Hybrid competitors challenge the Toyota Prius

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Until now, Toyota has pretty much had the hybrid market to itself, with the Prius ruling the roost since its introduction in 1999. Over the years, Toyota has sold over three million of them worldwide; no other company even comes close.

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

Take the Ford Fusion, for example, which is available in two hybrid models: the Energi and the Hybrid. One plugs in to recharge and the other doesn’t, but either way this is a worthy rival to the Prius.

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

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

Like most hybrid cars, the Hybrid SE has a dash readout that allows the driver to monitor fuel consumption and other functions—Ford calls it the 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 setup, and it doesn’t interfere with the driving experience. All this together delivers a purported 4.1 litres per 100 kilometres combined fuel economy—the thriftiest in the midsize-sedan market.

The Prius, meanwhile, is propelled by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder that has 134 net horsepower. Like the Fusion, it has a CVT and is 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 to 50 kilometres per hour. It has a combined fuel-economy rating of 3.8 litres per 100 kilometres. Both vehicles use battery power alone when backing up.

Unlike the Fusion, the Prius is a hatchback, and there’s some 612 litres of storage space back there (versus 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. In terms of cargo capacity, the Prius takes it.

Behind the wheel, though, the Fusion SE is definitely more accommodating. It has a more luxurious interior, and the seats in my tester were leather. With a conventional, normal-sized centre-mounted shift lever, it has a less industrial ambiance 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 of these could qualify as a hot rod. But drivability 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. By comparison, the Prius’s system is more refined and the shift virtually undetectable. 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’s centre-dashboard display setup. 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’s, 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—are counterintuitive 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? 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 40 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.

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Haryuen
Is the Prius+ 7-seater going to be sold in Canada anytime soon?
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Ted Laturnus

Toyota isn't saying.
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