Ford claims to have gone over 1,445 miles on a single tank of gas in one of its tests, good for 81.5 mpg (click the photo above to zoom in on the post-drive Smart Gauge -- note the leafy vine). You'll be happy to hit half of that under typical driving conditions, even if you add some extra air in your tires. While fuel efficiency is an attractive selling point in any economy, I was more impressed by the seamless transition between the gas and electric power. In fact, I would have never known what was happening under the hood if it weren't for the various computer screens keeping me informed. One option I didn't get much time to play with was the SIRIUS Travel Link, which provides real-time traffic, weather, nearby fuel prices, sports scores and movie listings. This concierge-esque offering, known in the computer world as a walled garden, makes me wonder how long until we see full in-dash Internet.

With all the computer wizardry to please the kids, there's also plenty of safety to satisfy moms. Lights on the mirrors tell you when there's a car in your blind spot. The reverse camera has an almost-too-audible alarm when cars might be crossing from the side. And teenage drivers can't slip into neutral to rev the engine (not that we tried it ... twice).

The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. Credit: Ford Motor Co. Bottom line: Ford delivers an outstanding hybrid experience for the price, with a futuristic feel and all three types of features that consumers care about (fun, practicality and safety).

As tested: Ford Fusion Hybrid package 502A, listed at $31,940. The base model Ford Fusion Hybrid starts at $27,995.

-- Adam Rose

Top photo: The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. Credit: Sam VarnHagen / Ford Motor

Middle photo: A view of the Smart Gauge showing the Ford Fusion Hybrid ending position at 1,445.7 miles showing an average of 81.5 mpg. The Ford team went 1,445.7 miles on a single tank of gas in Alexandria, Va., ending at 5:37 a.m. Tuesday, April 28. The car had been running for 69 hours continuously. Credit: Sam VarnHagen / Ford Motor

Bottom photo: The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. Credit: Ford Motor

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