2011 Ford Fusion Expert Review:Autoblog
What we have here is a rare breed. A mid-size sedan from a domestic automaker equipped with a manually actuated clutch. In fact, the 2010 Ford Fusion (and its rebadged brother, the Mercury Milan) are the last examples offered with Detroit Three nameplates. The Fusion's competition from Chrysler and General Motors are only available with automatic gearboxes, and while the import brands all offer the option to shift-it-yourself, few are actually purchased by stick-averse Americans.
So when Ford released its powertrain combinations for the 2010 Fusion, we were surprised to find that not only was a manual available on S and SE four-cylinder models, but the Blue Oval also upgraded ye olde five-speed cog-swapper to a six-speed unit. As fans of the three-pedal arrangement, we promptly requested a manual Fusion to see how it stacks up to the high expectations set by the V6-powered 2010 Fusion Sport we've already reviewed.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
As our regular readers and podcast listeners are aware, a large cross-section of the editorial staff are fans of the Ford Fusion. For a reasonable price you can pick up a decently equipped, nicely sized, attractive sedan that can accommodate a family of four in comfort, yet still be fun to drive. Most of us like the 2010 Fusion's exterior and interior updates, and for those that want something more visually sedate, Ford continues to offer the Milan through Mercury dealers.
Here at Autoblog's Ypsilanti, MI office, we like a bit of bold mixed in with our daily drivers. Just because you are schlepping the kids to school or commuting to work doesn't mean you have to be invisible. With the most aggressive iteration of the three bar grille motif, the new Fusion is far from subdued. Our tester was a mid-level SE model equipped with the new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that debuted last year in the Escape. This was paired with a new six-speed manual transmission currently unavailable in any other North American market Ford, although we wouldn't be surprised to find that it winds up in the Focus and possibly the Fiesta.
With 175 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque, the four-cylinder Fusion is hardly a sports sedan, but that doesn't mean it's not a fun drive. With a comparatively modest (by modern standards) mass of 3,285 pounds, the four banger is more than adequate for daily commuting duties. And as the week progressed, we came to think of our Fusion as a riff on the sort of lightweight sport sedan you don't see anymore – the kind that didn't need massive amounts of power and kit to be thoroughly entertaining and quick to respond on twisty roads. If the span between your house and work-place includes stretches of winding tarmac, the manual-equipped Fusion could be just what you're looking for.
The clutch pedal is smooth and progressive, and one of the advantages of limited output is that the Fusion doesn't need a ridiculously heavy clutch to transmit power. That means that even if you get stuck in stop-and-go traffic, your left leg won't get a heavy workout. When things open up and you push the Fusion harder into and out of corners, the shift lever moves effortlessly through the gates with throws that aren't overly long. Using the six ratios wisely allows you to get the most out of the available power and torque while still returning acceptable fuel economy.
The Fusion's chassis is well sorted, allowing you to carry a surprising amount of momentum through the corners. If you opt for the SE trim over the S model, the rolling stock includes P225/50R17 all-season tires rather than P205/60R16 rubber. Interestingly, the 16-inch wheels on the Fusion S are aluminum while the 17-inch units on the SE are steel. In recent years, wheel makers have been able to develop new steel hoops that are just as light as aluminum and less expensive – a real boon when you hit a Michigan-sized pot-hole. And if the design on our 17-inch-equipped tester looks familiar, that's because it's the same style offered as an 18-inch alloy on the European Mondeo.
Like other Fusions we've driven (including the Sport), this four-cylinder version has a well sorted suspension with perfectly balanced spring rates to provide a decent ride over nasty roads, along with great damping and good roll control. The lighter four-pot and manual gearbox also means less mass on the front axle for better overall balance compared to the six-cylinder models.
As with the rest of the 2010 Fusions, the front seats offer solid comfort and lateral support. The rear seating provides plenty of legroom for adults, but with the optional sunroof, headroom does shrink. Ford's SYNC infotainment system worked well, with easy connection of phones and other devices partnered with reliable voice activation. Our SE model also had aluminum-look trim on the center stack, which looks far more attractive than any metal finish plastic or fake wood we've seen.
Ford estimates that 5% (or less) of Fusion/Milan buyers will option for the stick, but we hope the Blue Oval continues to buck the trend and keep it around. It's a great alternative for those who need a family-sized sedan, but aren't willing to completely compromise on driving dynamics. Our SE tester, equipped with the Sun & SYNC packages, stickered at $22,165, although these days, it's likely you can get one for quite a bit less. The time we spent with the Fusion was hopefully our last wave of frigid temps before spring arrives, so perhaps as a result of blasting the heaters and de-foggers, our mostly city fuel mileage was down more than we expected.
Over our week with the Fusion, we averaged 25 mpg compared to official EPA numbers of 22 city and 29 highway. The S, with its smaller wheels, gets up to 31 mpg on the highway, but the larger wheel and tire combo seems like a worthy compromise. Our numbers were only three mpg worse than the Milan Hybrid we drove earlier, and we might take another look at both powertrains when the weather gets warmer and gas prices inevitably climb.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Last month at the LA Auto Show, Ford finally took the wraps off its refreshed 2010 Fusion and this week we returned to LA to actually drive it. For a car meant to compete in the heart of the highest volume segment in the U.S. market, Ford chose a rather surprising way to show it off. This is after all a segment long dominated by cars that typically have more in common with a Kenmore refrigerator than a Corvette.
We kicked off the festivities with a mileage challenge through downtown Beverly Hills and Hollywood in the Fusion Hybrid, but then things got really interesting. The Toyota Camry and Honda Accord have seemingly been the top selling cars in America since they supplanted the Model T early in the last century. After a similar number of decades of soulless, unattractive and unreliable alternatives, U.S. automakers have been battling back in recent years with mixed success. Since the Fusion debuted in 2006, it has earned a reputation of being among the most fun to drive offerings in the segment, as well as having quality on par with the Japanese brands. For 2010, the crew in Dearborn have focused on enhancing what was already good and getting best in class in efficiency with more style. Read on to find out if they succeeded.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
Our day of driving the Fusion started off with Ford shuttling us out to the parking lot at the Hollywood Park horse track for some stopping, starting, turning and reversing. Since the Camry is top seller in the mid-size segment, that's what Ford had on hand for our comparison testing. Three different events were set up on the tarmac at Hollywood Park meant to showcase the dynamic capabilities of the Fusion.
Here at Autoblog central, which happens to be wherever we can pick up a wifi or EVDO connection, we are well aware that we don't necessarily represent the automotive mainstream. In fact, many would consider us the lunatic fringe of the automotive spectrum. We don't see cars as appliances but rather as tools to wield as we get from point A to point B via points X,Y,Z. We prefer to be engaged by our transportation. We like to hear the sound of tire tread wearing away as we aim for the apexes and feel the forces in our steering wheel as the wheels try to change direction of the car.
Of course, we can't all afford to drive a Cadillac CTS-V, Dodge Viper and Ford GT everyday. That's why many of us have always taken a liking to cars like the Fusion that are attainable yet still provide some of those exciting characteristics we want in a car that can also haul the groceries and a child seat.
We kicked off our evaluation of the Fusion and Camry on a short course with a slalom and an emergency lane change maneuver that highlighted the new standard electronic stability control on the Fusion. We took a few runs in the Camry first and unfortunately, like many, Toyota's the slip control left much to be desired. The system intervened early and aggressively slowing the car significantly. As the brakes were being modulated on the front wheels, vibration could be felt through the steering wheel, and understeer was so severe in the lane change maneuver that it felt like the outside front tire was rolling under.
The Fusion, on the other hand, was much better balanced and its stability control allowed the car to slide just enough that the driver could feel the limits of adhesion. The system then applied the brakes and managed the engine torque smoothly, keeping things on an even keel without feeling like a nanny. We were able to get the through the slalom about 4-5 mph faster in the Fusion than in the Toyota (both 4-cylinder, automatic models)
Similarly on the autocross course, the Camry proved to be an understeering slug that was extremely reluctant to change direction. Turning the steering wheel was like using an old video game wheel with no force feedback. The effort was overly light and the angle seemed to have little relationship to where the car was going. One other steering problem the Camry exhibited was a tendency to run out of steering assist during the slalom where the sequence of left-right steering inputs demanded more than the power steering pump could supply. The electric power steering on the Fusion exhibited no such issues.
Being a front-wheel-drive, mainstream sedan, the Fusion still understeers at the limit as would be expected, but overall it was much better balanced and trail-braking into corners helped bring the back end around on the tighter turns. The steering actually provided some feedback, although at ten-tenths a bit more would be appreciated. The only other complaint would be a desire for more braking power and grip, although Ford certainly had to provide a balance between adhesion, rolling resistance and noise.
The final parking lot event was literally a parking lot event. We had a short acceleration zone intended to demonstrate the more linear throttle response of the 2010 engines compared to the 2009 Fusion. This was followed by a full lock turn to demonstrate the reduced turning radius of the new front suspension geometry. Those trying to maneuver in tight parking lots will definitely appreciate this improvement. Finally, a reverse slalom and parking maneuver allowed us to try the new rear view camera and improved rear visibility. The lump on the rear package shelf that previously held the center brake lamp has been removed and the lamp is now integrated into the trunk lid.
After lunch at the Chart House restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway, it was time to attack the canyons. Drew Phillips and I got into a Fusion Sport with J D Shanahan, the Fusion's chief engineer. The beauty of roads like Topanga Canyon, Malibu Canyon and Mulholland Drive is that they have to follow the contours of the canyons, meaning they typically don't go straight for any length of time.
The Fusion Sport is the new top end model equipped with the same 263-horsepower 3.5L V6 engine and 6F50 6-speed automatic transmission used in the Lincoln MKZ and most of Ford's big sedans and crossovers. The 3.5L has plenty of power and the Fusion chassis proved eminently capable of handling the twisting switchbacks. Some of the pavement actually gets surprisingly bumpy (nothing like the craters we have in Michigan), putting the Fusion's mechanical grip to the test.
Shanahan explained that the rear suspension geometry was heavily modified. The pivot points for the control arms were moved so that the roll-center was moved closer to the center of gravity of the car. The result is that the body has less inherent tendency to roll. This allowed Shanahan's chassis team to use a softer stabilizer bar in the rear facilitating more independent motion of the rear wheels. The bottom line is that the car has both increased roll stiffness and better ride quality and road holding.
The Fusion exhibits admirable handling characteristics when pushed hard and never feels harsh. As on the autocross, it understeers at the limit but feels surprisingly neutral up to about 9/10s and any intervention from the stability control was subtle enough to go almost unnoticed. Again, a bit more deceleration grip would be appreciated, but even in miles of hard driving the brakes never exhibited any fade.
The brakes were easy to modulate, although some other drivers complained of a slightly soft pedal. This was likely due to some knock-back. During hard cornering the brake pads and caliper pistons can get pushed back due to some motion of the rotor that results from lateral forces. This can also happen on bumpy roads. When it occurs, the next time you apply the brakes, the pedal moves further than normal until the pad comes back in contact with the rotor surface. On subsequent applies, the piston seal should keep the pad in the right position, eliminating the problem unless continued hard cornering causes more knock-back.
After a break we switched to a 3.0L V6 Fusion, which Drew and I agreed actually felt even better balanced than the sport as a result of the lower drivetrain weight. The 3.0L has nearly as much power as the larger engine (240 vs. 263 hp) and the updated version has very linear power delivery thanks to its new throttle control and variable valve timing. The 3.0L is also flex fuel capable and running on E85 will bump the power up from 240 to 250 hp.
For real driving enthusiasts, the Fusion of choice might actually be the four-cylinder, six-speed manual version. The 2.5L now puts out 171 hp, and with the manual transmission would be the lightest, least nose heavy Fusion. We didn't get to drive one in LA this time, so look forward to trying one out soon. All of the cars we tested had automatic transmissions, with the V6 cars adding a manual select shift gate. We're generally not a fan of these manual mode automatics since we like the rhythm of clutching and shifting.
Having said that, Ford at least has the orientation of the sequential shift gate in what we consider to be the correct position. Tap backwards for an up-shift and forwards for a down shift. Ford's manual shifting algorithm also includes some nice touches for enthusiasts. The powertrain control matches the revs of the engine and transmission during shifts just as a good driver would do. In manual mode, the transmission also won't force an up-shift, instead just letting the engine go to red-line and hold the selected gear. The shifts themselves came quickly in response to a tap, making it easy to select the right gear for the conditions in the canyons.
For what started as a mid-cycle refresh, Ford management including product development VP Derrick Kuzak deserves credit for recognizing the importance of the mid-size segment and making far more extensive changes than were originally planned. The new Fusion was remarkably quiet and refined whether we were cruising on the freeway or blasting through a canyon. Shanahan told us that among other changes, a damper was added to the roof of the car to cut vibrations. New seals and acoustic components in several areas also help keep out noises and absorb those that do get in. The changes are applied across the board, including the hybrid model, and this is certainly one of the quietest sedans in this market segment.
Aside from the hybrid, with which we got over 43 mpg, we didn't have a chance to evaluate fuel consumption of the conventional gas-powered Fusions. Real world evaluation will have to wait until we get one in the Autoblog Garage sometime in the near future. The final EPA numbers are still being calculated, but Ford is claiming that the Fusion will beat the current class leading Camry by at least 2-3 mpg across all model variants. Based on the performance of the hybrid, we're willing to give Ford the benefit of the doubt on this one.
The new Fusion will go on sale early in 2009. Some 2010 production is due to start this month, but the holiday shutdown of the Hermosillo plant has been extended through the end of January to allow Ford to sell down the remaining 2008 and 2009 models.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.
New Car Test Drive
Class-leading midsize car.
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.
Fusion S ($19,270) is powered by a 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder, with the manual transmission. It comes with cloth upholstery, AM/FM/CD audio with four speakers, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, speed-sensitive wipers, cruise control, power locks with remote entry, and 16-inch aluminum wheels. For 2011, Ford's MyKey system, which lets parent limit top-speed and audio volume for teen drivers, is standard. The only option for the S is the 6-speed automatic ($875).
Fusion SE ($21,373) adds six-speaker audio, Sirius satellite radio, steering wheel audio controls, fog lamps, six-way power driver seat, a folding rear seat, body-color mirrors and 17-inch steel wheels. It also allows more options, including a 3.0-liter, 240-hp flex-fuel V6 with the automatic ($2,490).
Most option packages are specific to the Fusion trim level, and all models but the base car offer a Rapid Spec or Preferred Package. On the SE ($1,340), it includes a power moonroof, Ford's SYNC voice-activated device pairing system and a auto-dimming rearview mirror with microphone and compass. The Appearance Package ($895) adds a sport-tuned suspension, chrome or monochromatic grille, unique cloth seat and door trim inserts, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, rear spoiler and 18-inch machined aluminum wheels with V-rated performance tires.
Fusion SEL ($24,805) comes with the four-cylinder and automatic. It upgrades from the SE with leather-trimmed heated seats, power-adjustable passenger seat, dual-zone automatic temperature control, SYNC, auto-dimming rearview, heated outside mirrors, and keyless entry pad on the driver's door. All-wheel drive ($3,460) is optional, including the 3.0-liter V6. For 2011, the SEL is offered with a Luxury Package ($1,295) that adds Ginger or Charcoal Black premium leather upholstery, machined aluminum pedals, illuminated door sills, premium floor mats with logo, polished 17-inch aluminum wheels, and chrome mirror caps and door handles. The SEL Rapid Spec grouping ($2,790) adds a high-wattage Sony sound system with CD changer, 12 speakers and Dolby surround sound processing, Ford's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), rear view camera, rain sensing wipers, and rear park assist.
Fusion Sport ($25,825) is powered by a 263-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine with the automatic. It includes the sports suspension, 18-inch wheels with performance tires, chrome trim, rear spoiler, and unique side rocker sills. All-wheel drive ($1,850) is available. Rapid Spec for the Sport model ($4,130) includes the moonroof, Sony sound system, dual-zone automatic temperature control, heated front seats, power passenger seat, color-adjustable ambient lighting, universal garage door opener, BLIS, heated exterior mirrors, puddle lamps, rear view camera, rear park assist, rain sensing wipers and keyless entry pad.
Fusion Hybrid ($27,270) comes fitted with a 156-hp version of the four-cylinder engine, integrated with a 40-hp electric motor, continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission and a regenerative braking system to capture energy and charge its battery pack. Unique hybrid-specific LCD instrumentation and the rear park assist are standard. Rapid Spec for the Hybrid ($5,370) adds the moonroof, Sony audio, a voice-activated navigation system, BLIS, rain sensing wipers and the rear view camera.
Stand-alone options include the navigation system ($1,880), rear park assist ($295), rear spoiler ($295), and an engine-block heater (no charge).
Safety features on all Fusions include multi-stage front impact airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags, head-protection curtains for all outboard occupants and a warning system that sounds the horn, lights the emergency flashers and unlocks the doors in the event of an accident. The Fusion was rated a Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2010, and it received 5-Star crash test ratings for all four crash test categories from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), stability control and a tire-pressure monitor. Optional safety features include the blind sport warning system, rearview camera, rear park assist, and all-wheel drive.
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.
Ford Fusion S ($19,695); SE ($21,375); SEL ($24,085); Sport ($25,655); Hybrid ($28,100).
Options As Tested
Rapid Spec package ($1,340) includes power moonroof, SYNC voice-activated device coupler, auto-dimming rearview mirror with microphone and compass; Appearance Package ($895) includes sport tuned suspension, 18-inch machined aluminum wheels with 225/45R18 V-rated performance tires, rear spoiler, unique cloth seat and door-trim inserts , leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; illuminated door sills and aluminum pedals ($195).
*The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.
FIND A GREAT USED CAR
Great Auto Loan Rates
Low Rates on New and Used AutosPowered By Apply In One Easy Step »