Ford Expands Electrification EffortsPosted on May 27th, 2013
C-Max, Fusion and Focus lineups include hybrids/ pure electric powertrains
By Nina Russin
Ford’s green car offerings for the 2013 model year include hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the C-Max crossover, compact Focus and midsized Fusion sedans. At a recent event in Tempe, Arizona, I had the opportunity to jump behind the wheel of Ford’s newest green cars and learn a little more about the automaker’s hybrid and electric vehicle technology.
In order to contain manufacturing costs, Ford is utilizes flexible assembly lines at its Wayne, Michigan plant. The plant produces the C-Max and Focus gasoline, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric models. Since the cars share chassis components, it’s easier to modify production plans according to buyer demand.
Ford positions the C-Max between two members of the Toyota Prius family: the liftback and the larger Prius V. The C-Max hybrid utilizes a lithium-ion battery pack positioned between the second-row seats and cargo area together with a two-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine to average 47 miles-per-gallon according to the EPA.
A continuously-variable automatic transmission provides infinite gear combinations to keep engine speeds low for the best gas mileage. The air conditioning compressor draws energy from the battery pack so it can operate when the gasoline engine shuts off, solving a problem that existed with former hybrid models. An electric power steering system and electric water pumps reduce internal pumping losses compared to mechanical/hydraulic systems.
A smart phone app enables owners of the C-Max Energi hybrid to control when and how the car charges. By programming the app to charge the vehicle during off-peak hours, Ford estimates owners can charge the vehicle for less than a dollar per charge. The app also enables the driver to program the HVAC system to pre-heat or cool the vehicle.
The drive routes at the event in Tempe were short without a highway segment, but my initial impression of the C-Max was favorable. Electric motors develop peak torque at very low engine speeds, so both cars have excellent power off the line. A large greenhouse gives the driver good visibility around the car’s perimeter, and a rearview camera is standard. Braking is firm and linear without being dicey: a problem with some regenerative braking system.
The car’s only Achilles heel is the cargo area. Although the rear seats fold flat, the battery pack protrudes up from the cargo floor, making it difficult to load anything large in back. I noticed the same problem with the Fusion hybrid and Fusion Energi. The plug-in Fusion has such a small trunk that it is incapable of holding more than a couple grocery bags.
The Focus electric is an appealing alternative to competitor such as the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi MiEV. The car runs off a lithium-ion battery pack produced by LG Chem of Korea. An active liquid system pumps coolant through the battery to reduce the effects of extreme heat on battery life. Driving range is a reasonable 75 miles or so, and the car fully-recharges on 240-volt power in four hours.
What I like about the Focus is that it feels like a substantial vehicle: a problem with some competitive products. Fit and finish throughout the vehicle is excellent, and the driver has the advantage of infotainment features such as MyFord Touch and SYNC for hands-free phone operation.
Ride and handling on the short road course was quite good. Keyless entry and start saves the driver from fishing the fob out of his pocket. The electric motor has a top speed of 85 miles-per-hour, which enables the Focus electric to keep up on the highway. Acceleration off the line is excellent.
The electric power steering system has a slight lag in on-center response, but I don’t think drivers will have any problems with evasive maneuvers.
The newest Ford Fusion now includes both hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions. I was a big fan of the first Fusion hybrid: a former ALV of the Year winner. With the exception of its small trunk, I think the new model is a noticeable improvement. The new two-liter four-cylinder engine is smaller and more efficient than the 2.5-liter block in the former model, with good power.
The newest Fusion has some important active safety features, including lane keep assist that automatically re-centers the car in the lane if the driver starts to drift out, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, and active park assist that automatically performs parallel parking maneuvers.
The interior is spacious enough to hold four adults: five in a pinch. Forty-seven mile-per gallon average fuel economy is impressive for a five-passenger sedan.
For additional information about Ford’s new electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid models, visit the manufacturer’s web site.
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