Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid test drive (video)

The Ford Fusion Energi joins the C-MAX Energi and Focus Electric as the company's third vehicle with a charging connector and access to California's HOV lanes. While it's a larger car than the C-MAX Energi, it weighs about the same and features pretty much the same plug-in hybrid powertrain with 195 net horsepower and three EV driving modes. It combines a 2-liter DOHC 16V Duratec (Atkinson cycle) engine and CVT with an AC synchronous motor powered by a 7.6kWh Lithium Ion battery. This pack takes about 2.5 hours to fill up with a 240V charging station and provides a range of 21 miles (100MPGe) at up to 85MPH in all-electric mode. Both autos share the same unfortunate battery protrusion in the trunk area, and while it's less of an issue in the Fusion sedan than the wagon-like C-MAX, it detracts from the overall package. The Fusion Energi also packs the company's latest and greatest tech, including MyFord Mobile, SmartGauge with EcoGuide, Eco Cruise and SYNC with MyFord Touch. Sure, that's pretty exciting, but how does it actually drive? Find out after the break.

We took the Fusion Energi for a spin on the rainy streets of San Francisco, and it was a pleasant experience despite the downtown traffic and subpar weather. While we were impressed with the Focus Electric's excellent driving dynamics, we were disappointed with the C-MAX Energi's vague steering and soft handling (this despite sharing the same platform as the Focus). The Fusion Energi splits the difference: it's not as playful as the Focus Electric, but it's far more engaging than the appliance-like C-MAX Energi. Handling is confident, with a compliant ride even on San Francisco's famously rutted streets -- it's clearly a vehicle that would be comfortable on longer trips. The steering feels precise and the brakes are drama-free.

We were less enamored with the powertrain. In the all-electric EV Now mode, the accelerator only responds to the first one-third of pedal travel. Beyond the initial surge of torque, the car slowly builds up momentum regardless of any further throttle input. Mash the pedal in Auto EV mode and, after the electric motor pulls you off the line, there's a brief delay before the gasoline engine comes to life and the CVT raises the RPMs to maximize efficiency. The resulting soundtrack is loud and buzzy and betrays the vehicle's overall refinement. EV Later mode provides less electric assistance as it attempts to conserve battery power.

Ford's outfitted the Fusion Energi with a dizzying array of driver-assist tech, including a lane-keeping system, adaptive cruise control, driver alert system, active park assist, rear camera, blind-spot indicator system with cross-traffic alert and pull-drift compensation (phew). It also features a Sony- and Microsoft-branded SYNC with MyFord Touch infotainment system and an AT&T-powered wireless data connection for telematics. Speaking of which, the MyFord Mobile app's recently been updated to benefit from the company's partnership with PlugShare for real-time charging station location information. The Fusion Energi is availabe now starting at $38,700.