Article,Features,Hypermiling

Pulse and Glide

17 Jul , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

In this post, I will attempt to provide a simplistic overview of a hypermiling technique known as “Pulse and Glide” (P&G). Before we get started, you need to know that the application and technique for P&G is variable based on many factors such as the car, terrain, traffic, current speed limit, etc. For all those reasons, this will be an overview and not overly detailed. My concern is that if I provided any real details: 1) you would try to apply the details where they don’t fit, and 2) someone will argue the minutia of the details.

How Do You Pulse and Glide?

Many times, I compare hypermiling to riding a bicycle. This works because almost everyone knows how to ride a bike, which makes it a universal reference. Also, you most likely remember how tired you can become if you do not ride efficiently. Though neither you nor your car will get tired, you have to focus on the amount of effort being exerted; the goal is to travel farther with less effort.

The Pulse. Just like riding a bike, the intent of the pulse is to get up to speed. When accelerating from a dead stop, use a brisk acceleration: accelerate quickly but not stomp on the gas. Once you have reached a speed that is, perhaps, a little faster than the speed limit or average traffic speed, let up on the accelerator.

The Glide. Think about riding that bike. Once you have reached a decent speed, it requires only a minimal amount of effort to maintain it. In fact, depending on the situation, you might be able to coast for a long distance before needing to pedal again. In exactly the same way, the point of the glide is to “stop pedaling”.

The first and second generation Prius were exceptionally good at gliding because they had a “dead band”. This dead band is a spot in which there would be no power coming from the engine or batteries to drive the wheels and also no regeneration from the wheels to the batteries. A practiced driver could work the accelerator into that dead band and let the car roll.

Unfortunately, this type of “free wheeling” is nearly impossible in almost all modern hybrids. And so it is with modern hybrids that the glide is an attempt to reduce the energy flow to a point as low as possible.

Pulse Again. As you can imagine, after coasting for a while, you will start to slow down. Once you’ve slowed to a speed you are no longer comfortable with, pulse again. Unlike the dead-stop pulse, this time you want to use just enough acceleration to get back up to speed. Just like riding that bike, it’s not a sprint back up to speed but rather just enough.

And then you glide again. Then pulse, then glide, repeat.

Why Does it Work?

The concept is simple: the entire intent of P&G is to glide more than you pulse. The following image provides a sort-of representation starting from a dead stop, accelerating up slightly above the desired speed, gliding, pulsing, and then gliding again. As you can imagine, the farther you can glide the better. The black line in the following image might represent the average traffic flow, the speed limit, or simply the speed you want to average. Your situations will vary.

Pulse and Glide Image

It works because gliding is essentially free. It’s the pulsing that costs you. Therefore, rather than paying to constantly maintain a steady speed, you allow your speed to vary. The trick comes in making sure the pulsing uses less effort than would otherwise be used maintaining a steady speed.

Situational Considerations

  • As with all hypermiling techniques, obey all posted traffic signs and do not impede the flow of traffic for your selfish desires.
  • If you have rolling hills, that is awesome. Pulse up the hill and glide down the other side. They key is being able to gauge the most efficient time to transition from pulse to glide and vice versa.
  • One hypermiler told the funny story of being pulled over because the policemen observed he was “incapable of maintaining a steady speed” and assumed he was drunk. I didn’t say it was funny for him. He said that once he explained what he was doing, the policemen didn’t bother writing a ticket.
  • If you see a stoplight up ahead, consider modifying your pulse and glide timings to either glide into the stop or pulse a little faster to ensure catching the green light.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

audio and video,Featured,Features,Special Episode,What Drives Us episode

#193 Visor Strap-On – Prius Prime First Drive In Japan

13 Jul , 2016   Video

109423__M0A0068

 

 

 

 

 

This week Tony, Russell and Mark grill Danny Cooper. Hey, did we mention Danny is back? Danny’s back! And yeah, we take him apart on his trip to Japan to drive the upcoming Prius Prime.

, , , , , , , , ,

audio and video,Featured,Special Episode,Special Guest,What Drives Us episode

#188 Special Guest: Ben Rich, Long Distance Electric Motorcyclist

8 Jun , 2016   Video

This week Tony, Mark and Russell spend the entire show talking with Ben Rich. Ben rides his electric Zero Motorcycle all over North America and is just about to set out on a new voyage around the US. We discuss his techniques for long distance electric motorcycle travel and ev bikes in general.

Visit Ben on Facebook.

You can find Ben on Twitter, @Benswing and on Instragram, @BenSwing.

We also want to shout out to Hollywood Electrics and Zero Motorcycles.

Thanks to Ben and to Mark Coughlan for inviting him.

, , , , , , , , , ,

Article,Review

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

4 Jun , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

Ten years ago, I never thought I could use the phrase “sexy Hyundai” with a straight face. But every time I approached the 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, I admired the styling, curves, and sporty cues provided by this sexy Hyundai. Does the beautiful design provide icing on the cake for a well-executed hybrid system or do the tactile sensations mask underlying problems? I drove the Sonata Hybrid for a week to find out.

2013-Hyundai-Sonata-Hybrid-Exterior-2

Overview

Whether they want to admit it or not, Hyundai has an uphill battle with the American car buying public. When friends and coworkers saw I had the Sonata Hybrid, many told stories of their Hyundai-owning experiences with failing parts, expensive repairs, and a general feeling of untrusting. They each conceded, however, that their stories are fifteen or twenty years old.

The 2012 Sonata Hybrid was available in a single package with multiple upgrade options. 2013 brings two trim levels: Base and Limited. Many of the upgrades from 2012 were simply incorporated into the 2013 Limited though some previous upgrades were made standard. The end result is two trim levels that provide enough options to help perspective Sonata Hybrid owners know which is right for them.

Exterior

Hyundai hasn’t changed much with the exterior of the Sonata from last year. From the side, the roofline is long and sleek extending from the hood to the trunk in a single, uninterrupted line. Rising up from the front tire along the side is the very distinguishable flair that joins the door handles and concludes just above the brake light assembly. Chrome trimming along the bottom of the doors offset the chrome detailing from the headlights to the rear. To aid with aerodynamics, the Sonata incorporates sharper rear corners. All these simple lines accentuate the length and draw the eye from front to back.

Like so many other manufacturers these days, Hyundai has adopted the wide-mouth, gaping grill. I know it’s just me but I’m simply not a fan of the look. Additionally, as a hypermiler, my first thought was how I could block that grill to keep the engine warm in the winter. Kudos, however, on the headlight assembly and fog lights. The projection headlamps are lined and wrapped in an LED accent creating a creative display when viewed from both front and side. By comparison, the fog lights are simplistic but their housing is chrome-lined and extended which create a larger look and feel. The combination of the headlights and fog lights cut a respectable presence in any rearview mirror.

2013-Hyundai-sonata-panaramic-sunroofOne of my favorite parts of the Limited package is the optional panoramic sunroof / moonroof. When closed and viewed from the outside, you can’t even tell the bulk of the roof is glass. When opened, the entire cabin is flooded with natural light and the entire roof is transformed. You can control the blinds for those particularly sunny days.

Using the keyless fob, you can unlock the driver’s door by pressing the button on the handle. The same button locks the doors so I guess you could think of it like a locking toggle. It was easy to unlock the doors this way without the need to get the fob out of my pocket. Of course, the same keyless fob allows you to start the car without inserting anything into the dash or steering column. So many manufacturers are moving towards the keyless fob approach, when I drive a car with a physical key, it just feels so last century.

Interior

The Limited package I drove was fully appointed in black leather. What’s not leather is molded plastic. In some places, the plastic seemed, well, plastic. In other applications, though, it didn’t catch my attention which, when you think about it, is a good thing.

2013-Sonata-Cockpit

Sitting and driving the Sonata Hybrid was extremely comfortable. The seats envelope the occupants with a firm, sporty feel.  It doesn’t hurt when the driver’s seat is electronically controlled in every conceivable direction including lumbar support. My wife was concerned that the dash might be too high for her if she were to drive the car. I raised the seat until I was pressed against the ceiling.

The overall cockpit is well designed. Almost all knobs and dials are reachable without much effort. Their placements all seem to make relative sense. As with all cars, you have to get accustomed to individual location. This is made easier when you realize that there was intentional placement and a logical grouping of buttons. I am not a fan of having a bright dashboard at night so I always look for a rheostat dimmer switch. The Sonata’s dimmer is a rocker switch located to the left of the steering wheel that dims or brightens the dash in prescribed increments, displayed on the dash. This is a nicer implementation, in my opinion, than a simple dial.

The dash combines analog dials with digital displays. The speedometer is analog as is an “ECO Guide” showing the amount of load you are putting on the car at the moment. Digital displays include the gas gauge and engine temp. The [EV Mode] light lets you know when the car is being powered exclusively by the battery and the [Ready] indicator lets you know the car is powered up and ready to go. All are easily seen through the steering wheel.

2013-Sonata-Dash

The ECO Guide, in my opinion, could have been better executed, however. The instructions are “blue is more eco and red is less eco.” This guide should show the point at which EV Mode will be forced to switch over to the engine due to load. Other hybrids, such as the Fusion Hybrid and the Gen3 Prius, have this feature and it allows the driver to push the pedal harder or lighter to either engage engine power or stay in EV mode.

Between the two large analog dials is the Trip Computer. I’ll try to keep it brief but I have a lot to say about the Trip Computer.

The amount of data you can glean from the Trip Computer is really quite substantial. There are nine different pieces of data you can view. Unfortunately, they are all on separate screens and you can only toggle through the screens in one direction. If you want to check the power split between the battery and the engine, you have to switch over to that screen. If you want to go back to instantaneous MPG, you have to flip all the way through all the other screens. You really just wanted to see two screens but had to flip through a total of nine. Some of them seem to have a lot of blank space while others had one piece of data (trip A, for example) accompanied by a large picture. It seems some could be combined with ease.

What is nice is that, according to the manual, the Trip Computer will display CAN-bus information. This is the type of information that illuminates a “check engine light” in other cars. The Trip Computer will display “Low Tire”, “Low Water”, Hybrid System Malfunction”, Hybrid Battery Issues”, and “Inverter Coolant Low”. I should also mention that this is where the “Door Open” and “Keys not in the vehicle” indicators appear. Additionally, if you press the (Start) button without your foot on the brake, the Trip Computer says, “Press Brake to Start Car”. So yeah, the Trip Computer really does convey a lot of information to the driver.

With all this information being displayed on the little screen, what’s left for the 7” LCD display? Primarily, Navigation and some screens about energy usage and efficiency.

The navigation seemed easy to use and the configuration screens made sense. There’s a list of previous destinations, which is nice if you find yourself going back to the same place multiple times but for some reason can’t remember where it is. One feature with the navigation I liked is that when you need to make a turn, it not only tells you to turn but also tells you the distance to and direction of your next turn. This might not seem like much to most people, but in large cities, it is common to have short distances between turns. Too many times I find myself trapped three lanes away from my turn. With this hint, you know whether an immediate lane change will be required even before you make the first turn.

Apparently, as you drive, you have the ability to earn “ECO Points” and “ECO Rewards”. I have been trying to figure out what I do with these. Can I cash them in like Skee-Ball tickets to get an oversized plastic comb? Am I supposed to post my ECO points online and compete with other HSH drivers? I drove around town, clocked a couple hundred miles, averaged 39.6mpg and earned 11 ECO Points. The weird part is that the first time I found this screen, I had 11 ECO points. Several days of climbing MPG later, I still had 11 ECO Points. What am I supposed to do to earn ECO Points? I don’t know what they are but I know I want them.

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

There are three screens in the Hybrid Technology Display: Earth, Car, and Energy Flow. The Energy Flow is a really nice representation of the energy transition from ICE to Battery and Wheels. This is the typical hybrid screen we all know and love. Then there is the Earth screen in which there is a globe that spins and you can see energy flowing from the Engine, to the globe and then to the electric motor. A series of bars give you an ECO Level of some kind. The Car screen shows a side-view of the Sonata Hybrid rolling along a road. Leafs blow past and trees grow in the background as you drive more efficiently. A series of bars give you an ECO Level. The Energy Flow screen I get; I love watching this screen to see how I’m using the ICE and battery. The other two just aren’t for me. I clearly don’t understand them and I found them to be little more than screen savers.

2013-Sonata-MyEcoScore 250One of the available screens is called the “My Eco MPG” screen. It is a rolling bar chart showing your entire drive in 2.5-mile increments. A blue horizontal line represents the EPA mpg rating so you can see how each 2.5-minute segment compares. This type of display is good and bad at the same time. The bad part is that they only show you the past after there’s nothing you can do about it. In order for it to be good and useful, you must actually use the information. If you really want to improve your mileage, you would watch the “My Eco MPG” screen making notes of the segments where you see the lowest mpg. The next day – since you most likely drive the same route to work every day – try something different to see if you can improve the mileage of that segment. Sadly, most drivers wouldn’t take the time or make such an effort. Those of us who enjoy that type of constant monitoring in order to turn our boring commutes into a video game, however, love it.

2013-Sonata-AC-Controls-250Under the 7” screen is the Air conditioning cluster. At first, I was put off by the airflow indicator, which is a representation of an occupant showing air blowing at face-level, chest-level, and/or in the foot well. It just struck me as too large in comparison to the other buttons until I realized each part of the ‘body’ was a button in itself allowing the selection of airflow. With this display, there is no mistaking where the air is blowing.

Since it was particularly cold when I was driving this car, I became pretty familiar with the air conditioner. Specifically, the heater. I kept the heater on “Auto”, set to 65° and was pleasantly surprised with how quickly the cabin came up to temperature. The automatic A/C adjusted the airflow, temperature, and direction as needed. Of course, running the heater makes the engine run more, which in turn reduces overall mileage. But seriously, when it’s 21° outside get over it. Besides, once the cabin was up to temperature, the engine was free to shut off again.

Speaking of air conditioning, I drove the Sonata Hybrid in an unseasonably cold November. With the outside temps in the 30s, the cabin heated quickly and the auto A/C maintained comfortable conditions.  Of course, some of the credit goes to the heated leather seats. Oh how I love heated seats.

Under the A/C controls is a clever little hidden cubby. Always a fan of using every square inch of space, I really liked this little nook. It’s just large enough for a pair of sun glasses or perhaps to throw in a wallet or phone if you don’t want someone to see it. The push-button opener looks like an accent detail and the door closes so flush a passerby wouldn’t even notice it.

2013-Sonata-Manual-GloveboxThe glove box is nothing worth mentioning other than that it is so small – and the owner’s manual so massive – that the glove box is actually just a holder for the manual. Seriously, the encyclopedia is comprised of the manual for the car, the manual for the navigation, tire information, and various pamphlets with warnings and advisories. The nice part is that it’s all contained in a holder pouch. The pouch also has a small pad of paper for taking notes and a ball-point pen.  Seriously: it comes with a ballpoint pen.

Driving Impressions

The first thing you notice when you start the car is that it plays a little tune and the dash animates. It plays the same tune when you shut the car off. This was very refreshing and sort of put me in a good mood from the start. The first time. And perhaps the second. By the end of the week, the song was getting a little old.

Let me say this: for not being a CVT, the gear shifting is remarkably smooth. This is from a Prius driver who has cringes anymore when I feel gears shifting. I was pleasantly impressed and actually had to look it up online to verify that the Sonata Hybrid actually has gears. Additionally, there wasn’t a lot of engine noise when the car switched from EV to engine. Of course, you hear the engine during high-rev and high-load situations. Overall, I felt that the car is very well insulated from outside noise. Very little road noise or wind noise at interstate speeds.

There is an aggressive use of the EV at low speeds. When I say “aggressive use” in reference to EV Mode, I’m referring to the car’s desire to use the battery and keep the engine off. I shuttled the car from one parking lot, onto a street, and into another parking lot, traveling a couple hundred yards and was in EV the entire time. The aggressive EV Mode shines when moving through low-speeds situation: parking lots, school zones, etc.

One of – if not the – most energy demanding situation for a vehicle is starting from a dead stop such as coming from a red light. With an aggressive EV mode, the Sonata Hybrid removes the high-throttle situation and allows the car to draw on the battery and electric motor. This seems like a good trade-off because you will have ample opportunity to replace the charge while driving.

However, this good idea still needs some refinement. There is a weird transition from dead-stop EV acceleration to engaging the engine. Work with me on this one: I’ve been thinking about this for several days and this is the only way I can think to explain what I was feeling. If you’ve ever driven a car with sluggish gear transitions, you know that there’s a brief moment between gears in which the car seems to stop accelerating. It’s not decelerating, mind you, just ever-so-briefly not accelerating. This is what I occasionally experienced with the transition from EV to engine when accelerating from a dead stop.

The acceleration through EV was acceptable. It was when EV mode disengaged and the engine took over that there was a moment of hesitation as though the engine was engaging just one second too late. It’s like the EV was handing over control to the engine but the engine wasn’t ready to take over. This was not an “every time” experience. I cannot explain whether it was my foot pressure or if it had to do with the temperature of the engine or its ability to lock into a gear on demand. But when it did happen, there was a sensation of “I’m not accelerating anymore.”

Am I making too much of this? At first I thought I was until I started reading other reviews and saw similar references. There are a few times in my regular commute where I turn left from a dead-stop waiting for a gap in the oncoming cars. When I initiate the turn and the acceleration pauses, my eyes immediately looked out the right window to see the approaching cars.

Hyundai has implemented a power strategy they call Blue Drive. Blue Drive uses a software algorithm to moderate the engine output and acceleration power curve in order to make the overall driving experience as fuel efficient as possible. By default, Blue Drive is engaged when you start the car. For high-acceleration or heavy load situations, there is a button on the steering wheel to disengage Blue Drive. When blue drive is active, the background of the trip computer is blue. When Blue Drive is inactive, the background trip computer is black.

Taking it one step further, the Sonata Hybrid has Sports Mode in which you can manually shift gears. Getting into Sports Mode is easy enough by sliding the shifter to the left into the manual shifting slots. In the same way that disengaging Blue Drive turns the dash black, sliding into Sports Mode turns the dash red. I played around with Sports Mode for a little while but quickly grew tired of having to think about shifting. I’m perfectly content not having to worry about shifting gears, thank you.

I really wanted to know how the Sonata Hybrid would perform in colder temperatures and what kinds of mileage numbers the average driver should expect. The temperatures ranged from 21° on the first day and 50° on the second-to-last day. To that end, my driving was not my regular hypermiling cautiousness. The heater was on almost the entire time and though I certainly incorporated smart driving techniques I was by no means really trying to “work” the car.

The EPA places the mileage for the Sonata Hybrid at 36c/40h with a combined 38. I was driving the Limited trim, which takes a 1-mpg hit with a combined 37mpg. Resetting the mileage statistics seemed like a chore and I was more interested in getting inside a warm building. As a result, I was keeping track of my overall, one-week rolling total. Kicking it off, at 21° I saw 36.5mpg; not bad for the very first day driving the car considering I didn’t yet know its ins and outs. Six days later, at 50°, the rolling total had moved up to 39.9mpg.

I returned it in the morning of the seventh day. I reset the mileage stats because I wanted to see how well I had come to know the car. At 36°, travelling 24 city and residential miles, I averaged 43.8mpg. This is 21% higher than the EPA city rating of 36mpg. This number was achieved purely by timing stoplights, not being aggressive, using the Blue Drive setting, and braking wisely. All basic stuff. No advanced or ‘crazy’ hypermiling techniques were involved. I was happily surprised.

Familability

The Sonata is a sedan capable of seating four adults comfortably. The front seats are very comfortable. The passenger seat can recline all the way back for napping on long trips. Additionally, I was surprised how far back the seats will slide providing a huge amount of legroom.

All the legroom comes at the expense of the backseat passenger. Though there is enough room in the back seat for a passenger to sit comfortably, they shouldn’t expect to do much with the front seats slid back. I’ve spent my share of time on airplanes and felt the front seat of the Sonata was more encroaching than the average airplane seat.

There are a total of 4 cup holders and 4 bottle holders. 2 each are located front and back. The difference between a cup holder and bottle holder is that the bottle holders are located at the bottom of each door and would most likely spill a cup. The two front cup holders are located in the center console. The rear two are contained in the pull-down arm rest.

2013-Sonata-Audio-JacksIn the center dashboard console are two cigarette-lighter style power outlets. In the 21st century, I would expect at least one actual 110v two-prong outlet. There is also a USB plug and an auxiliary audio plug. The USB is designed for phone integration. Unfortunately, my iPhone did not work with the Sonata Hybrid. This is not 2013-Sonata-MediaConnectionError 250-147
Hyundai’s fault. A quick search of the Internet revealed that Apple changed their phone integration something-or-another. Many users of iOS7 are reporting the same problems with multiple makes and models of vehicles. Many users had successful integration prior to upgrading their iPhone. My hope is that either Apple or Hyundai will be able to fix the problem with a simple software update.

The left and right side of the rear seats heat separately. Each side also has their own reading light, which does a nice job of providing light to the occupant without infringing on other passengers. Sitting in the back, there seems to be ample headroom for an adult but I question the comfort of anyone much taller than six foot or so. Built-in child seat braces are strategically located and easily accessible.

Many hybrid sedans are forced to trade trunk space for battery size. The Sonata Hybrid sports a decent sized truck. The floor size is 45 inches wide, 25 inches deep and 21 inches high. I was able to fit nine paper shopping bags with no problems. There was room on top for those high items. The rear lip of the trunk is low enough that not only is it easy to get the bags into the trunk, getting them out is just as easy without having to worry about throwing out your back.

2013-Sonata-Trunk-Bags

One of the more curious items is the trunk pass-through. Though the opening is larger, the battery creates an obstruction throttling it down to 7 inches wide 2013-Sonata-Trunk-PassThroughand six inches tall. This is not much. Additionally, the opening is half-way up the side of the trunk. Short things could be rested on the shelf created by the battery but if the item were that small you wouldn’t need to pass it through. This means any item long and thin enough to pass through will be dangling in the middle of the trunk. There reaches a point where having the pass-through is just more hassle than it’s worth. Unless, of course, the parts are the same for the non-hybrid version and there’s an efficiency of scale.

Overall Conclusion

I honestly enjoyed driving the Sonata Hybrid. Of course, I had the Limited trim package so we should take that into consideration. I like the styling of the exterior and feel that it reflects Hyundai’s desire to have the Sonata taken seriously as an introductory luxury sedan. I had no problem parking the Sonata Hybrid in front of my house or driving it around town.

Once inside, the cabin welcomes you in as it closes out the exterior noises. The cockpit seems very well thought-out and almost everything on the center console is easy to reach while driving without extending or getting distracted. The optional panoramic roof becomes less optional once you experience it in person. I was pleased with the speed at which the cabin heats cold weather. The leather seats are comfortable and heating them helps cut through the chill.

I understand why Hyundai keeps the car in EV mode during dead-stop acceleration but feel the transition from battery to engine could be much smoother. Beyond that nuance, the overall driving experience was pleasurable and seemed very refined. Average driving seemed capable of meeting or exceeding the EPA ratings for MPG. Even introductory hypermiling techniques – simple smart driving – allows for easy hypermiling status. There are more than enough digital screens to help the driver maximize mileage. Perhaps too many.

My cold-weather mileage experience pleasantly surprised me. My mileage met the EPA estimate on my coldest day and substantially passed it as the weather turned warmer. I’m looking forward to driving this car again in the summer to test its capabilities in better conditions.

The Sonata Hybrid is a capable family car with plenty of room for a family of four. The seats are ample for the kids to have their own space. The trunk is nicely sized and should prove sufficient for carrying the family’s things or a shopping trip.

In the end, I truly enjoyed my time with the Sonata Hybrid. Hyundai might have some old-standing opinions to change but with more vehicles like this one, I think they just might win them over.

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What Drives Us episode

2013 Ford Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid

4 Jun , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

Special Note: I drove the Ford Fusion Energi during a particularly cold December week in order to test its cold-weather performance. Taking exterior pictures in sub-freezing temperatures is not pleasurable. For that reason, there are not many personal pictures accompanying this article.

2013 Ford Fusion Energi

I have to admit I was really looking forward to driving this car. My wife owns a 2010 Fusion Hybrid and really likes it. I wanted to see this new generation of Fusion and experience how Ford has incorporated the plug-in technology. After all, this might be my wife’s next car.

Simply driving the car wasn’t enough. I wanted to test it. Hybrid drivers know their car will return the best mileage in warm months. Every plug-in manufacturer promotes the mileage earned by a fully charged vehicle. What I wanted to do was see how well the Fusion Energi would perform during a Chicago December being plugged in only sporadically. By capturing a snapshot of how the Energi performs during difficult situations, I hope to get a sense of how good it can be during the best of situations. Additionally, I hope to get the car again during the summer months for a true comparison.

Exterior

Fusion Energi GrillComing from the 2010 to the 2013 is a huge change in terms of the exterior. Parked side-by-side, you would have difficulty identifying them as versions of the same vehicle. Gone is the high-chrome grill and in its pace is the large open grill that has become Ford’s standard. I know there are many people who liken it to high-end luxury cars and they praise the aggressiveness. I’m not blind; I see it. It’s just not my cup of tea.

Having said that, the leading edge of all Fusion models does indeed take an aggressive stance. In darker colors, the combination of the grill and headlights presents a frowning, angry profile.

This front-end extends beyond he front wheels more than I anticipated. Couple this with the hood slanting down away from the driver and I had very little idea where the front of the car actually was at any point. Parking was a fun game of trying to pull into a spot without curbing out.

All-in-all, except for that front-end, I can’t help but to describe the Fusion styling as under-toned. Ford keeps with minor details and only a few accent lines. Ford has an established history with established models; there is little need for them to go out of their way to make their vehicles flashy and showy. They keep the Fusion clean and in doing so keep it classy in my opinion.

J17721Of course, the easiest way to identify the Fusion Energi is the plug port just forward of the driver’s door. From some angles, it’s easy to miss. This port is covered with a round door that swings open when pushed. It’s lined with an LED ring. When unplugged, there is nothing very interesting about it. When plugged in, however, the ring pulses and provides a visual indication of the battery’s state of charge by illuminating a growing portion of the ring until it’s fully charged/illuminated. That’s a nice touch and avoids the need to power up the car to check charge level.

Interior

2013 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium DashboardLike the previous hybrid iteration, the 2013 Fusion Energi dashboard has an analog speedometer flanked by two full-color LCD computer screens. This is, by far, one of my favorite features with the Fusion vehicles. Rather than dedicate space to single-purpose gauges, Ford has computerized the displays so you can decide which gauge to display. The car I drove was the SE model, not the highest-tier Titanium. For this reason, I feel that my displays and options were limited. At least I hope so because our 2010 Fusion Hybrid had better displays than the 2013 Energi I test drove.

The driver controls the display of the dashboard screens with arrows mounted on the steering wheel. There are two sets of arrow buttons: right thumb for the right side and left thumb for the left side. For the most part, using these buttons with your thumb is okay. Unfortunately, the [up] button is curved around the top of the steering wheel post making it almost physically impossible to easily push with your thumb without adjusting your grip on the steering wheel. Even once you get comfortable with the arrow buttons, changing the screens can be a navigational nightmare. After a while, I came to know where the screens were located in the maze of levels and sub-levels. It made me wonder whether you’re supposed to simply pick a screen and stick with it. Switching is certainly discouraged. I found the audio entertainment navigation on the right side much easier to navigate than the vehicle information displays.

2013 Ford Fusion Energi Steering WheelEasier to reach are the cruise control buttons on the left and phone controls, voice controls, and volume controls on the right. The greater scheme of the layout becomes apparent when you consider the left side of the dash is vehicle information and the left side of the steering wheel is car-related. The right side of the dash is infotainment and the right side of the steering wheel controls media. Once you get it, you get it.

The dashboard coloring is very easy on the eyes. Ford has employed shades of red and blue to create a nice, strain-free ambience. To offset the cool, relaxing hues, there is a “Ready” indicator, which lets the driver know the car is started and ready to be driven. If the overall dashboard can be described as relaxing, the “Ready” light, by comparison, can be described as “highlighter-green LED shone directly into your eye.” I can understand the need for a “Ready” light since powering on the car rarely includes starting the engine. However, once the car is shifted into Reverse or Drive, the “Ready” light becomes moot. Ford is not alone in the “Ready” indicator, of course, but it is the only car I’ve driven that left a blind spot on my retina.

2013 Ford Fusion Energi Capacitance ButtonsMy first impression of the overall cockpit and center console was underwhelming, but not in a bad way. The lines are clean and capacitance buttons replace most of the conventional air conditioning buttons and knobs. This means they use the electrical capacitance of your fingers to trigger the buttons. When you remove the push buttons and dials found in most cars, you are rewarded with a cockpit that is clean and sleek.

A word about capacitance buttons. These function on essentially the same principle as smart phones in that the small electrical current in your finger closes the circuit and activates the button. The idea of capacitance buttons in a vehicle was clearly conceived in warmer climates. One morning, it was 8°F. The car had been sitting outside all night. After knocking the fresh snow off the car all I wanted was warm air and heated seats. But what really warmed my heart was taking solace in the mental image of a Ford executive somewhere outside Dearborn, Michigan, being forced to remove his gloves – just like I had to – in order to use the buttons that heat his car.

And don’t even try to tell me about those gloves with the special fingertips so you can use your cell phone. I shouldn’t have to buy new gloves just to heat my car. I was 8°. A couple months later, it was -12° with a wind chill of -40° and I’m scraping ice off the windshield. That’s not special capacitance glove weather; that’s hockey glove weather.

Once engaged, the cabin heats quickly and efficiently. I base the heating of the cabin on a couple things: when I can remove my gloves (voluntarily) and when the engine will shut off. These factors tell me that the cabin is warm, the engine is warm, and the A/C is no longer drawing huge amounts of heat off the engine. In the Fusion Energi, I had reached both qualifications within about a mile and perhaps ten minutes. Granted, when you’re sitting in a cold car, this seems like a long time but it’s faster than other cars I’ve tested. Heated seats, as always, help.

I tend to adjust the dashboard illumination quite a bit based on natural lighting. I bump it up during the day and tone it down in the evening. Rather than a rheostatic wheel seen in other cars, the Fusion Energi uses up and down arrows to allow specific stepped adjustments. I personally prefer this; it just feels more precise.

In my wife’s 2010 Fusion Hybrid, the headlights do not automatically turn off when the car is powered off and locked. Rather, it reminds the driver to turn them off with a series of chimes. I normally admit when I am being petty but in this case, how hard is it for the car to know that it is parked and powered off? For the cost of the Fusion Energi, in the 21st century, headlights that turn themselves off should be standard.

The headlights controls themselves left me a little baffled. Employing a dash-mounted dial to the left of the steering wheel, I found it neither easy to see, reach, or understand. I am one of those drivers who uses the headlights as a communication method with other drivers. On one commute, I wanted to blink my lights to indicate that I would yield right-of-way to a car wishing to turn in front of me. This requires only a twist of the stalk in my current car; in the Fusion Energi I couldn’t figure it out and ended up snubbing the poor guy.

Under the center console, Ford has taken advantage of a dead spot by building in a storage cubby. Due to its height, location, and depth, I found it considerably easier to put things into this cubby than to fish them out again. One little gem was the cigarette lighter power plug which could be used as a phone charger.

In the center armrest console, Ford has fitted 2 USB ports, audio/video ports, a cigarette lighter power port, a pen holder(!), holder for business cards, and removable tray. Fortunately, Ford redesigned this area: it’s oddly oriented and nearly impossible to access the USB in the 2010 Fusion Hybrid; in the 2013, the ease of access is impressive. Topping it off is the cord minder and the ability to close the armrest without pinching the cords.

2013 Ford Fusion Energi Aux AudioI plugged my phone into the USB to see if it could access my playlists. Within a few seconds of plugging in, the active playlist started playing though the stereo system. This is as expected, of course, but some cars do not play well with Apple’s iOS 7. The phone quickly appeared as a media source on the central screen and all steering wheel controls were active. It started indexing my phone for the voice-activated commands.

I’ll finish my interior review with a feature I hadn’t seen in a while: individual driver presets. Once you find the seat position and side mirror combination that works for you, push and hold one of the buttons to program it. Up to three presets can be stored allowing multiple drivers to have the car return to their perfect settings the next time they get in. Or you could do what I did: program one of the buttons to move the seat to a position that makes it easier for you to get in and out.

Drivability

So many times people ask me about the differences of driving a hybrid versus a conventional car. No doubt a plug-in hybrid would make their heads spin. Rest assured, the accelerator is still on the right, the brake is still on the left, and the steering wheel still makes the car change direction.

One thing I noticed immediately was the amount of engine noise. I’m familiar with continuously variable transmission (CVT) systems generating high RPMs and sounding like they are working harder than they actually are. All that is not new to me. What surprised me was the volume at which the Fusion Energi engine came in and operated. Though it was hard to feel the transition from EV to engine, there was no mistaking the sound when the transition occurred. Case in point: I was near the front of a line of waiting cars being held by a construction flagman. When he waved for us to start moving, the Fusion Energi spun up and the flagman gave me a look as though I was intentionally revving the engine.

Engine noise aside, I did enjoy the overall drive. There were two separate snow storms during my time with the car. At no time did I feel concerned or unsafe. The Fusion handled very well in deep and falling snow. It was extremely capable in turns on slippery roads. My wife was not too pleased with the flashing traction control light on the dash, but that’s how you know it’s working. And work it did.

(OK, I admit that I was playing around and testing the traction control. Don’t tell my wife.)

The Fusion Energi has a push-button parking brake. It’s just a sign of the times, I know. But there’s just something about yanking that hand brake or stomping the foot brake that really lets you know it’s engaged. Pushing a button seemed too removed from the process. The same could be said for push-button start, I’m sure. No doubt we’ll see this in more and more cars in the near future.

The car I drove didn’t have a HomeLink button allowing the driver to program the garage door code into the car. Something like this eliminates the need for a separate and bulky garage door opener. As I said before, I didn’t have the top-of-the-line Fusion Energi but my wife has the top-end 2010 Fusion Hybrid and her car doesn’t have HomeLink either. Is this a Ford thing? Are they convinced people would rather have an ugly garage door opener hanging from their visor? Respectfully, I disagree.

Hybridability

As expected, getting excellent mileage in a plug-in while it’s running on electricity is easy. I don’t have the tech to calculate the amount of energy consumed to convert grid power to wheel power so I can’t speak to the MPGe. Some people might be a little disappointed in that; this makes it easier to identify the people who worry too much.

As I mentioned previously, I didn’t want to take advantage of fully recharging every night. I didn’t want to start each day with a full pack. What I wanted was to get an impression of how the Fusion Energi would perform for those people who only get to charge intermittently. To that end, I plugged in only two of the six nights. Also, it was Chicago in December. It was cold. I only parked in the garage on those nights I charged the batteries. Most mornings, the car was starting cold with a fully discharged battery in below-freezing temperatures.

First, I want to talk about charging. Ford uses what they call “My GO Time” scheduled charging. This is amazing! Not only can you schedule when to charge the batteries, you can tell the car to preheat the cabin to a preset temperature. Let’s discuss each of those components. There is ongoing debate whether it’s best to charge the car as soon as you get home or right before you drive it. Using “My GO Time”, the Fusion Energi will start charging when it needs to in order to be ready when you need it. Thus, it uses the ‘right before you need it’ philosophy. Also, preheating the cabin while the car is plugged in not only saves you from sitting in a cold car; it saves you from having to run the engine to generate heat. It’s part creature feature and part efficiency. One last thing about this: one morning I was running about ten minutes late. The heater was still engaged maintaining the designated temperature. I was in love.

2013 Ford Fusion Energi Included PlugThe Fusion Energi uses the standard J-1772 plug and comes with a 25-foot cord. I was concerned that it might not be long enough but it was fine. Even though the placement of my garage’s plug was nowhere near where the car’s plug port is, there was plenty of cord to spare. One point Ford stresses: Do Not Use An Extension Cord! This point is stressed repeatedly just about everywhere there’s a mention of plugging in the car. Just don’t do it. Most of the time, the car will be plugged in unsupervised; you won’t be there if the extension cord fails; you won’t know until your garage is burning down. Just don’t do it.

Driving the Fusion Energi, the car rolls surprisingly well. Why am I surprised? Because you can normally tell when a car is using regenerative braking or just capturing energy from spinning the wheels. There is usually a feeling of drag when you take your foot off the accelerator. The display screen indicated that regeneration was taking place, but I couldn’t tell which made me wonder just how much energy was being captured.

fusion_energi_EV_ButtonWhen I wanted to use the EV button, I found it awkward to reach. It’s located to the right and of the center-console shifter. In other words, exactly opposite the driver. It’s as though it’s hiding behind the shifter and my morning mug of coffee. Seriously, it’s inconvenient enough to be discouraged. I can understand that it’s not a good idea to overuse the EV button for multiple reasons, but this placement just felt like an afterthought. As though someone at the last minute realized they didn’t have a location for the EV button. Finally, someone said, let’s make it easier for the passenger to use than the driver. On the grand scheme of things, though, if this is what I’m complaining about, I’m just whining.

You might be wondering why I was reaching for the EV button so much anyway. Well, the Fusion Energi just didn’t seem to use EV Mode very aggressively on its own for my taste. I’m willing to conceded that this might be weather and temperature related, but I know my route and I know where a hybrid should be able to shut off the engine. Including my wife’s 2010 Fusion Hybrid. After a couple days, I realized the Energi just wasn’t going to shut it off so I took matters into my own hands. This is where I want to drive this car again in the summer to see if the lack of EV was indeed temperature related along with my desire to heat the cabin.

The gauges I used the most were the ones that showed the amount of demand I was placing on the car versus the amount of demand it could support before disengaging EV mode. Using this gauge, I could adjust pedal pressure to stay in EV mode as long as possible to minimize the use of the gasoline engine. The same gauge provided real-time MPG results. In a nice touch, Ford has the battery charge level nestled up next to the gas level in an unassuming manner. Simple arrows point up when charge is being added to the battery and down when charge is consumed. I’m guessing the average driver isn’t going to dwell on the battery state of charge as much as I do and this minimalistic approach provides information without over-exaggerating its importance.

2013 Ford Fusion Energi Dash - Collage

These displays are easy to read and very informative. I feel as though they provided the right blend of information for me to really work the car for maximum mileage. Speaking of which, let’s look at the numbers.

I’m going to be throwing around mileage numbers so keep in mind that the 2013 Fusion Energi is rated at 44mpg city and 41mpg highway for a combined 43mpg.

The average temperature on my morning commutes was about 16.5°. I did not shy away from using the heater and the heated seats. On the mornings when I started with a fully-charged pack, I achieved 180.2 mpg at 14° and 81.5 mpg at 8°. The difference between the two drives was the route: one is slightly longer but more conducive to hypermiling; the other is highway almost the whole way. On the mornings when the car sat outside and started with a dead plug-in battery, I averaged 38.4 mpg. Considering the circumstances, I consider this a commendable mileage number representing manageable drop in mileage. Shoot, I know Prius owners who see sub-40 mpg in the winter.

Ford claims the Fusion Energi should be able to travel up to 21 miles on a fully-charged pack. Perhaps it was the temperature, but the farthest I was able to travel on plug-in charge was 14.4 miles. I expected a hit to the range; it’s very well documented that every battery pack loses performance in cold temps. But from 21 miles to 14 miles is a 33% drop. That’s rather significant, in my opinion.

The evening commutes were usually warmer than the mornings though twice it was snowing and one evening I was hurried. Because my morning commute is far enough to completely drain the plug-in charge, my evening commute was always just as a normal hybrid. Five commutes, averaging 15.5°, gave me an average 38.3 mpg. This is just slightly less than my morning commutes but due to terrain, I see this in my own car and am not surprised.

For the entire week, my average mpg was 42.2, elevated by those two days when I fully charged. Let’s pretend I charged every night and averaged 130 mpg every morning (the average of 180 and 81). Perhaps I could expect to see close to 170 mpg. This should be above 200 mpg in the summer months. I shouldn’t have to tell you how excited I would be to see those numbers.

Familability

The Fusion, in my opinion, is a really good family sedan. I’m not just talking about the Energi; I’m talking about the Fusion in general. Ford has had many years to get the dimensions correct and, as far as I’m concerned, they’ve done a good job.

You can easily fit a family of four; each person gets their own cup holder. There are two in the front and two in the back. All are located in the center of their respective rows making for easy reach for all. Additionally, each of the four doors has a bottle holder built in. The placement of the cup and bottle holders keeps them within reach but also out of the way.

It seemed to me as though the back seats were just a bit stiff. It would be fine for hauling some coworkers to lunch, but as a kid I wouldn’t want to sit back there for a long drive. I drive to my folk’s home a few times a year: 375 miles each way. The kids are only as well mannered as their butts are comfortable.

The general slant of the back half of the roof seems to encroach on headroom in the back. I’m 5’9” and my hair was lightly brushing against the ceiling.

And then there’s the trunk. Let’s put it this way: the trunk comes preloaded with a 7.6 kW battery. That’s my best effort at putting a positive spin on it. Seriously though, it’s a plug-in hybrid. The battery has to go somewhere. Every plug-in hybrid makes the same – or similar – trade-off. There’s no getting around it. The Fusion Energi is no different. So, in my opinion, to complain about the battery encroaching into the trunk is just silly. If it bothers you that much, just buy the Fusion Hybrid.

Bags in the Trunk - 500I found that the trunk has room for five paper shopping bags. Maybe six if you cram. It measures 39” wide, only 13” deep, and 20” tall. Officially, the trunk is around 8 cubic feet. This is about half that of the regular Fusion. If trunk space is your biggest concern, due to kids activities, golf outings, tailgating, etc., then you might not have much luck here. The battery shape makes for some interesting trunk dimensions including a “shelf” on top of the battery that is 7” tall and 18” deep.

The 12-volt battery is located in a cubby just to the side of the trunk. I’ve seen this in other cars and assumed there’s a jump point under the hood. If this is new to you, it simply means there is a terminal under the hood that you can use with jumper cables and it’s as though you were connected to the 12v directly. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the button or lever to pop the hood so I never found out. Seriously. I searched for several minutes in all the expected places then I searched in oddball places. Then I looked for the manual in the glove box but there wasn’t one.

Overall Conclusion

There is no denying that I honestly enjoyed driving the Fusion Energi. It seems to have an easy grace and comfort level that is difficult to explain. The exterior is well designed but also seems understated. With such an established line, the Fusion doesn’t really have to try very hard to be taken seriously in the marketplace.

The layout of the dash is very well thought out. The placement of the displays clearly follows a well thought out, logical design approach. This makes it easy to find what you’re looking for without taking your eyes off the road to search for it. The red and blue hues of the displays are easy on the eyes. My only critiques can be on the placement of some buttons and switches. No doubt, once you get accustomed to them it’s no longer a problem.

My cold-weather testing revealed that the Fusion Energi is capable of pretty good mileage even in relatively difficult situations. Without plugging in and charging the batteries, I achieved a respectable mileage of 38.4 mpg. This is what my wife averages in her 2010 Fusion Hybrid in good weather. I’m anxious to see how the Fusion performs in the summer. I predict I could come close to 50 mpg with minimal effort. But, of course, the power of the plug-in is the 21 miles of EV, which should stretch your gas money substantially. Depending on your situation, 21 miles might get you through a whole day.

Fitting a family of four into the Fusion Energi is a snap. The kids will be comfortable in the back except, perhaps, on long trips where I feel the seats might be a bit too stiff. Taller back seat occupants might get claustrophobic when their heads hit the ceiling. Half of the trunk is dedicated to housing the plug-in battery, which severely limits the amount of stuff you can fit back there.

Let’s say you have a minivan or some other vehicle for long road trips and hauling the kids’ soccer gear and whatnot. The Fusion Energi is a very nice and comfortable daily commuter car. Using “My GO Time” you can start every morning with a full battery and a conditioned cabin. With 21 miles of EV and decent pure hybrid mileage, my conclusion is simple: there’s a very high probability this will be my wife’s next car.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,