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Preview: Turning Heads [CAR June 2012 print edition]

Ford Fusion brings it all together


July 10, 2012
by Tony Whitney

From the June 2012 print edition of Canadian Automotive Review.

The Fusion midsize sedan has been a major factor in the rebirth of the Ford Motor Company over the past few years and has garnered numerous awards and accolades. While it can’t be said to have saved Ford (the company has standout products in several classes), it certainly contributed mightily to that critical bottom line.

The Fusion first appeared in 2006 and went to battle in the mid-size segment with rivals like the Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima, Chrysler 200, Chevrolet Malibu and quite a few others. It’s a very hot market slot these days and automakers fight like tigers for a chunk of it.

Ford’s contender was a success from the start and has endured in one form or another right up until the 2012 model year. It went through several “refreshes” and styling/engineering updates, but over those six years, Ford has stayed with the first-generation Fusion. The car has long been a popular fleet choice for its combination of roominess, performance, comfort, economy and restrained design. It’s naturally been popular with fleets that have buy-domestic policies.

AT A GLANCE
BODY STYLE: Four-door, five-place sedan
ENGINE: 2.5-litre and 1.6-litre gasoline, 2.0-litre hybrid or plug-in hybrid
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual or automatic
PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 kmh in approx 9.6-secs (estimated, 1.6-litre EcoBoost)
FUEL ECONOMY: Not yet set by Transport Canada
PRICE: To be announced just before launch. Price range for the 2012 car is $19,999-$35,999.

But for 2013, Ford is bringing us a second-generation Fusion that looks entirely different and boasts numerous powertrain, performance, engineering and safety upgrades. The new Fusion made its debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this year and earned immediate praise for its straightforward good looks and the promise of enhanced performance and fuel economy.

Our hands-on experience with this very new model has been limited but we’ll follow up with more comprehensive driving impressions when Ford’s media department makes all Fusion versions available.

World car

The new Fusion is very much a “world car” and sits on a platform shared with the Ford Mondeo—a similarly sized sedan sold in Europe and other global markets. Earlier Fusions used a platform—now discarded—that originated with the Mazda6.

Compared to the old car, the 2013 has a 122mm longer wheelbase, is 28mm longer overall, 18mm wider and 31mm taller. This adds up to a car that’s only slightly bigger than its predecessor, so it can’t be considered bulkier in any sense, and the size change won’t be noticeable at all. Surprisingly, the Fusion is reportedly slightly less roomy inside than the earlier one and the trunk isn’t quite as large. Even so, it remains a spacious car for its class and there should be few complaints. The 2013 Fusion will be built at Ford’s Hermosillo, Mexico, plant and at a facility in Flat Rock, Michigan.

The styling is very clean and appealing, with no discordant or gimmicky elements in its execution. Ford has departed from the earlier corporate theme grille to one that looks lifted straight from an Aston Martin. Not too many buyers are going to complain about that and after all, Ford owned Aston Martin as recently as 2007. The 2013 C-Max has a similarly shaped grille, so this must be part of a new Ford look.

The headlights are quite narrow slits, but they’re no doubt highly effective, as is usually the case in these days of projector beams and xenon bulbs. The rear of the car is very sleek too and its overall profile makes it look like one of those four-door coupes that are a big trend in luxury cars right now.

There are three trim levels: S, SE and top-of-the-line Titanium. It’s good to see just three choices here, as some automakers offer as many as six or eight and all this does is confuse the market. Even in its most basic form, the new Fusion is a great-looking car that will turn heads for many years to come.

Plenty of power choices

However, there’s nothing if not variety as far as engine choice goes with this new car. Buyers get a selection of no less than five powerplants—three gasoline and two hybrid. The basic engine is a 2.5-litre Duratec four-cylinder developing 170 horsepower. Next up is a 1.6-litre EcoBoost with 179hp and this one is probably the thriftiest of the gasoline options.

A slightly more potent EcoBoost motor, with 2.0 litres and 237hp, is the third gasoline choice. Our experience with these EcoBoost engines is that they are matched by very few rivals when it comes to combining power, economy and refinement. EcoBoost powerplants have contributed enormously to Ford’s current success.

With the hybrid lineup, buyers can choose either conventional hybrid power in the form of a 2.0-litre, 185-horsepower or a 2.0-litre hybrid/electric plug-in version of the same engine, which uses Atkinson cycle technology. There’s no V-6 option with the new Fusion, which probably won’t trouble business users at all, given the current price of gas.

Transmission choices, depending on model, include manual and automatic six-speeds and a Ford SelectShift six-speed with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters so the driver can opt for automatic or manual mode. All-wheel drive will be available for some variants.

Ford is the first automaker to offer gasoline, hybrid and plug-in hybrid drivetrains in the same vehicle range. For business users seeking maximum economy, the clear choice would probably be the plug-in version (dubbed “Fusion Energi”), which Ford says is the most fuel-efficient mid-size car in the world. It’s expected to be even more economical than either the Chevrolet Volt or the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid. Ford’s target was 100 MPGe, which is a mile-per-gallon equivalency calculation for electric vehicles.

With the conventional hybrid Fusion, Ford is out to improve on both the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. As might be expected, the EcoBoost-equipped Fusion is very economical too and uses a stop-and-start system when the car waits at a light or for stalled traffic to clear. Ford points out that this system (its first) cuts fuel usage by about 3.5 percent.

Driver-oriented interior

The interior of the new car offers what Ford calls “a sporty driver-oriented environment with next-generation seating”. It’s certainly a great-looking cabin, and in common with so many recent Ford vehicles, it’s very well finished and trimmed with soft-touch vinyls almost everywhere. Some automakers have gone back to hard plastic mouldings around the cabin to cut costs, but not Ford.

The instrument panel was moved nearer the windshield for the new Fusion and it creates a feeling of spaciousness. The central console is quite high, but adds to the “driver-oriented” effect. Sound levels in the interior have been cut thanks to the use of more acoustic underbody shields and lightweight sound-absorbing material.

Ford announced a more user-friendly version of its MyFord Touch interface at the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year and we were very impressed with it. The Fusion is one of the first Fords to get this upgrade.

On the safety front, Ford started by increasing body strength by 10 percent over the earlier car through the use of more high-strength steels. Like its competitors, the Fusion has a “full suite” of air bags. Other safety features include a lane-keeping system, adaptive cruise control, active park assist and blind spot warnings. These features can be found on most luxury vehicles nowadays, but they’re only just seeping down to cars in the Fusion’s price range.

The lane warning system, which uses a small camera tucked behind the rearview mirror, is a great safety device for business drivers with long and tiring trips to deal with. Drowsy driving brings a vibration effect to the steering wheel, which is easy to sense and react to.

There’s no reason why the new Fusion shouldn’t sell in even greater numbers than the earlier models—especially given the range of drivetrains available. Said Ford group vice-president, global product development, Derrick Kuzak: “We brought our global teams together to develop a midsize car with groundbreaking design and jaw-dropping fuel economy.”

Brave words, but more than likely, he’ll be proven right when this car starts to roll out of the dealerships. It looks great, is trimmed almost to entry-level luxury standards and while no firm prices have been set, it’s unlikely to cost much more than the old Fusion. 2013 Fusions are expected to arrive at dealerships this fall, but the Europeans won’t get their (Mondeo) version until next year.     c.a.r.