The top gasoline-electric hybrid sedans for fuel mileage aren't Hondas or Toyotas. That honor goes to the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and its sibling 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid.
The federal government rates the newly revamped, five-passenger Fusion and Milan Hybrids at 41 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 mpg on the highway, leading to an average city/highway mileage of 39 mpg.
This is better than the 33/34-mpg rating for the 2010 Toyota Camry Hybrid and the 35/34-mpg rating for the 2010 HS 250h sedan sold by Toyota's Lexus luxury brand.
The Fusion and Milan Hybrids don't surpass the 51/48-mpg rating of the 2010 Toyota Prius and the 40/43-mpg rating of the Honda Insight. But the Prius and Insight are hatchbacks, not sedans, and they are shorter and narrower in length and width, respectively, than the Fusion and Milan and have less rear-seat passenger space.
As hatchbacks, the Prius and Insight also don't provide a way to hide cargo away from prying eyes.
Best of all, the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan mid-size sedans are recommended buys of Consumer Reports magazine with predicted reliability listed as "excellent."
The Fusion and Milan aren't bargain buys, however. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price for the 2010 Fusion Hybrid is $27,625. It's $31,655 for the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid.
Both come with a lot of standard equipment, including power driver and front-passenger seats, dual-zone automatic climate control and a voice recognition system that lets drivers and passengers manage phone calls and audio systems via voice commands. The Fusion and Milan also wear standard 17-inch wheels and tires.
In contrast, the five-passenger 2010 Toyota Camry Hybrid starts at $26,900, while the five-passenger Honda Insight hybrid has a starting retail price of $20,510 and the five-passenger 2010 Prius starts at $22,750. All these vehicles have standard 15- or 16-inch wheels and tires.
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
- BASE PRICE: $27,625.
- AS TESTED: $32,295.
- TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger, mid-size sedan.
- ENGINE: 2.5-liter, double overhead cam, Atkinson cycle, inline four cylinder with electric motor.
- MILEAGE: 41 mpg (city), 36 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: NA.
- LENGTH: 190.6 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 107.4 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 3,800 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Hermosillo, Mexico.
- OPTIONS: Option package 502A (includes blind spot detection, power moonroof, rearview camera, Sony audiophile 12-speaker sound system, leather seats, heated front seats, premium floor mats) $3,945.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $725.
I especially liked that the test Ford Fusion Hybrid wouldn't be confused with the look-alike Prius and Insight.
In fact, despite getting impressive fuel mileage, the Fusion Hybrid was styled to look like a modern, attractive sedan.
The new rear-end treatment with large taillamps adds a richness to the car, while the more distinctive three-bar grille in front and a power dome look to the hood keeps the Fusion from blending in with other mid-size sedans.
But I had to remember that the Fusion Hybrid, with push-button start, can start up in silence. I pushed the start button on the dashboard and thought the car was not responding because there was no sound. Only when I spotted the car diagram in the instrument cluster with the green arrow below it did I realize the Fusion was ready to be shifted into drive and ready to go.
And it did, quietly, with just a light nudge on the gas pedal and even with the four-cylinder engine chiming in. Indeed, the new Fusion Hybrid can travel at relatively quick speeds -- even over 40 mph -- solely in electric mode at times. I often wound through my neighborhood in silent, electric mode, with the onboard 2.4-liter gasoline engine kicking in when I got on the higher-speed streets.
The performance -- good get up and go plus good fuel mileage -- is impressive. Without trying to maximize fuel economy, I got more than 36 mpg in city/highway travel, which is just 3 mpg less than the combined government rating. All the while, I found the Fusion's eye-catching instrument panel to be a wealth of information and encouragement to do better on gas mileage. I had to remind myself to keep eyes on the road, though, too.
One of the fun activities is watching leaves "grow" on a display when a driver is doing well in fuel mileage. The leaves begin to disappear when mileage goes down.
The colorful displays can be configured as a driver would like them, so there are a number of choices -- all with an attractive appearance that's heavy on light blue and bright green colors.
The only transmission in the Fusion Hybrid is a continuously variable transmission that optimizes engine performance and helps make the transitions with electric power smooth.
Front, black leather seats in the Fusion Hybrid tester felt thick and substantial and were accented by white stitching. No flimsy, lightweight seats in this fuel miser vehicle. Even the front passenger gets height adjustment -- something that's missing in some vehicles.
There are several storage spaces, including a sizable glovebox -- with no lock -- and top-of-the-dashboard spot under a plastic lid. Only items that won't be affected by heat should go in this top storage spot.
The brake pedal in the test car felt a bit mushy. But the four-wheel, power disc brakes with antilock braking system and regenerative braking capability worked fine.
The turning circle is 37.5 feet, which is larger than that for the smaller Prius and Insight.
Road bumps are muted by the suspension, which uses independent short and long arms in front and an independent multilink at the rear. Passengers mostly feel like they're rolling over and atop bumps and getting some, light vibration from them.
The tester's black interior plastic pieces were well-aligned and looked good accented by gray- and silver-colored plastic pieces. There was no cheap feel to the interior. Nor was it overly high-tech.
All safety equipment is standard, including six air bags and electronic stability control. The Fusion earned across-the-board five out of five stars in government crash tests.