Ford Fusion — As good as it looks

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

When we got our first look at the 2013 Ford Fusion at the Detroit auto show last January we were astounded. What a great-looking mid-sized sedan. But, we thought, will this turn out to be just a fancy new wrapper for the same old contents?

After spending time with two EcoBoost engines that are the heart and soul of the new Fusion and perhaps the most engaging mid-sized hybrid sedan so far in the 21st century we can report the Fusion's new beauty extends far beyond styling.

The new Fusion is the first sedan to offer gasoline, hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. The V-6 engine is gone from the lineup. The base engine is a 2.5-liter iVCT and is expected to be the most-ordered powerplant. It features 175 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque.

But the big news involves two new turbocharged EcoBoost engines, a 1.6-liter that produces 178 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, and can be ordered with either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual; and a 2.0-liter EcoBoost that produces 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque mated to a SelectShift automatic.

The new Fusion 2.0 turbo delivers a European-flavored driving experience with handling noticeably improved from the previous model. Steering is tighter and the lack of body sway and its resultant head-toss is almost unnoticeable. With the EcoBoost’s full torque at a much lower rpm, driving becomes more rewarding on high-speed thoroughfares and in higher elevations.

We also drove a manual transmission Fusion 1.6-liter turbo through the twists, turns and elevation changes we enjoy and we found it an engaging vehicle. The transmission with its short throws and excellent clutch action was a joy to drive, and leaving it in third gear on the twists and turns seemed to be the sweet spot. The well-tuned suspension kept the car flat and cornering at higher speeds was near sports-car-like.

The new Fusion Hybrid drivetrain was the standout for us. It features an all-new 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine, significantly downsized from the previous 2.5-liter unit while maintaining performance standards.

This innovative powertrain is anticipated to deliver best-in-class fuel economy of 47 mpg in city driving and 47 mpg on the highway. This excellent mileage comes in part because Ford has elected to use the most advanced lithium-ion battery pack, shelving the old nickel-metal hydride battery, which is still found in many competitors. With 188 horsepower, it performs much like the standard four-cylinder engines found in today's mid-sized cars, which means it's more than adequate.

Styling begins with an all-new front end and a more upscale trapezoid grille with more, but smaller bars that are reminiscent of the legendary Aston-Martin, a brand that Ford once owned. The side has a double beltline and wrap-around headlight.

Ford has engineered a 10 percent reduction in aerodynamic drag from the 2012 model, allowing the new Fusion to slip through the wind and achieve one of the quietest interiors found on any vehicle. The rear has an up-swept appearance with attractive, wrap-around taillamps and chrome exhaust tips that highlight the image.

To enhance the driving experience available technology includes a lane departure warning system, active park assist, blind spot monitoring information system, a rear-facing camera, cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control. Combine these with standard safety items such as AdvanceTrac electronic stability control, SOS Post-Crash Alert System, four-channel, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and a host of others and you’ll quickly see why the new Fusion is being touted as a “driver’s car.”

The Fusion's interior is roomy with a distinctly up-market look and higher-quality materials are evident. The center stack and instrument panel have experienced a beautiful restructuring.

The all-new Fusion offers the latest iteration of Ford’s SYNC communications and entertainment system, which enables voice-activated communication through a driver’s mobile phone and interaction with the car’s audio system. Fusion also offers the latest version of MyFord Touch that allows drivers to interact with vehicle systems through voice control, a touch screen tap or a conventional button.

While these systems admittedly are on the cutting edge of communication technology, we still find them difficult to use, especially when driving.

The Fusion in a well-equipped base trim starts at an affordable $22,495 including destination charges. The mid-level SE trim begins at $24,515 and the top Titanium trim with the 240-horsepower 2.0-liter EcoBoost begins at $30,995. All-wheel drive pushes the price to $32,995.

The Fusion's newfound combination of good looks, competitive fuel economy and ample cutting-edge features have placed it squarely in the mix of the top midsize sedans for 2013.

Base price: $22,495; as driven, $30,995
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged
Horsepower: 240 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 270 foot-pounds @ 3,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Length: 191.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,526 pounds
Turning circle: 37.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 16 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.5 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 33 highway, 22 city
0-60: 6.8 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu

The Good
• Fuel-efficient turbocharged engines
• Wide array of safety features
• Segment-leading styling
• All-wheel drive available

The Bad
• Options can run the price way up

The Ugly
• MyFordTouch still too busy