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Tests dispute Ford hybrids’ mpg boast

– Ford’s two newest hybrid models fell 17 percent to 21 percent short of the company’s promise of 47 mpg in tests by Consumer Reports, the biggest shortfall the magazine has found.

The Ford Fusion hybrid achieved 39 miles a gallon, while the C-Max hybrid averaged 37 mpg in tests of city and highway driving, the Yonkers, N.Y.-based magazine said Friday.

Ford advertises that each model will achieve 47 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

“This is the largest discrepancy that we’ve seen,” said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports auto test chief. “Hopefully the EPA and Ford can look into this. It’s important to get to the bottom of this and make sure that the claimed fuel economy is going to be what consumers find in the real world.”

Ford is counting on the redesigned Fusion to challenge Toyota’s Camry, the top-selling car in the U.S. for the last 10 years. Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford has loaded new technology into the 2013 Fusion, which went on sale in October, and stresses that its hybrid version’s 47 mpg is more than the Camry hybrid’s 40 mpg.

The 2013 Fusion was named Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal last month.

The C-Max and Fusion hybrids are among six new hybrids and electric cars Ford is fielding this year and next in an effort to advance in a market dominated by Toyota. Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally has made fuel economy a cornerstone of his turnaround plan.

“Early C-Max hybrid and Fusion hybrid customers praise the vehicles and report a range of fuel economy figures, including some reports above 47 mpg,” said Wes Sherwood, a Ford spokesman. “Driving styles, driving conditions and other factors can cause mileage to vary.”

Consumer Reports, which doesn’t accept advertising, said it bought Fusion and C-Max hybrids from a local dealership and drove them “2,000 break-in miles,” before testing. The magazine installed a “precision fuel meter” in each car’s fuel line.

To test city driving, the magazine drove the cars through a standard course on its Connecticut test track at specific speeds with multiple stops and predetermined idle time. For highway testing, the cars were driven each way at 65 mph on the same stretch of highway.

Sherwood said gauges and other “eco-coaching” technology on the Ford hybrid models can teach drivers to optimize fuel economy.

“We expect a wider range of performance will lead to opportunities to get a wider range of fuel economy figures,” Sherwood said. “We will continue to work with our customers, Consumer Reports and any others who have questions about how our hybrids are different.”

Despite the shortfall, the Fusion was the most fuel-efficient midsized sedan hybrid Consumer Reports tested, topping the Camry hybrid by 1 mpg. The Camry hybrid, which averaged 38 mpg in the magazine’s tests, fell just 2 mpg short of Toyota’s claim of 40 mpg, Fisher said.

“Eighty percent of the vehicles we tested are within 2 mpg of EPA estimates,” Fisher said.