Ford Fusion

Ford Fusion Ford Fusion
First Drive Review

Ford proclaimed 2004 the year of the car and promptly introduced the '05 Mustang and Five Hundred sedan and started delivering the fabled GTs. All three cars have been successful, but none of them hit the meat of the sedan market, exemplified by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

The task of taking on those two perennial bestsellers and comparison-test winners falls to the car on these pages, the Ford Fusion. Based on Mazda 6 underpinnings, the Fusion slots between the Focus and the Five Hundred in the Ford lineup in price and size. The Fusion is within an inch of the Camry and Accord in its key dimensions except for height-the 55.8-inch-high Fusion is two-and-a-half inches lower than the tallish Camry.

Mechanically, the Fusion also follows the template of its Japanese rivals. Under its hood, the front-drive Fusion offers a 160-hp, 2.3-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder, sourced from Mazda, or Ford's 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve Duratec V-6, tuned for 221 horsepower. The four-cylinder comes standard with a five-speed manual. A five-speed automatic is optional. The six comes only with a six-speed auto, which is one more cog than any other car in the class offers.

The Fusion's chassis is similarly conventional for the class with a unit body carrying rubber-isolated subframes front and rear. As in the Mazda 6, the front suspension uses control arms, and the rear is a contemporary multilink setup. The geometry is identical to the Mazda's, and most of the pieces would interchange, although the Fusion uses unique springs, shocks, and anti-roll bars. Disc brakes are standard all around, with larger front rotors than the Mazda spec-an improvement that will filter back to the Mazda 6.

Mechanically, the Fusion breaks no new ground, but a look at the photos shows some welcome visual originality. With a face that was inspired by the 2003 Ford 427 concept car, the Fusion brings more style to the mid-size-sedan segment than any car since the 2002 Nissan Altima. The three prominent horizontal chrome grille bars combined with the shimmering rectangular projector-beam headlights will make the Fusion instantly recognizable. A rakish greenhouse atop a flowing and gently wedgy body combined with a clean tail end results in a handsome mid-size sedan.

Inside, the Fusion is the first Ford car to benefit from the tasteful styling and outstanding fit and finish that have impressed everyone in the Ford F-series pickups. The dashboard looks rich and feels cushy, the knobs and the switches work smoothly, and the piano-black finish on the dashboard trim is a welcome relief from the endless wood-grain variations used elsewhere.

This inviting interior is also comfortable, with an excellent driving position assisted by a tilting and telescoping steering column and height-adjustable seats, both standard. This correct control relationship will help drivers take advantage of the Fusion's exemplary road manners. The SEL V-6 that we sampled felt rock solid, with no creaks, rattles, or shakes. Hit a hard bump, and you feel it through the suspension, but you hear only a muted thump, and there are no irritating aftershocks. The overall balance of road feel and comfort is mainstream European, with excellent body control and supple wheel motion.

The Fusion also has delightful steering, with effort somewhere between that of the Camry and Accord, and at least as much accuracy and linearity as either of them. There is a sweet combination of on-center stability and immediate responsiveness without any unnatural artifacts.

The combination of the V-6 and six-speed automatic delivers decent performance, and the Aisin-Warner F21 gearbox shifts smoothly and intelligently. Still, the Fusion didn't feel as quick as an Accord or Hyundai Sonata six. We expect 0 to 60 times in the mid-sevens. We also wish there were more gear-selection options than just "D" and "L."

When we tried the back seat, we found plenty of space without such contrivances as unusually low or short seat cushions, which can inflate a car's interior measurements at the cost of real-world seating comfort.

All Fusions come standard with split folding rear seats, which drop flat when you release them via levers in the trunk. Doing so roughly doubles the 16 cubic feet of trunk space, which is regularly shaped, nicely finished, and uncompromised by intruding trunklid hinges.

Nits are few. We would prefer to have a slightly firmer brake pedal, and when you wind out the Duratec V-6 hard, it doesn't sound as pure as Honda's V-6. Also, we don't understand why some form of stability control isn't at least optional on the Fusion.

On the other hand, Ford is pricing the Fusion very competitively. Built in Hermosillo, Mexico, the base model will start at $17,995, and that includes a good mix of comfort and convenience features. The V-6 auto will start at $21,275. This should undercut the Japanese competition, but not the well-equipped Hyundai Sonata. The Fusion will be trickling into showrooms as you read this. About a year from now, expect hybrid and four-wheel-drive versions to join the lineup.

With its stylish looks, fine road manners, practical configuration, and aggressive pricing, the Fusion should make a strong impact in the mainstream-sedan segment-and truly put Ford back in the car game.

Specifications VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan BASE PRICE: $17,995-$21,275 ENGINES: DOHC 16-valve 2.3-liter inline-4, 160 hp, 150 lb-ft; DOHC 24-valve 3.0-liter V-6, 221 hp, 200 lb-ft TRANSMISSION: 5- or 6-speed automatic, 5-speed manual DIMENSIONS: Wheelbase: 107.4 in Length: 190.2 in Width: 72.2 in Height: 55.8 in Curb weight: 3200-3300 lb PERFORMANCE RATINGS (C/D EST: V-6, 6-SP AUTO): Zero to 60 mph: 7.5 sec Standing 1/4-mile: 16.2 sec PROJECTED FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST): EPA city driving: 20-23 mpg EPA highway driving: 27-30 mpg