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PLUG-IN PROMOTER: Ford’s Fusion Energi delivers excellent fuel economy, superb driving manners

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With its Fusion Energi, Ford has found a way to combine eye-popping fuel economy, svelte styling (take that, Prius!), and virtually normal driving dynamics.

You’d be hard-pressed to determine exactly what is powering this comfortable and well-built sedan if you didn’t know it has plug-in capabilities that can motivate the car for about 20 miles on electricity alone, before resorting to typical hybrid-gas behavior. Of course, the car’s silent acceleration is a fairly obvious hint there’s something out of the ordinary going on here.

While 20 miles might not seem like a lot, for many people that’s enough to drive to the office or job site and home again without burning a drop of gasoline. Once home, plug ‘er in overnight (or for 2½ hours with a 240-volt outlet) and you’re good to go the next day.

And when running on electric-only, the Energi initially feels fairly sprightly as it accelerates from a dead stop in near-silence. The electric-only mode is best reserved for in-town driving for maximum efficiency. Of course, the more aggressively you drive the shorter your all-electric drive distance becomes.

That’s where the 2.0-liter gasoline engine comes into play, at which point the Energi becomes like a regular hybrid.

Beyond the drivetrain, the Energi shares most of the fine qualities of the rest of the Fusion lineup. The SE’s interior features a plethora of near-luxury accoutrements, such as leather seating surfaces; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; heated front buckets; and dual-zone automatic climate control.

2014 Ford FusionThe front seats are ample enough for well-fed American derrieres, with just the right touch of bolstering to keep passengers in place. Rear legroom is quite generous, and the sleek roofline doesn’t seem to take a toll on headroom.

The Fusion Energi is a wonderfully relaxed highway cruiser. Wind and road noise are almost nonexistent, and the suspension mimics a near-European approach in the way it absorbs bumps and surface imperfections while still delivering a smooth, serene ride.

The Energi does present a sort of high-tech approach to its instrumentation, with a pair of small, digital configurable screens for readouts on drivetrain performance and other systems flanking a large central speedometer. And Ford’s oft-criticized Sync system with MyFord Touch controls audio/nav/media selections through a large screen in the center of the high-quality but somewhat-austere dash. While in our care, it worked well enough to not merit a demerit.

While the price of plug-in electrification pumps up the Energi’s price over a standard Fusion Hybrid, the sort of folks who demand the greenest car in the land won’t find the premium unduly onerous, especially given the Energi’s overall excellence.