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    Going Green Without Advertising It

    auto2Buying a hybrid once meant making a distinct statement about being green. Driving a Toyota Prius or Honda Insight demonstrated its owner’s commitment to saving gas and the environment. But now, hybrids many times don’t look much different from the plain gas versions in the lineup. If we compare this all to drag: hybrids were peacock performers, but now they can also be the ones who hang up the stilettos and don a pair of Dockers for work.

    Our two subjects this week are of the latter type. Both the Chevrolet Malibu hybrid and Ford Fusion Energi Platinum plug-in hybrid look remarkably similar to the Malibus and Fusions that run simply on gas, so they are not the ones to get if you want people to admire your car’s efficiency.

    That is kind of a shame, because both of these mid-sized sedans positively sip gas. It takes a while to get used to driving these relatively large cars and noting that the needles on their gas gauges barely budge. The EPA pegs the overall Malibu Hybrid’s mileage at 46 mpg, and the plug-in Fusion Energi lands at 42 mpg on gas alone, which more than doubles to 97 mpg when the hybrid system is fully charged.

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    Both the Malibu Hybrid and Fusion Energi have expansively roomy interiors. The tested $31K Malibu was more sparsely equipped than the $36K Fusion Energi Platinum, and it was apparent. The Malibu’s black cloth upholstery was more sturdy than cozy, and the unrelenting darkness of the dashboard and door panels had a downbeat vibe.

    The Platinum trim level for the Fusion Energi, on the other hand, looked and felt sumptuous. In European markets, this decor group is known as the Vignale, and it lives up to that stylish name with diamond-stitched leather and rich textures. The instrument panel is the best part; you gaze out over a sea of stitched baseball-glove leather.

    The Fusion Energi Platinum feels like a true luxury car inside, so much so that it is jarring to climb out and view the
    exterior’s relative anonymity. Looping back to the drag analogy, the Fusion Energi Platinum is like a navy sport jacket with a wildly colorful lining; it is just the ticket if you want to spoil yourself without advertising it.

    While both of these more efficient versions of the Malibu and Fusion have much to recommend them, there are a few caveats. Performance from both is strong enough to keep up with traffic, but both exhibit the occasionally maddening indirect feel endemic to hybrids. Sometimes they respond with a delay when you need more squirt. Trunks are
    smaller as they accommodate the hybrid battery pack, and, of course, these more efficient versions are more expensive than their standard brethren.

    Buying the Fusion Energi also means missing the opportunity to buy the 2017 Fusion V6 Sport, with its all-wheel drive and twin-turbocharged engine. Mileage drops to 20 mpg, but if you love to drive, then that is the drag outfit in which you would feel most at home.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant at www.gaycarguy.com. Check out his automotive staging service at www.carstaging.com