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2017 Ford Fusion and Fusion Hybrid: First Drive

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum

CARS.COM — As we reported at the Detroit auto show in January, Ford has refreshed the Fusion midsize sedan for 2017, and most versions will arrive at dealerships this summer. I got behind the wheel of the SE, Platinum and Hybrid Titanium trim levels, representing three drivetrains, all of which are unchanged from last year.

Related: Research the 2017 Ford Fusion

The Fusion isn’t the sexiest nameplate that Ford makes, but it is one of its most important, competing with a dozen other cars in a crowded class where changes come constantly. In the best cases, each updated sedan leapfrogs the others, and the question is, did Ford do enough to give the Fusion its moment in the sun?

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum

What’s New

As our editors noted after the 2017’s auto show debut, the big changes are underneath the Fusion’s skin. Exterior styling has changed only slightly, with updated headlight clusters on Titanium, Sport and Platinum trim levels, the LED headlights of which, along with new LED fog lights, help to widen the front slightly. However, unless the new 2017 model were put right next to a 2016, it’d be hard to pick one out.

Apart from the exterior, the changes are pretty extensive. There are two new trim levels: the luxurious Platinum trim (which also is available with the Hybrid and plug-in-hybrid Energi models) and high-performance Sport. The Sport trim will not be available until later this summer and will offer all-wheel drive and a 325-horsepower, turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6.

There are extensive updates to the Fusion’s driver aids and safety technology, as well as to its multimedia system. The center console area also was redesigned for better storage and ergonomics. These 2017 updates also apply to the Fusion Hybrid and Fusion Energi.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum

How It Drives

The 181-horsepower, turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine in the SE felt  underwhelming, but I expected that to a degree. You really have to lean into it to get it to move. The 231-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost Platinum surprisingly felt much the same. It’s not that either engine is short on power on the spec sheet, but neither really likes to get up and go — even with Sport mode engaged on the Platinum. In the Platinum, it also felt like the all-wheel-drive system was slightly hesitant and bogged down the engine at times.

The drive route offered plenty of time on curvy roads in the mountains near Malibu, Calif.,  and that gave the Fusion a chance to show off its best attributes. Its steering feel is excellent and the suspension offers enough feedback to give the driver confidence, while still being comfortable in everyday driving and on the highway. There is a sweet spot (for this class especially) between ride quality and dynamic ability and the Fusion found it for me.

I found the Hybrid model to be a decent steer as well; the extra weight from the battery pack didn’t seem to adversely affect the handling, and the electric integration is pretty seamless. The Hybrid also now offers standard active noise cancellation, which provides a very quiet cabin and superb isolation.

The Hybrid combines a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder with an electric motor, for a combined output of 188 hp, mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission. The gas-powered models come with a six-speed automatic.

There was one change to the 1.5-liter engine for 2017 — it adds standard stop-start capability to improve gas mileage. I’ve found Ford’s application of this technology to be among the best in the industry, and the Fusion is no exception. After coming to a stop, when it’s time to go again, the engine restarts quickly and quietly without as much shudder as some systems.

EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings are 23/34/27 mpg city/highway/combined for the 1.5-liter and 21/31/25 mpg with front-wheel drive and 20/29/23 with all-wheel drive for the 2.0-liter engine found in the Platinum. The 2017 Hybrid is EPA-rated 43/41/42. The plug-in Energi’s fuel economy figures were not specified as of this writing; the 2016 was rated at 19 miles of all-electric range followed by a 38 mpg combined rating.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum

Interior Updates

There are more updates inside to make the 2017 Fusion easier to live with. The multimedia system has been upgraded to the latest version of Ford’s Sync, called Sync 3. Also included now are Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, two welcome additions for smartphone users. Sync 3 is by far the best version to date; it’s come a long way from its earlier days…but the mirroring of CarPlay and Auto still are preferable to my tastes.

Between the front seats, the center console and storage area also have been revamped. There is now a rotary gear selector that opens up more space for a large storage cubby underneath the climate controls, with a 12-volt outlet and USB port. Another USB port can be found in the center storage bin. Ford representatives confirmed that higher trim levels get more-powerful USB charging ports at both locations, but on lower trim levels the port in the dash is 1.5 amps vs. 2.5 amps. (The more-powerful ports charge phones faster and typically can accommodate tablets.) Both ports also connect to the multimedia system.

Also new to the dash is a small pocket, lined with grippy leather designed to hold your phone in place either upright or lying on its side. Facing the rear seats is also a 12-volt charge port and a 110-volt household socket as well, for plugging in a laptop or a larger device.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum

The new Platinum I drove is now the top trim level and offers many luxury features, including quilted leather seats (which are very, very comfortable) and heating and cooling functions for the front seats.

Science and Technology

Perhaps the 2017 Fusion’s biggest updates are the changed or added driver assist technologies. The Platinum model I tested came with all of them.

New for 2017 are lane departure prevention, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, stop-and-go capability for the adaptive cruise control and enhanced park assist, with perpendicular as well as parallel parking (the car controls the steering).

The lane-keeping system offered flexibility: The driver can just get warnings or turn on an aid that gently steers the car back into the lane. It operates smoothly, with no jerkiness.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum

Similarly, the adaptive cruise control changed speeds steadily and adds stop-and-go capability, meaning it works all the way down to a stop and then can pick up again once traffic moves. That single features makes the system a godsend for folks like me who live in areas with a lot of traffic. If you stay stopped for more than three seconds, the system will shut off, but simply tapping the accelerator or the resume button on the steering wheel starts it again.

Value

Quite enamored with the Fusion, I found the technology additions enhance the sedan’s usability in many common situations, and it was more fun to drive quickly than I’d expected. But thinking about buying a Fusion felt to me like shopping at an expensive department store. You see something that catches your eye and it seems fantastic until you flip over the price tag. Then the piece of clothing goes gently back on the rack and you move on to a different section.

There’s no way to get around it: The Fusion costs quite a bit. The as-tested price (including destination and handling charges) for the Hybrid Titanium I drove was $36,440. Want to jump up the fully loaded Platinum model with its fancy leather and driver technology? Try $39,965. The thought of paying nearly $40,000 for a midsize sedan is a tough pill to swallow, no matter how nice the materials are or how helpful the technology is. 

Ford did enough with this refresh to give the Fusion an advantage over much of its competition. We’ll just have to wait and see if folks are willing to pay the difference.

 
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