If you're in the market for an ultra fuel-efficient hybrid that makes a convincing family sedan, your best choice has always been a Toyota -- until now. Toyota's Camry Hybrid and Prius have been the only realistic alternatives for many. Most American-built hybrids simply haven't matched their fuel economy, and the Nissan Altima Hybrid remains rare and hard to find.
A new entrant in the contest, however, may have knocked the Toyotas from their lofty perch.
The automotive press has begun testing the all-new 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid in recent weeks. Two prominent publications have now published comparisons pitting the Fusion Hybrid against its Toyota competition, and the Ford has won both.
USA Today writes: "OK, let's just get it out there: The 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid is the best gasoline-electric hybrid yet. What makes it best is a top-drawer blend of an already very good midsize sedan with the industry's smoothest, best-integrated gas-electric power system. It's so well-done that you have to look to the $107,000 Lexus LS 600h hybrid to come close."
"The Toyota Prius crowd will protest," they note, but USA Today says Ford's car simply drives better. "A car is, after all, a driving machine. Brownie points for saving somewhat more fuel or offering a cargo-friendly hatchback, but driving feel is most important. And there, Fusion is without equal among hybrids."
Car and Driver set the Fusion against the Camry Hybrid, Chevy Malibu Hybrid and Altima Hybrid, but the result was the same. "Ford has pulled off a game changer with this 2010 model, creating a high-mpg family hauler that's fun to drive," they write. "Nothing about the leather-lined test car, optioned up from its $27,995 base price to $32,555, seemed economy minded except for the mileage readings. On that score, the Fusion topped the others, turning in a 34-mpg score card for the overall 300-mile test run."
In our time behind the wheel of the Fusion Hybrid, we quickly came to a similar verdict. The Fusion Hybrid corners with as much agility as its conventionally-powered cousin - one of the best-handling cars in the midsize class. With standard SYNC technology, it allows the driver to control Bluetooth-enabled phones and music players through the car's speakers with voice commands. And its standard leather and high-quality stereo give it an upscale feel for an affordable price. Ford has a hit on its hands.
We had one minor complaint. Ford's SmartGuage instrument cluster does a great job coaching the driver to drive more efficiently with information-rich displays, but the cutesy display that grows leaves as the driver reaches peak efficiency is distracting and can draw your eyes from the road. Still, following the device's prompts, we hit 37.7 mpg in city driving on the first try.
The Fusion Hybrid qualifies for a federal tax credit of $3,400 until the end of March, but few of the cars will reach dealerships by then - if you're in the market, you might want to consider ordering yours before the credit disappears.
If any Ford product has your eye, you should be aware that Ford is offering some of the deepest discounts we've seen in years this month. Read our Best Ford Deals page for details.