Introduced for the 2006 model year as a replacement for the Taurus midsize sedan (which has since been re-introduced), the Fusion has done well for Ford; an all-wheel-drive option was added last year, and a hybrid version is expected to be available later this year as a 2009 model ... unless it's delayed, which is always a possibility with a new hybrid. The four-cylinder and V-6 engines remain, as do the five-speed manual and automatic transmissions — for the four-cylinder only — and six-speed automatic for the V-6. The Fusion has a history of excellent reliability.
What's new for 2008 are a number of safety, convenience and entertainment options, in addition to five new paint colors and an optional Sport Appearance Package.
Buyers have a choice of S, SE and SEL trim levels, and it bears noting that the closely related Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ could be considered higher trim levels, the latter of which has a larger, 3.5-liter V-6.
The Fusion was the first Ford model to feature the chrome three-bar grille that has since appeared on other models. There are projector-beam headlights and taillights that are a cross between conventional colored and clear lenses. A chrome strip decorates the lower edge of the side windows.
Standard wheels start with 16-inch steel on the Fusion S and range up to 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels on the SEL. Eighteen-inch alloys are optional in the Sport Appearance Package that also includes sport suspension tuning, a black-chrome grille and a rear spoiler, among other cosmetic upgrades inside and out.
Three distinct interior themes are available for the Fusion, which seats up to five occupants. Standard equipment includes a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a height-adjustable driver's seat. A feature unique to Ford in 2008 is an ambient-lighting option that will be offered later in the year: It gives drivers a choice of lighting color for the footwells and cupholder accent lights. Seven colors can be selected with a dashboard switch.
Trunk capacity is 15.8 cubic feet. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold flat with spring assistance, providing a pass-thru to the trunk. SE and SEL trim levels come standard with a folding front passenger seat.
Optional features include heated front seats, an in-dash six-CD changer and a navigation system that has voice-activation control for 2008. An auxiliary input for MP3 players and the like is standard on all Fusions. Also new for 2008 is Ford's Sync hands-free system, a joint venture with Microsoft that allows drivers to control Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and MP3 players with steering-wheel buttons and voice commands. Also new, the Reverse Sensing System option uses sonar to beep a warning if an obstacle is in the way when the car is backing up.
Under the Hood
The Fusion's 2.3-liter four-cylinder develops 160 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. The available 3.0-liter V-6 produces 221 hp at 6,250 rpm. The four-cylinder can team with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic, but the V-6-powered Fusion works only with a six-speed automatic.
The Fusion scored well in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, with ratings of Good (the highest) for front- and side-impact protection. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags designed to protect front and rear occupants in a side impact are standard. Antilock braking is now standard on all Fusions, as is a tire pressure monitoring system.
The lack of an electronic stability system in the Fusion is a glaring omission, as the feature is being incorporated into other cars across the market, including competing models — and more affordable ones to boot.
The Fusion is a credible four-door sedan that's priced reasonably, has appealing fuel economy and delivers satisfying road behavior. Performance with the V-6 is better than the midsize norm, and the Fusion's six-speed automatic functions capably. Some gear changes are virtually seamless and others are mildly noticeable, but none are awkward or bothersome. Though it's better with the manual transmission, the four-cylinder's acceleration is modest — definitely not as capable as four-cylinder versions of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, which make up about 80 percent of those models sold.
This sedan maneuvers smartly through narrow, curvy roads and follows the driver's lead without much fuss. However, when a curve is especially tight and speed is relatively high, the Fusion does start to lose its confident sure-footedness. When the road gets bumpy, the sedan can transmit quite a few jolts to occupants, but overall the ride quality is one of the Fusion's strongest attributes. The brakes behave well in demanding driving and are easy to modulate.
Curious-looking gauges aren't the easiest to read at a glance, and the fuel and temperature gauges are tiny. Slipping into the front seat is a breeze, and space is abundant. Well-cushioned, supportive seats are installed. Backseat space isn't quite as ample as hoped in a midsize sedan; some passengers' knees touch the front seatback, and the center rear position is no pleasure.
Visibility is a little limited by the modestly sized back window and wide rear pillars, which makes the new rear sensing system appealing.
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