The Ford Fusion has established itself as a leader among midsize sedans. The Fusion matches or surpasses its Japanese competitors in various quality surveys, and leads the class in fuel economy. It offers contemporary styling and a first-class driving experience. How times have changed.
The Fusion competes with the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata and several other very good cars, and holds its own with any of them. Substantially redesigned for 2010, the Fusion changes only slightly for 2011.
For 2011, Fusion comes several new features, including rain-sensing wipers, HD Radio and Ford's MyKey system, which allows parents to limit top speed and audio volume when teens are driving the car.
Also new for 2011 are styling tweaks for the Fusion Sport model.
A wide range of models includes a standard four-cylinder engine, two upgrade V6s and the Fusion Hybrid. All the Ford Fusion powerplants are competitive in power output and technological features, and all deliver impressive fuel economy. Even the lower-trim Fusion models are smooth and quiet. The 2011 Fusion Hybrid delivers the highest EPA mileage ratings of any midsize car: 41/36 mpg City/Highway.
All-wheel drive is available for the Fusion, a rarity among midsize sedans.
The Fusion fits a range of budgets. The base car comes reasonably well equipped and with the optional 6-speed automatic transmission just cracks $20,000. Ford's voice-activated Sync system, which easily pairs phones and audio devices with the car, is an inexpensive option on lower-trim models. For $23,000, the four-cylinder Fusion offers six-speaker audio, all the power accessories, Sync and a sport-suspension upgrade. High-trim Fusions offer excellent, high-power Sony Audio, a sumptuous leather interior package, advanced electronic systems like blind-spot warning and one of the easiest-operating navigation systems anywhere.
Nicely enhanced with chrome, the Fusion looks muscular and crisp, with more than a hint of Euro panache.
Fusion comfortably seats five. Every model is roomy and comfortable, with one of the largest trunks in the class.
With the 6-speed manual the Fusion is almost a sports sedan. The 263-horsepower Fusion Sport is truly powerful, quick and excitingly agile.
The Fusion Hybrid's gas engine and electric motor deliver a combined 191 hp, but the literally instantaneous torque makes it feel like more. And you don't have to drive the Hybrid like you're in a funeral cortege to achieve 40-plus city mpg. These are real-world figures. During Los Angeles morning rush, we drove the Fusion Hybrid in heavy traffic from the Sunset Strip 10 miles west along hilly, snaking Sunset Boulevard to the beach, then south to Santa Monica Pier, all the while proceeding at a distinctly non-funereal pace. Without fuss, the Hybrid delivered an impressive 41.5 mpg. In city driving, that kind of mileage takes it 700 miles on a single tank of gas.
Ford Fusion S ($19,695); SE ($21,375); SEL ($24,085); Sport ($25,655); Hybrid ($28,100)
In style and stance, the Ford Fusion has a sporting, fun-to-drive spirit not normally associated with workaday, midsize Japanese or American cars. The Fusion, rather, has the cues of a finely conceived European sedan gone global.
The Fusion was substantially restyled for 2010, but there are a couple of noteworthy exterior changes for 2011. Cars not equipped with BLIS blind-spot warning electronics add beveled blind-spot mirrors that expand the view over the driver's shoulders. The 2011 Fusion Sport has a larger, even more aggressive grille and other subtle styling tweaks.
Fusion's front-end design, beginning with a bold, three-bar chrome grille and racecar-like chrome-trimmed intakes at the bottom corners of the nose, has a muscular confidence that makes you take a second, more interested, look. Not often in the past 10 or 15 years has a mainstream American midsize elicited that.
The sinuousness continues through the carefully raised modeling of the hood, implying that what lies beneath is something genuinely worthy. The Fusion's flanks are accented by gleaming streaks of chrome, delivering both a dynamically fresh appearance and excellent aerodynamic efficiency. Its coefficient of drag, aided by underbody airflow tuning, is a low 0.32, helping to reduce wind noise and achieve higher fuel mileage.
Given the conservative looks of primary competitors like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Fusion's styling makes a statement all its own. Indeed, Honda has taken a Fusion-inspired tact with its latest styling update for the Accord.
Ford designers have combined graceful styling with practicality in another way. The Fusion's high-bustled three-box design delivers a tall trunk space, but maintains an easy lift-over height. An acoustically laminated windshield, thick front-door glass and double or triple sealing gaskets help reduced interior noise. Ford's capless fuel-filler is great, with no cap to unscrew when you pull up to the pump.
Fusion's wheel options range up to 18 inches in diameter, with multiple choices for varied tastes. There are painted, machined and full-polished options in several patterns, but even the standard plastic covers look decent.
From the base model to those to loaded with features, the Ford Fusion is comfortable and quiet, with nothing that seems excessively cheap. Measured by interior layout and interaction between driver and machine, it's one of the best cars in its class.
The driver is greeted by a sequence that almost makes it seem as if the Fusion is coming to life. Gauge needles sweep back and forth as the interior lighting and chimes come on. The optional ambient lighting system subtly illuminates the footwells and front cup holders in a choice of colors.
One of our test cars was upholstered with handsome black leather. The Luxury Package in particular, new for 2011, has a rich, quality feel, but even the base upholstery is appealing. The seats have contrasting piping and inserts with a different print scheme. The fabric seems easy to clean and sturdy but not burlap utilitarian. Black pebble-grain texture on the dash gives things a well-furnished glow, and the plastic dash trim has a nice, metallic silver finish. The weak link might be the vinyl at the top of the door panels. It's soft to the touch, but a hint too shiny.
The driver's seat has decent lateral and lumbar support and proper elevation at the cushion's front to inhibit submarining (slipping forward under the belts) in hard stops. A sturdy chrome-trimmed shifter provides a businesslike grip. Storage space for odds and ends is not a Fusion high point, other cars in this class offer more.
The steering wheel features cruise control buttons on the left side of the hub, audio and media controls on the right, and they're far enough away from typical hand placement points to avoid accidental radio station changes. Switches are neither showy nor cheap, with a straightforward utility appropriate to this car. The arrangement is aesthetically appealing, and we'd call it one of the most effective designs in midsize sedans.
The Sony audio upgrade delivers gorgeous sound, and better still, is adjusted by genuine knobs, rather than push-and-hold buttons. The most effective way to tune a sound system is with a radial knob, particularly when underway and especially on a rough road.
Ford's SYNC system has finally been fully integrated with the optional navigation system. The navigation system is straightforward, and one of the easiest to use. SYNC easily pairs phones and audio devices with the car, allowing voice control for both. With the nav system, SYNC provides a comprehensive communication network that allows the driver to track storms, place hands-free calls, find a movie start time, locate the cheapest gas, and more.
The Fusion Hybrid is equipped with instrumentation not found in any gas-engine version. The Hybrid's so-called EcoGuide information system flanks the center-mounted speedometer with two LCD panels, communicating what the powertrain is doing, how it's doing it, and how, in real time, you can optimize its fuel efficiency.
Pushing a couple of buttons, you select between four different formats. Learning the distinctions between Inform Mode, Enlighten Mode, Engage Mode, and Empower Mode takes a moment, but if you're driving a hybrid, you're likely to want the best from your system. And as annoying and intimidating as some digital systems can be, we found that within 10 minutes driving, thanks to the tutorial nature of EcoGuide, we were already using the throttle pedal to effectively stretch our mileage. Think of EcoGuide as an automotive video game. It's actually fun.
The air conditioning, which on the Hybrid runs directly off the battery pack (so there's no power-sapping belt drag on the engine), was cool and powerful.
Rear seating is conventional for this class, which is to say, so-so. Space is competitive, but there are no interesting little features that set it apart. The seats are nearly flat and minimally cushioned. The two outside seats have a hint of lateral support, while the passenger in the center rear would be well advised to negotiate an upgrade. Headroom is reasonably good in back, given the downward taper of the roofline, but leave the fedora in your Bentley.
A big trunk adds to the utility. With 16.5 cubic feet of volume, the Fusion ranks near the top of the class and surpasses both the Toyota Camry (15 cubic feet) and Honda Accord (14). All Fusions past the least expensive model come with a split-folding rear seat. It expands cargo space and makes bulky items easier to maneuver by providing access through the rear side doors.
In the Hybrid model, the battery pack encroaches into the truck space, reducing it by nearly a third, to 11.8 cubic feet. That still equals the trunk space in a Honda Civic or the typical compact sedan.
The Ford Fusion impressed us with its balance in the sense that it does just about everything well. That's the hallmark of a good midsize sedan, to be sure, and since it was substantially updated for 2010, the Fusion delivers as well as any on the market.
Any of the available Ford engines meets or beats the competition in power output, yet the Fusion delivers some of the best fuel mileage ratings in its category, regardless of the powertrain.
Fusion's handling and on-road dynamics are exemplary. It's alert and agile, more so in some respects than the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. At the same time, its ride is smooth and pleasing.
For 2011, Fusion comes standard with Ford's MyKey feature, and parents with teenage drivers will appreciate it. MyKey allows owners to designate a key that can limit the vehicle's top speed to 80 mph, and audio volume to 44 percent of the maximum level. MyKey also raises the low-fuel alert from 50 miles to 75, and it doesn't allow deactivation of the traction control system.
The Fusion Hybrid is rated by the EPA at 41 mpg City and 36 mpg Highway, which gives it the highest fuel-economy ratings of any midsize car currently available. We've come pretty close to those numbers in the real world.
A Fusion with the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission matches the best in the midsize class, with an EPA rating of 23/34 mpg.
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 175 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque, and we found it's strong enough for most driver's needs. We think the base engine with the standard 6-speed manual transmission makes one of the most enjoyable Fusion combinations when it comes to driving, particularly when the car is equipped with the inexpensive sports suspension.
Clutch operation and the manual shifter meld nicely in the Fusion, and those who enjoy driving will like working through the gears to maximize performance from the standard engine. This package comes close to what we'd call a sports sedan. Its reflexes and steering response are good, yet the ride is anything but stiff. If anything, we'd like a slightly firmer suspension, because the Fusion is solid, quiet and capable enough to handle it, without a significant payback in ride harshness.
Four-wheel disc brakes, made more effective with standard ABS and EBD, provide forceful, easily modulated stopping power.
The 3.0-liter V6 increases peak horsepower to 240 hp. The V6 is also a bit smoother and quieter around town than the four-cylinder. On the other hand, the upgrade in overall performance or acceleration is minimal, to the point we're not sure that anyone really needs the Fusion's smaller V6. Only buyers who want the extra all-weather capability of Fusion's available all-wheel-drive system will need it.
AWD is a rare option among mainstream mid-size sedans, and it's only offered with the V6 engines. Just remember that the all-wheel drive comes with a noticeable fuel-mileage penalty. The highest EPA rating for an all-wheel-drive Fusion is 18/26 mpg City/Highway.
The 3.5-liter V6 in the Fusion Sport is a noticeably more substantial upgrade from the base four-cylinder. With 263 horsepower, it delivers measurably quicker acceleration, and a nice, throaty roar for drivers who like to keep their foot pressed into the gas pedal. The Fusion Sport accelerates more rapidly than just about any midsize sedan available.
One of the reasons Fusion beats competitors in fuel mileage is its automatic transmission. It's a 6-speed, where some others have 5-speeds, and the extra gear means lower engine rpm for steady-state cruising, without a loss of acceleration potential. For 2011, even four-cylinder automatics get Ford's SelectShift manual-shift feature. It allows the driver to manually work the gears in sequential, up-down fashion.
The automatic transmission works very well, with nice, smooth upshifts and quick downshifts at most speeds, but we do have one gripe. Once rolling from a stop, the transmission is reluctant to shift down into first gear. Once the driver gets rolling from a parking spot, for example, the transmission shifts quickly into second to conserve fuel. But if that driver approaches the parking lot exit, and moves for a gap in traffic without making a complete stop at the roadway, the transmission won't drop down into first without literally flooring the gas. As a result, the transmission stays in second and the driver won't get the amount of acceleration expected.
Driving the Fusion Hybrid is only a bit different from driving the other models. Its acceleration is right in the middle of adequate, as most hybrid buyers will want, but the EcoGuide instrumentation's ongoing tutorial informs the driver in real time of the mileage being achieved. As the EcoGuide demonstrates, the secret of the Hybrid's excellent city mileage is that its electric motor powers the car in cruising mode up to 47 mph. If more power is summoned for acceleration or passing, only then does the gasoline engine instantly and nearly silently kick in, adding smooth forward motion.
We found that when a stoplight turns green, we could use the throttle pedal freely, accelerating to the speed of traffic around us. Then by letting off the pedal slightly at, say, 40 mph or so, the gasoline engine almost imperceptibly shuts down. Now you're running on electric power. Practically the only indication of this is the Eco-Guide display. The smoothness of these transfers between gasoline and electricity is the unmistakable result of excellent engineering.
If you just want to get to work really fast, especially if your traffic-heavy, stop-and-go commute often takes place at less than 50 mph, the hybrid system's most efficient speed range, a Fusion Hybrid will deliver mileage you never dreamed possible. Power delivery in the Fusion Hybrid is smooth and progressive, exhibiting none of the artificially sudden throttle response of its Asian competitors. It's also the sportiest hybrid to drive, save for the little, two-seat Honda CR-Z.
Offered with a range of power systems in multiple trim levels, the Ford Fusion is a compelling midsize sedan with catchy looks, lots of room and trunk space, agile handling and excellent fuel economy. Even the Fusion Hybrid, which leads all midsize cars at 41 mpg city, 36 highway, can be fun to drive. The Fusion also has some of the highest crash ratings in its class, and it has quickly risen to the top of the charts in familiar quality and consumer satisfaction surveys.
Ted West reported from Santa Monica, California; with J.P Vettraino in Detroit.