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Tech Tour Day Two: A Great Ride

ST. IGNACE (WWJ) -- Greetings from this lakeshore town at the north end of the Mackinac Bridge, where I pulled in for the night to write up Friday's Technology Report before starting my 2013 Fall Tech Tour at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, still five hours distant.

Today was pretty much just a typical workday for your humble narrator, with the exception of a four and a half hour ride from Kalamazoo. And what a pleasure it was, thanks to this fall's Tech Tour Mobile, a 2014 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid.

I spent Wednesday night at my brother's house just north of Kalamazoo, and he kindly let me steal about 50 cents worth of electrons to fully charge the big battery pack on this lovely car. I made it most of the way to Grand Rapids on battery power alone before hearing the 140-hp, four-cylinder engine kick on.

When both the gas-burner and the 118-hp electric motor are engaged, this car is quick, agile and fun to drive, despite its 3,900-pound weight. That's about 600 pounds more than a gasoline-powered Fusion SE. You see, batteries are heavy. And they also take up a lot of space -- the biggest drawback of this car is the way the battery pack takes up half of what is a spacious trunk in a conventional Fusion.

Despite having a bit of a lead foot, on the first 350 miles of this road trip I'm averaging 42.7 miles a gallon. Out of a midsize American car that's beautiful, well built and fun to drive. That's just remarkable.

All this fun doesn't come cheap, though. The Fusion Energi at the top Titanium trim level, which I'm driving, starts at $40,500. (The more modestly equipped SE starts at $38,700.) That's a big price premium over the Fusion Hybrid (SE, $27,200, Titanium, $32,500). Unless you're going to plug it in at home and at work and basically never use any gasoline except on long road trips, that makes it kind of hard to justify the Energi's price over the Fusion Hybrid, which also gets excellent mileage.

Back to the good stuff: The interior is spacious and quiet, with lovely leather upholstery and a fifth seat belt the Chevy Volt doesn't have. The Sony premium sound system could make a dead man's ears bleed, and the four-corner video screen is the same as a conventional Ford, offering easy controls for climate, entertainment, phone and navigation. (As a longtime Ford owner I'm used to it. I realize some reviewers hate it.) Some of the controls are backed up with buttons on the center console for the screenophobe.

Recharge time for the 20-mile all-electric range is 2.5 hours at 240 volts and about seven hours on household 110 voltage. The battery is also recharged by a regenerative braking system, and the brake coach on the Fusion Energi seems harder to please than the system on my wife's Ford C-Max Hybrid crossover.

Well, anyway, after the insufficient amount of sleep that's so typical of the Tech Tour, I'll point this gorgeous car westward along US-2, along one of the prettiest beaches in the universe on the north shore of Lake Michigan, and after a jaunt through the Seney Swamp along another one of the prettiest beaches in the universe on the south shore of Lake Superior. And then the fabulous research of Michigan Tech awaits. Read about it Sunday night online!

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