Then the market shifted to trucks and SUVs and it seemed like Ford abandoned the car market. Sales of the Ford Explorer skyrocketed. The Taurus slumped and was relegated to the rental car fleets. People who wanted a mid-size sedan bought Japanese cars.
Ford is now determined to regain its footing in the car market. The Ford Fusion just may be the right answer and just in the nick of time. In any case, Ford appears to have done its homework.
Based on the highly praised Mazda6 sedan, the Fusion is a rock solid entry at a decent price. It handles well, looks purposeful and delivers good value for the money.
Ford Fusion S ($17,345); SE ($18,760); SEL ($19,845); SE V6 ($20,625); SEL V6 ($21,710)
It starts with the large headlights that rise up into the top edge of the front fender, which features a crisp fold along the top edge that runs all the way back along the edge of the roof to the trunk. Three thick chrome bars across the grille also make the car look more upmarket than its pricing might suggest. The front bumper almost disappears as there are two chrome strips below it that match the ones on the grille.
The Fusion has a wide track, which makes it stand out on the freeway when viewed from behind. A high trunk line and large triangular taillight clusters with chrome trim give the rear end a classy look, not unlike some newer Cadillacs.
Overall, the Fusion is slightly smaller than the Taurus it replaces, but it has much the same dimensions as its competitors. Although the Fusion shares the same basic floorpan as the Mazda 6 its wheelbase is two inches longer and it is an inch or so wider. Ford also says it is a stiffer bodyshell than the Mazda6, which is good.
The dashboard is a straightforward design that runs horizontally across the car's width with just a binnacle above the instrument pod. It contains four small gauges that are easy to read as they are separated from each other rather than overlapping and the figures are in a large font. Decent sized control buttons for the radio and climate controls should please everyone.
The center stack is simple, but nothing to write home about. The car we drove had a dark charcoal interior so everything was finished in black. The optional two-tone interior, especially the dark stone and camel with faux wood trim looks more inviting.
A convenient storage bin on top of the dashboard features a large clamshell lid and it's big enough to hold a phone or small camera as well as maps and the like. The center console, door pockets, and front seatback pockets provide additional storage.
Rear-seat passengers will find a decent amount of leg room with nicely shaped front seatbacks that allow for plenty of foot space. Head and leg room measurements don't put the Fusion at the top of its class, but the back seat feels roomier than the numbers suggest.
The Fusion has a good-size trunk with a flat floor and low lift over. The scissor-type hinges avoid the annoyance of luggage being crushed by gooseneck hinges. All Fusion models include a 60/40 split rear seatback, which allows for a generous amount of pass-through space.
On the road, the Ford Fusion feels bigger than it looks, but it handled curvy mountain roads above Hollywood with ease. The rack-and-pinion steering was precise with just the right amount of weight to make the driver feel connected to the road without being twitchy.
In the past, a car that handled well often came with a stiff ride. That's certainly not the case with the Fusion. Its long wheelbase and wide track puts the four wheels at the corners for good handling and a better ride. The front suspension is a short/long arm design while the rear wheels are anchored through a multi-link setup. Improved bushings and hydraulic engine mounts keep vibration and road noise to a minimum.
The 221-horsepower V6 engine provides enough power, although the Fusion will not likely be mistaken for a sports sedan. According to Ford's own tests the Fusion can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 8 seconds, a reasonable performance though not as quick as the V6 versions of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
The six-speed automatic transmission is very smooth. Shift into Drive and it works well. However, drivers who want more control won't find it here. Shifting from D to L only locks out fifth and sixth gears. Also, there's no indicator showing the driver what gear it's in at any given moment and around town it's difficult to tell by feel.
The Fusion V6 manages 29 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA. That's quite respectable for a V6 and the four-cylinder model with the five-speed manual betters this figure by a couple of miles per gallon.
We have not yet had the opportunity to try a Fusion with a four-cylinder engine. Considering the improved performance, smoother six-speed automatic transmission and almost identical fuel consumption, the V6 model is probably the best value for most buyers. Because of this, Ford expects more than half of Fusion buyers will opt for the V6 models.
The new Ford Fusion combines the best features of a great European economy car with those a sporty Japanese sedan. The Fusion offers the sporty handling of the Mazda 6 and the value and comfort of the Ford Focus. Safety features are optional, however.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie filed this report from Hollywood, California.