Ford's mid-size Fusion is all new for 2013, and unlike the car it replaces, this one has European roots -- it's nearly identical to the Mondeo that Ford sells in Europe and elsewhere on the planet. Auto writers like me love European cars -- but they aren't always right for the American market. Will this new Fusion fit in Stateside? Read on.
First Glance: Anticipation
After test driving the all-new 2013 Fusion, I began to wonder if I should look for the can of happy gas that Ford must have secreted away underneath the seat cushions. I was so impressed by the car that I seriously began to question my own judgment.
My concern was that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have been pining for Ford's European-market Mondeo every since the previous generation made a cameo in the James Bond film Casino Royale. A year or so ago, I took a brief drive in one at a Ford press event for the EcoBoost engine. The car's presence was ostensibly to show us how the turbocharged four-cylinder engine worked in a mid-size sedan, but if you can show me definitive proof that Ford wasn't trying to whet our appetite for the next Fusion -- which is essentially an update of the Mondeo I drove -- I'll eat my own laptop.
Ford showed us the real thing in January 2012 at the Detroit Auto Show, and I, like every other journalist around me, was drooling -- at the Aston-inspired styling, in the high-class interior, and on the spec sheet that promised a pair of high-tech turbocharged engines and two hybrids.
All that was left was the drive and the pricing. As long as the road manners didn't suck and the sticker wasn't exorbitant, I had just pretty much decided in advance that it was going to be a winner -- and in my job, that's a dangerous thing to do.
So that brings us to the test drive, where the new Fusion was as good as I hoped it would be. Either the Fusion is every bit as revolutionary as the 1986 Taurus, or I'm a victim of Ford's carefully-crafted PR campaign, happily drowning in Fusion-flavored Kool-Aid.
In the Driver's Seat: European style, American room
To be fair, I tried my best to reserve judgment until I sat inside -- after all, if Ford cheaped out on the cabin, then the Fusion would be little more than a pretty face. Turns out, it isn't: The Fusion's interior is just as suave and sophisticated as the exterior, with high-quality materials and sensibly-arranged switchgear that give it a uniquely Germanic feel. I kept thinking of Audi -- not that Audi would design an interior that looked like the Fusion's, but if they did, this is exactly how they would do it.
The front seats are supportive and comfortable, and the same can be said of the generous back seat -- proof that American needs were factored into the Fusion's design. (The last Mondeo-based Ford, the 1995-2000 Contour, was sized for Euro-families and therefore too cramped for the American market.) Same goes for the trunk, which measures up at a generous 16 cubic feet, though hybrids get less -- 12 cubic feet.
As with other Fords, the Fusion is available with the MyFord Touch system, which divides the center-mounted touch-screen into four zones (Climate, Navigation, Entertainment, Phone) that can also be adjusted with steering-wheel buttons. While I'm impressed by the execution, I still think this system makes simple tasks too labor-intensive. When I needed to program the nav, I didn't even bother with the screen -- I used SYNC's voice recognition (which, thankfully, is the best in the biz). I did like the touch-sensitive panel for the climate controls -- it uses a matte finish that doesn't show fingerprints like the glossy panel in other Fords -- but I still preferred the old-fashioned buttons in lower-trim Fusions.
On the Road: Lots of choices
The Fusion is offered with a dizzying array of engines, starting with a 175 hp 2.5 liter 4-cylinder that was notably absent from the press preview. Instead, we drove its high-tech doppelgänger, the 178 hp turbocharged and direct-injected 1.6 liter EcoBoost. This engine does roughly the same job with a broader, flatter torque curve and superior fuel economy: 23 MPG city/36 highway with a 6-speed automatic transmission and 25/37 for the six-speed stick, versus a still-decent 22/34 for the auto-only 2.5. Incidentally, the 1.6 automatic is offered with an optional ($295) auto-stop system that shuts the engine off at stoplights, and it works very well -- better than BMW's auto-stop system. The 1.6 isn't lightning quick, but it's perfectly adequate, an impressive feat for such a tiny engine. Of all the Fusions I drove, the 1.6 manual-trans was my favorite, though the automatic 1.6 wasn't far behind.
Instead of a V6, the Fusion offers a 2-liter EcoBoost engine. Stats: 240 hp, 22 MPG city, 33 MPG highway, automatic only. It's a great choice for those who want a little power reserve over the 1.6T. (It's also the only engine available with all-wheel-drive, but only in the top-of-the-line Titanium model.) I also got a chance to sample the Fusion Hybrid, which uses the same 188 hp 2.0 liter/electric motor combo as the C-Max. I loved it -- it had plenty of power and achieved 42 MPG in my 45-minute test loop. (EPA estimates are 47 city/44 highway.) A plug-in hybrid version, the Fusion Energi, is on the way.
Good as the engines are, the Fusion's suspension is an absolute delight. Again, the Germanic character shows: The Fusion is good fun to drive, and yet its ride is civil, though definitely biased towards the firmer side of comfortable. Ford's hard work on their electric power steering wins the day: It feels well-weighted and direct and provides good feedback.