Ford has given its mid-size Fusion a serious make-over for 2010, including an updated exterior, improved cabin, revised engines, and a new top-of-the-line Sport model. I've always thought the Fusion was underrated and underappreciated. Will the 2010 Ford Fusion fix that? Read on. $19,995 base, $29,545 as tested, EPA fuel economy estimates 17-22 MPG city, 24-34 MPG highway.
First Glance: No respect
Let's say all the mid-size sedans on the market got together to play baseball. When it came to choosing up teams, the Ford Fusion -- the old model, at least -- is the car they'd probably pick last. And not for any good reason. Introduced in 2006, the Fusion was actually a pretty talented car -- it was better to drive than most of its rivals, it had a great fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine (as well as a strong optional V6), and it was one of the few mid-size sedans available with front- or all-wheel-drive. (All-wheel-drive is great for lousy weather, but it also improves handling and safety on dry roads.)
So why was it so unpopular? Could have been the awkward styling. Or the cheap, plasticky interior. Or maybe it was the lack of advanced optional features, like a navigation system -- when the Fusion was introduced, Ford reserved those bits for the Fusion's near-twins, the Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ (a problem they later rectified). Whatever the reasons, buyers generally relegated the Fusion to left field, which is a shame, because it could catch and throw the ball like nobody's business.
Fast-forward to 2010, and Ford has finally decided to do something about the Fusion's lack of popularity: New exterior styling, new four-cylinder engine, updated interior, and a new hybrid model. They've even come up with a new Sport version -- that's the one I tested -- with big wheels, a big V6, and a big attitude.
In the Driver's Seat: Better outside and in
Let's start with the exterior styling: I'm a fan. The 2010 Fusion is as handsome as the 06-09 was awkward. The big three-bar chrome grille (link goes to photo) gives it an in-your-face face, and the new solid red taillights are infinitely better than the clear tuner-Honda-wannabe jobs on the old car. The Sport model has 18" five-spoke wheels, lower side skirts, and chrome around the fog lights and lower grille (a bit much, if you ask me). My tester was finished in a color called Tuxedo Black, which has multi-color sparkly bits made from ground-up glass. Very cool, although I wonder how easy it will be for collision shops to re-paint.
Inside, they kept the good and tossed most of the bad. The roomy back seat and trunk remain unchanged, but the Fusion has all-new gauges and stereo/climate controls that look like they were designed for the car rather than just plucked from the corporate parts bin. I especially liked the front seats: They're lined in soft, smooth leather (if it's not genuine, it had me fooled), and the Sport model gets adjustable side bolsters for the seat back to hold you in while cornering -- but instead of grabbing you firmly, the Fusion's seats caress you gently. I found them exceptionally comfortable.
But it's not all good. I still think the Fusion's expansive plastic dash looks cheaper than most of its rivals, and while the stereo and climate controls look great, they still have too many buttons -- I found it impossible to perform simple tasks like turning down the fan without taking my eyes off the road.
On the Road: Better than most...but not the best
V6-powered Fusions, including the Sport, are available with front- or all-wheel-drive. My test car was a front-driver, and that's what really let it down. The front-drive Fusion Sport is still a good deal better to drive than the Toyota Camry or the Chevy Malibu, but I wouldn't consider it a proper sports sedan -- the ride is too soft and there isn't enough grip. It's enjoyable, but not thrilling. If I were going to buy a Fusion Sport, I'd opt for all-wheel-drive ($1,850) and fit a better set of tires -- that would really push the Fusion Sport over the top, perhaps even into BMW or Audi territory.
I did like the 263 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 engine, which is exclusive to the Sport model. It makes great noises and pulls strongly, evenly and eagerly right to its 6,500 RPM redline. It's nice that Ford has finally fitted the Fusion's 6-speed automatic with a proper manual-shift function, but what this car really needs is steering wheel paddle shifters -- or, better yet, a Sport program for the transmission. (Sadly, there's no stick-shift available -- how cool would that be?)
Speaking of cool, the Fusion's options list includes the SYNC system, which allows you to control your phone, iPod or Zune player by voice commands (and works brilliantly well, I might add). Although my test car didn't have it, the Fusion offers one of the best navigation systems in the business. It features real-time traffic information and is one of the few built-in systems that pronounces street names (i.e. "Turn left on Waldo Street" instead of just "Turn left").
Journey's End: No longer the last pick
There's a lot to like about the new, improved Fusion -- sharp styling, good road manners, and a brilliant infotainment package. Still, I found the cheapish interior to be a bit of a turn-off, and the Sport wasn't as sporty as I had hoped, although I might well have a different opinion had I tested the all-wheel-drive version. And in these hard times, I can't ignore the fact that the Fusion is built in Mexico. Most of its rivals -- including the Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda6, and most versions of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and Subaru Legacy -- are built on US soil.
The Fusion faces a crowded marketplace, including the Honda Accord and Subaru Legacy (good to drive, but expensive), the Chevrolet Malibu (excellent interior and amazingly quiet and refined, but not as good to drive), and the Toyota Camry (reliable as the sunrise, but dull as dirt to drive). Truth is, the Fusion fares well against all these cars. It's not the best, but it's pretty darn good.
If I were captain of the mid-size baseball team, my first pick would be the Mazda6 -- it's roomy, well-equipped, well-appointed, and a lot of fun to drive. And the Fusion? I certainly wouldn't pick it last... maybe third or fourth. Of course, I've only sampled one flavor of the 2010 Fusion. With engines from 175 to 265 horsepower, front- or all-wheel-drive, conventional or hybrid powertrains, and a price range of $19,995 to $33,170, there really is a Fusion for everyone. Maybe I just haven't found the right one for me. -- Aaron Gold