Build a solid, well-equipped car that gets great fuel economy and comes at a fair price.
|1. The 2013 Fusion comes with a choice of five engines, including three gasoline options, a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid.
2. A 1.6L EcoBoost 4-cylinder makes 178 hp and gets a best of 25/37-mpg.
3. Pricing starts at $21,700 plus $795 destination, while 1.6L EcoBoost models start at $24,495 and 240-hp 2.0L EcoBoost models for $1,500 more.
4. A hybrid model gets a claimed 47-mpg combined.
5. Both radar cruise control and a Lane Keeping feature are available as options.
Do that for 20 years with a reputation for reliability and you’ll have a product people will buy without thinking twice.
Need a short cut? Deliver the same recipe in a package so dramatically good looking people dream about parking one in their driveway.
A FAMILIAR FACE
I am of course referring to the 2013 Ford Fusion, a car that rolls down the street with the presence of a European sports car. Sure Ford’s design department has all the originality of a college paper ripped from the pages of Wikipedia, but in the marketplace of public opinion (as in the actual marketplace) cheating is rewarded.
In fact, Ford’s design department should be praised as much as ridiculed. As a part of the brand’s “One Ford” plan models are now sold, in nearly identical packaging, in a global marketplace. The marketing team will tell you they did extensive studies to determine a universally attractive design and (cue the sarcastic surprise), an Aston Martin front grille does the trick.
Would you blame Toyota if the next Camry looked like a Ferrari? You might, but you’d also buy one.
Inside, the Fusion is noticeably less dramatic. There’s a monotone uniformity about the cabin, with even the center stack lookin like a slab of matte-gray plastic. Base fabric seats are as nondescript as can be, while the coarse black leather on our Titanium test model has a faux luxury feel.
It does give the Fusion a sporting vibe and the hide is similar to that of a BMW. You’d think a comparison to a German automaker would be a positive, but in this case its not, especially when we’re talking about a $37,000 family sedan – which for the record is slightly more than a base BMW 328i.
At this price the Fusion is far from base, with safety and convenience features to match the car’s luxury look. Adaptive cruise control is included with a pre-collision system and even a class-exclusive lane keeping feature. Thi warns you if you’re drifting out of your lane by vibrating the steering wheel and will also add steering to pull you back into the lane if deemed necessary.
It’s hard not to be impressed when looking atthe display screen on the center stack or the dual LCDs bookending the central speedometer in the gauge cluster. It drips “perceived value” just like the aroma of freshly baked dough and cinnamon will get you standing in line at Cinnabon.
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TECH: IMPROVE IT, OR JUNK IT?
MyFord Touch is still an unfortunate mess. It doesn’t work terribly well, nor does Sync. It took myself and my video producer 20 minutes to get the system to lead us to a Panda Express.
An early adopter in the in-car technology push, the market seems to have shifted directions but Ford’s frustraiting technology continues on its course. Every other automaker has a simplified system of having your smartphone essentially act as the car’s computer. Ford is still trying to put its computer in the car.
ENGINES: YOUR CHOICE OF FIVE
When the car does hit dealers in the near future, look for an advertising campaign to highlight the power of choice. That’s because the new Fusion will arrive with not two or three different engine choices, but a total of five.
At the very bottom, in terms of horsepower, technology and price will be a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 175 hp and offering a solid 22/34 mpg rating. A budget model, Ford’s likely to sell a handful, and all to Hertz.
Where things get interesting is the tiny 1.6-liter turbocharged EcoBoost motor, delivering slightly more power at 178 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque at 2500 rpm. Rated at 25/37 mpg it’s one of the most fuel-efficient mid-size sedans you can buy, though that is with the six-speed manual you probably shouldn’t choose. Instead, opt for the automatic which offers a slightly less impressive though still remarkably good 23/36 mpg rating. During our time behind the wheel we managed anywhere from the mid to high 20s.
An unusual engine, it’s misleading to your right foot. Torque is solid and around town it’s perfectly adequate. Hammer on the throttle though and it feels no different, with the same type of acceleration as if you we’re just giving it half-gas. A criticism to be taken with a grain of salt, for sure, as you will seldom use wide open throttle.
Unique to the segment, Ford will offer a start-stop system for an optional $295. Shutting off the engine completely at a stop it’s estimated to improve in-town fuel economy by three percent. It’s an option we’d strongly consider were it not for the fact that it locks the steering when off, meaning you can’t realign your steering angle or even prepare to pull a quick U-turn when stopped – something that stands out as having possible safety concerns.
Power hungry drivers will appreciate Ford’s 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, with 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. Having already piloted this in the new Escape where it delivered near excessive power, in the larger Fusion it’s slightly more subdued. The turbo offers tugging torque, but is a little less engaging than some of the more horsepower-heavy motors from Hyundai or Honda. The real benefit is that it’s rated extremely highly considering its output with 22-mpg city and 33-mpg highway.
GOING GREEN: TWO WAYS
Rounding out the lineup is a plug-in hybrid (which we haven’t yet tested) as well as a second-generation of the Fusion Hybrid, which is billed as the most fuel efficient mid-size sedan in America.
Notably different than the past version it’s engine has been downsized from 2.5-liters to 2.0-liters while the nickel metal hydride battery pack has been exchanged for a lithium-ion unit and capable of running on pure electricity at speeds of 62 mph.
The real story, however, is the fuel economy, with a claimed 47 mpg combined rating. That’s as much as five mpg better than the Camry Hybrid though our brief time with the car delivered results of 40 mpg. For comparison, our most recent drive of the Camry Hybrid delivered a real-world 39-mpg.
An extensive selection of hybrid specific displays come the new hybrid system. One particular noteworthy screen coaches you to maximize the brakes regenerative function, scoring you based on a theoretical best. A high score is pretty easy; just drag the brakes to a slow stop rather than hammering down hard..
With 188 hp the Fusion Hybrid is peppy enough; though we did note the gasoline engine was eager to come on, even with light throttle application.
The transition from electricity to gas is something Ford worked hard smooth out, even resorted to cheating. Here’s how: naturally the switch-over delivers a mild thud through the drivetrain that you can feel and hear.
Using a noise cancellation technology through the car’s audio system, much of the sound associated with that mechanical operation is blocked from ever making it to your ears. As a result, it sounds even smoother than it is. Clever.
As a whole, all Fusion models drive remarkably well. The steering, like the rest of the modern Ford lineup, is excellent. It requires slightly more input than we’d like but this is a family sedan. It’s both responsive and consistent.
Handling is first rate in this class, with plenty of grip, especially with our Titanium test models19-inch wheels, performance tires and AWD. Handling directional changes with confidence, it remained composed on our blast through the Malibu canyons all the while remaining completely comfortable.
Moving from the driver’s seat and into the back, legroom and headroom (even with the sloping rear roofline) leave no complaints. As for trunk space it’s a large 16 cu-ft. The area isn’t overly wide, but it is incredibly deep.
Not long ago a family sedan from Ford, Chrysler or General Motors could only hope to be the best of the domestic lot. With the new Fusion, however, Ford joins the big leagues and in almost all respects is competing head-on with the segment-leading Japanese automakers and the almost-there Koreans.
And to help secure this mid-size sedan as an industry staple Ford has draped it in sheetmetal so attractive that even on the streets of LA populated by Porsches and where a Mercedes E-Class might as well be a Corolla it turns heads.
A nameplate that, quite literally, did not exist six years ago, the 2013 Fusion can now be counted among the best in its segment thanks to a commitment to technology and fuel economy, and the realization that sexy sells.