2014 Toyota Prius
 

Until now, Toyota has pretty much had the hybrid market all to itself. This is especially true of the Prius, which has ruled the roost since its introduction, in 1999. Over the years, Toyota has sold over three million of them, worldwide. No one else is even close.

But carmakers such as Ford, Kia, Honda, Hyundai and others are churning out a range of nicely executed hybrid models in all shapes and sizes these days, some of which are challenging the almighty Prius.

Like the Ford Fusion, for example, which is available in two hybrid models: the Energi and Hybrid. One plugs in to be re-charged, and the other doesn’t, but in both cases, I’ve come away impressed.

So, how does it stack up against the world’s favourite hybrid? Not too bad, actually, but first, a few particulars.

The Fusion Hybrid is powered by a 2.0 litre Atkinson cycle gasoline engine mated to an electric motor that is fed by a lithium-ion battery pack. My tester, the SE model, has a combined 141 horsepower on tap, with a CVT transmission. It’ll run on pure battery power up to about 50 km/h, depending upon how you drive it. Ford is claiming up to 100 km/h here, but that has not been my experience.

Like most hybrid cars, the Hybrid SE has a dash readout that allows the driver to monitor their fuel consumption and various other functions….Ford calls it “Eco-Guide”. Drive nicely and you get all the “leaves and vines” on the monitor, as well as an ongoing readout of fuel economy. It’s an easy-to-understand set-up and doesn’t interfere with the driving experience. All this together combines to deliver a purported 4.1 L / 100 km combined fuel economy….. the thriftiest in the mid-size sedan market.

The Prius, meanwhile, is propelled by a 1.8 litre four cylinder that has 134 net horsepower. Like the Fusion, it too has a CVT, and is also front-drive. Its hybrid synergy drive system has three settings and the electric motor is fed by nickel-metal hydride batteries. Like the Fusion, the Prius will run on solo battery power ….up to about 40-50 km/h. It has a combined fuel economy rating of 3.8 L / 100 km. Both cars use battery power alone while backing up.

Unlike the Fusion, the Prius is a hatchback and there is some 611 litres of storage space back there (vs. 340 litres for the Fusion). Both vehicles will seat five adults, although the Fusion is probably the more comfy of the two for back seat passengers.

Behind the wheel, the Fusion SE is definitely more accommodating. It has a much more luxurious interior, and the seats on my tester were leather. With a conventional, normal-sized centre-mounted shift lever, it has a less industrial ambience than the Prius with more in the way of amenities. For example, my tester had three-setting seat warmers.

It’s also slightly quicker, although neither one of these two can qualify as a hot rod. But this is where the Prius has the edge. When the Fusion makes the transition from pure electric power to internal combustion, it lets you know about it and the change is abrupt and noticeable. The Prius’ system, by comparison, is more refined and virtually undetected. That said, the Prius tends to “hunt” for optimum performance when it’s in Eco mode.

I’m still trying to make up my mind about the Prius’ centre-dashboard display set-up. Located smack in the middle of everything, it’s what Toyota calls a “command and display zone”. It’s almost as glitzy as the Fusion, and keeps the driver up to date on what power is being generated where, what the current fuel consumption is, and what the system is doing. Six of one and half a dozen of the other, I suppose.  

No such ambivalence about the Fusion’s switchgear, however. In a word, it’s stupid, and simple tasks, such as setting the heat and ventilation control, for example, are counter-intuitive and ‘way more complicated than they need to be. This aspect of the Fusion would stop me in my tracks, were I in the market for this kind of vehicle.

How about price? In a nutshell, this trim level of the Fusion is more expensive….those three-setting seat warmers don’t come cheap, you know. All in, before taxes, the Fusion Hybrid SE will run you just under forty large….$39,604. The Prius with the Touring package, is almost seven thou cheaper….at $32,843 before extras.

Which one would I choose? Without question, it’d be the Prius…..thousands of taxi drivers can’t be wrong.

 

Manufacturer's Site: Toyota

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