The 2017 Ford Fusion, unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show, enters its fifth model year with what the industry calls a mid-cycle refresh: a few styling updates, some new standard equipment, and changes to trim levels.
The mid-size sedan's hybrid and plug-in hybrid models too benefit from those changes, but electric-car buyers have wondered if the Energi model would get a boost in its all-electric range to match competitors.
The answer is no, although both hybrid Fusions get revised powertrain control software that provides what Ford says will be a more natural driving experience.
When it was launched for 2013, the Ford Fusion Energi sedan was rated at 21 miles of range (later reduced to 19 miles after a retest).
Its two major competitors, the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, had 38 miles and 11 miles, respectively.
But times have changed, and its competitors now offer increased electric range: 53 miles for the 2016 Volt, and an anticipated range of 30 to 35 electric miles for the plug-in version of the new Prius hybrid, expected to launch this summer.
According to Kevin Layden, director of electrified powertrain engineering, Ford expects its 2017 Fusion Energi to remain at 19 miles of rated range.
But the 2017 Fusion Hybrid and Fusion Energi will both offer what he termed "a more refined and engaging drive experience."
The refinements stemmed from the launch of the hybrid Fusions in the European market, where the same car is sold as the Ford Mondeo Hybrid.
Ford's European team, Layden said, found the software calibrations on the current Fusion Hybrid to lack harmony between the engine speed and road speed.
That's known as the "CVT effect," referring to the behavior of early continuously variable transmissions--an effect largely disliked by drivers.
It's distinguished by acceleration that produces a dramatic increase in engine speed that's not proportional to the increase in vehicle speed--largely to get the engine operating in its most efficient range.
The new software, Layden suggests, has the "engine speed harmonized with the [pedal] tip-in," producing a car that "feels connected, feels engaging, more like a driver's car." The engine response, he said, now feels "intuitive" to the driver.
Beyond that, the pair of hybrid Fusions for 2017 also get mildly restyled front grilles and new LED headlights, along with interior updates that include a revised console with a new rotary gear selector that lets the cupholders move forward to a "more ergonomic" location.
The Fusion lineup also adds a new Fusion Platinum trim level, and a higher-performance Fusion V-6 Sport with a 325-horsepower 2.7-liter V6 engine and all-wheel drive added for the first time.
The 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid starts at $26,060, while the top-level Platinum Hybrid starts at $37,895. The plug-in Fusion Energi starts at $33,995, with the Platinum Energi having the highest price in the lineup, at $41,995. All prices include a mandatory $875 delivery fee.
With U.S. gas prices at seven-year lows and buyers continuing to shift from cars into trucks and SUVs, sales of the Fusion Hybrid and Energi have ebbed over the past year.
Ford cut $900 from both models' prices for 2016, but the plug-in version in particular faces stiffer competition this year from the new Volt and also plug-in versions of the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima hybrids
Ford Fusion Energi charging.Enlarge Photo
Ford delivered slightly over 11,500 Fusion Energi models in 2014, but 2015 came in at just 9,750. Comparable numbers for the Fusion Hybrid were 35,405 and 24,681, respectively.
Sales of both hybrid plug-in mid-size sedans have, however, overtaken those for its C-Max Energi compact hatchback counterpart, which initially outsold the Fusion models.
Ford provided airfare, lodging, and meals to enable High Gear Media to bring you this first-person report.