I was disappointed by the new Sport trim level. Lest you think I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, let me establish that I liked the Fusion when it came out for 2006, encouraged by its quality, comfortable ride and capable handling at a time when GM was hawking the gross Chevrolet Malibu (not the current generation) and Chrysler was pushing a five-year-old generation of the Sebring, goddess of the rental-car fleet. More important, all of us at Cars.com have been impressed with the 2010s so far. It's the Sport trim level's execution that renews old concerns about inconsistency from one trim level to the next in Ford models.
2010 Fusion Sport: What's Good
The styling is good indeed. Across the model line, Ford replaced the previous model's headlights, which climbed up the fenders, and fixed the taillights, which had been framed in chrome under plastic. Yeeech. The Sport trim level's larger low grille offsets the almost-too-dominant chrome grille. The rocker panels and other body treatments are sharp, and the spoiler is tastefully small. The "Sport"-labeled 18-inch alloy wheels fit nicely with the rest of the car and aren't overly showy. Overall, the look's a winner. One observer said he wished he could get that styling without the 3.5-liter engine.
Ford also fixed the first generation's ponderously wide turning circle — as great as 40 feet in V-6 models. Now it's more than reasonable at 37.5 feet, about a foot bigger than the Toyota Camry's 36.2 feet. As we've reported earlier, the Fusion line as a whole is quieter and more refined and has improved interiors ... mostly. Bear in mind that this is all happening as Toyota and Honda have been slipping — though consumers will doubtless be slow to recognize that.
A random observation: I give credit to Ford for the optional blind spot warning system, which uses radar to watch the rear blind spots and illuminate a light in the side mirror when they're occupied. The idea isn't new or exclusive, but the Fusion's is the only such feature I can recall that indicates when a car is truly in your blind spot if you have your mirrors adjusted correctly. The others do a fine job of flashing when a car is already visible in the mirror — which is to say not technically in a blind spot. While we're talking about what's going on behind the car, I like the optional backup camera, too, whose display appears in the rearview mirror. It's a bit small, but it's better than no camera. I'd like to see this as a cheap stand-alone option; unfortunately it comes in an option package priced at $1,795 in the SEL and $2,995 in the Sport trim , but at least it saves you the cost of a navigation system. Those nav displays used to be a prerequisite for a backup camera.
The four-cylinder Fusion is among the most efficient cars in the midsize class, with EPA estimates as high as 23/34 mpg with an automatic. Larger engines aren't in demand nowadays, and the Sport's 3.5-liter V-6 and optional all-wheel drive show why: It gets an EPA-estimated 17/24 mpg, compared with 18/25 mpg with the 3.0-liter V-6. (When teamed with front-wheel drive, both V-6 engines get the same rating: 18/27 mpg. Why? Beats me.) On the upside, the Sport adds a mere $240 to the cost of a Fusion SEL with the 3.0-liter V-6, and all Fusions run on regular gas.
Fusion Sport: The Bad and the Ugly
Though the Sport has a firmer suspension than other Fusions, I found the ride quality comfortable enough. On an academic level, I suppose the suspension tuning adds some sportiness and body control in more aggressive driving, but I can't say the car begged to be driven that way. The regular Fusion rides very well and handles better than it needs to, but I'm not knocked out by the changes in the Sport. Especially with the added weight of all-wheel drive, the more powerful engine is appreciated but is by no means necessary. My chief complaint is that the transmission doesn't upshift smoothly enough. We've come to a point in history where electronic drivetrain control makes automatic transmissions shift and respond better than ever, and I'm not just talking about luxury cars. The Fusion Sport — or at least the one I drove — isn't smooth enough, and that's pretty hard to excuse in an all-new trim level.
From the bad we move on to the ugly: my Fusion Sport's interior. The blue trim, blue seat panels and blue stitching are optional, and other available colors include Sport Red and the more subtle standard Charcoal Black. I know that bright accents are challenging and that they tend to be polarizing; I have rust-colored seats in one of my cars (actually, in two of my cars, but in the Fiat it's actual rust). I typically leave design and palette issues for individual observers to decide, and perhaps someone would have a better chance of appreciating the Sport Blue interior if it were combined with the optional Sport Blue exterior rather than my car's silver. This isn't simply a matter of differing tastes: I'm not known for my appreciation of fashion, design or general aesthetics, and I even occasionally rationalize my lack of sophistication as an asset — in short, if I have a problem with the way something looks, I'm confident that it must be really, really, universally offensive.
The problems go beyond the optional color, though. The accent stitching looks pretty good on the seats and steering wheel, but on the door panels it has the coarse look of yo-yo string (it's a toy from the 1900s, kids; ask your parents). The leather quality isn't what it should be, and this is a problem I've had with the Ford Escape, too. It's shiny and not as richly grained as I've come to expect. The lighter leathers and cloth upholstery I've seen in Fusions have looked fine to my eye, and this illustrates that one choice isn't always as well-executed as another, regardless of price. I warn any shopper not to test-drive one trim level then order a different one, sight unseen. You never know what you'll get.
Another execution wrinkle involves the instrument panel. The gauges themselves are great — brilliant and readable, and they black out entirely when the car's off. The main problem is that the plastic over them is too reflective, producing glare during the day. Also, perhaps it was an isolated defect, but my car's coolant-temperature and fuel-gauge needles had a marbled appearance that didn't match the other gauges. (Photos of all these elements are to the right.)
The stereo knobs were another problem. I'm not wild about the chrome rings to begin with, but it was the rough edges — not evident on the matching ventilation knobs — that bothered me. Speaking of plastic, when you pull the release handles on the center storage console/armrest, they feel like you're bending a piece of plastic. Here's the thing: You are bending a piece of plastic, as you are on many models from many brands, but here it feels like you're bending a piece of plastic. It's not the formula; it's the execution.
Likewise, ambient lighting is a feature that's spreading through the car market; it gives the interior a soft, upscale accent at night. Ford takes it a step further by letting you chose the color via a button on the console and by illuminating the cupholders. The option was on my car, and all I could notice at night were the bright LED dots illuminating the footwells; the ones in the backseat were snake eyes that shone directly at passengers all the time. How hard would it have been to recess these lights a bit? If the light is shining directly at you, is it really "ambient?"
Ford's interior quality has been on the rise longer than GM's has, but things like rough mold seams and other plastic edges are something I used to criticize GM for, not Ford. GM has improved. For interior quality and consistency, I favor the Malibu.
Fusion Sport in the Market
The Fusion Sport's large V-6 is as likely to attract some buyers as the Sport Blue interior is to repel others. Fortunately, both features are optional. I'm not sure there's a need for either one in an ascending model line that already has so much to offer.
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