The Fusion is available with a choice of V6 and four-cylinder engines. The four-cylinder comes with a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The V6 comes with a six-speed automatic, a feature associated with top-end luxury cars. Both engines provide adequate power and fuel economy though they are outperformed by the engines offered by several competitors.
Fusion's ride quality is as good as any car in the class, save perhaps the Toyota Camry. Available all-wheel drive and a new sport package make fine handling even better.
The cabin is comfortable and well designed with controls that are intuitive and easy to operate. The center dash is not beautiful, however, and the interior looks classier in the lighter colors.
Crisp lines, big headlights and a bold, chrome grille give the Fusion a distinctive appearance that we find attractive.
For 2008, the Fusion gets new features and options. An optional Sport Appearance Package comes with a firmer suspension and sporty interior and exterior styling cues. Antilock brakes and a tire-pressure monitor are now standard, while rear obstacle detection becomes an option. Ford's Sync communications and entertainment system is offered for the first time, and the available navigation system adds voice activation.
Ford Fusion S ($17,770); SE ($18,695); SEL ($19,400); SE V6 ($21,445); SEL V6 ($22,150); SE V6 AWD ($23,295); SEL V6 AWD ($24,000)
The styling features large headlights and a bold grille. Three thick chrome bars across the grille have a razor-like appearance and 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.
When the Fusion was first introduced, Ford executives said its three-bar horizontal grille would become the signature styling cue for Ford cars. Since then it has been seen on concept vehicles, as well as the Edge crossover vehicle and the new Taurus and newly restyled Focus. This distinctive grille catches your eye on the road, distinguishing the Fusion from other mid-size sedans.
The sides of the car are crisply separated from the hood, roof and rear deck. A fold along the top edges of the front fenders runs all the way back along the edge of the roof to the rear deck.
The Fusion features 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.
The overall effect is pleasing. The chrome on the car contrasts nicely with the body work, especially on dark-colored models or red. Gaps between body panels seem a bit larger than those on some of the other cars in the class.
All-wheel-drive models have AWD badging on the rear deck. While the 17-inch wheels that drive the AWD SEL models are the same design, they have a tell-tale hash mark to identify all-wheel-drive models.
The Sport Appearance Package features a black chrome grille, color-keyed fog lights, a unique rear spoiler, chrome exhaust tips, and most notably, 18-inch aluminum wheels on lower profile tires.
The Fusion fits into the Ford car lineup between the compact Focus and the big Taurus sedan. It has much the same dimensions as its competitors. Although the Fusion shares its basic floorpan with the Mazda6, its wheelbase is two inches longer and it is an inch or so wider. Ford also says Fusion has a stiffer bodyshell than the Mazda6, which is good because a rigid structure is the key to a smooth ride and responsive handling.
The front seats manage to be slightly soft, yet supportive enough for long drives. A standard tilt and telescoping steering wheel and the six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, standard on the SE and SEL models, helps drivers get comfortable, be they short or tall.
In keeping with its European influence, Ford has chosen to go with the soft touch for surface materials, which is expected in a luxury car but not in a mass-market car. 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. The lighter colored interiors look friendlier.
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 buttons make the radio and climate controls easy to operate. The center stack is simple and boasts straightforward controls that are easy to operate, though it is not beautiful to behold.
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.
SE and SEL models have a front passenger seatback that folds down, making it possible to haul extra-long items. Heated front seats are an option on SEL models with leather seating. Fusions equipped with the new Sport Appearance package have red seat inserts (cloth or leather) and red stitching on the seats, steering wheel and center console.
The new Sync communications and entertainment system can recognize Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, access their phonebooks, and play calls and read text messages through the speakers. It also has a USB interface to connect with iPods and other MP3 players. Voice commands and/or steering wheel buttons can be used to control all functions. It's even possible to tell the system to play a specific artist, album or track stored on your MP3 player.
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 height, making it easy to load groceries, luggage or cargo. All Fusion models include a 60/40 split rear seatback, which allows for a generous amount of pass-through space. The scissor-type hinges avoid the annoyance of luggage being crushed by gooseneck hinges.
We've found it handles well, something we've gleaned on curvy mountain roads above Hollywood and on a wet handling course in Dearborn. The rack-and-pinion steering is precise with just the right amount of weight to make the driver feel connected to the road without being twitchy. The Fusion feels bigger and heavier than it looks, but it also offers excellent stability.
The Fusion's nice combination of ride and handling are benefits of the rigid structure it shares with the Mazda6. The Fusion's stability is a benefit of its relatively long wheelbase and wide track, longer and wider than the Mazda version. The front suspension is a short/long arm design while the rear wheels are anchored through a multi-link setup. The bushings and hydraulic engine mounts are designed to keep vibration and road noise to a minimum. For the most part they do this, though some other cars in this class seem quieter.
The all-wheel-drive Fusion offers excellent handling stability and grip in adverse conditions. We drove one on a heavily watered down handling course at Ford's proving grounds and were impressed with its ability to hold a line and not get out of shape in transient maneuvers. In other words, it's safer and easier to drive in the rain than front-wheel-drive cars. And we're sure it'll perform much better in the snow than the other models. If you live in an area that gets adverse weather, the AWD model is a smart choice.
The Sport Appearance Package offers more than just looks, as the suspension is sport-tuned with different shocks and spring rates and 18-inch aluminum wheels on P225/45R18 performance tires. Cars offer sharper handling response than the standard models. While the ride becomes a little more busy on broken or pockmarked pavement, it never feels harsh. For both looks and handling, the reasonably priced Sport Performance Package is a worthwhile option.
The 221-hp V6 engine provides enough power, though the Fusion will not likely be mistaken for a sports sedan. The Fusion can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 8.0 seconds, 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. It's one of the few six-speed automatics in this class. However, it does not offer a semi-manual shifter. Shifting from D to L only locks out fifth and sixth gears. (We wonder how many people actually use semi-manual shifters so this may not be an issue for you; clearly, Ford shares this opinion.) 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. (Again, you may not care.)
The Fusion V6 manages 26 mpg on the highway and 18 mpg in the city according to EPA estimates. Those numbers drop to 17/25 with all-wheel drive, but either way the fuel mileage is respectable for a V6. By comparison, the four-cylinder is rated at 20/29 with the manual and 20/28 with the automatic.
Four-cylinder models have adequate power but are not up to snuff versus the competition. The 160-hp four-cylinder gets the Fusion moving, but it requires lots of room for passing and doesn't feel as strong as the four-cylinders offered by Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. The four-cylinder's five-speed manual transmission has numb, rubbery throws, without even the slightest pretense of sportiness. Even in economy cars, manual transmissions can provide a certain fun factor. That's not the case in the Fusion.
Considering the improved performance, smoother six-speed automatic transmission and decent fuel consumption, the V6 is probably the best value for most buyers.
The Ford Fusion delivers comfort and sporty handling that is even more athletic for 2008 with the addition of a Sport Appearance package. The available all-wheel-drive model provides exceptional handling stability on slippery surfaces. While available power isn't up to the benchmark set by the class leaders, the Fusion is an excellent value.
NewCarTestDrive correspondent John Rettie filed this report from Hollywood, California; with Cheryl Jensen reporting from Cleveland, Ohio; and Mitch McCullough and Kirk Bell reporting from Dearborn, Michigan.