The pothole appeared out of the dark and rain in the midst of an otherwise smooth stretch of roadway. This was no one-thump-and-done bump - because of its size (width and depth), I quickly realized there was no way to avoid impact. Today's test car - the all-wheel-drive version of the 2008 Ford Fusion SEL - was about to get the type of extreme test you don't want to give your own car.
There was just enough time to grip the wheel tighter and hope I didn't loosen any teeth or fillings. The Fusion sits low, and as we hit, I feared for the tires, wheels, and even the bodywork. Amazingly, the car took the pothole with aplomb, much as a wide-track catamaran would handle a big ocean wave - smoothly, with no giant thud. A glance in the rearview mirror showed the pickup truck following us also was unable to dodge the pothole. But the ensuing bouncing headlights showed it didn't handle the challenge nearly as well as the Fusion.
While there's no such thing as a perfect suspension that will please all of the people all of the time, there are times when a suspension is right for a vehicle. We found the Fusion's underpinnings to be just that. Ford has done a nice job of building a vehicle that can compete in a market segment that has been dominated by Toyota (Camry), Honda (Accord), and Nissan (Altima).
While the standard 160-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and the 3.0-liter, 221 horsepower V6 were not acceleration champions, they work sufficiently with the car's handling to make this a nice driver's vehicle.
The V6 all-wheel-drive version we tested was comfortable, with automatic headlights, heated exterior mirrors with puddle lamps, automatic climate control, leather steering wheel, and a distinctive (but sometimes hard-to-read) analog clock.
And Ford's SYNC system allowed even this sometimes-technology-challenged driver to integrate a cellphone into the car's system. Not only did the car recognize the phone, but it also downloaded its address book into the system's memory. That was a surprise that added functionality to the driving experience.
I left it to my grown daughters to appraise Ford's ambient lighting option - a $295 feature that allows the driver (or passenger) to choose one of seven colors for the ambient lights in the front foot wells and cupholders. Their response: "Why?" Interestingly, $295 was the same price for heated front seats or a reverse sensing system, both of which are more practical add-ons.
The Fusion also features more interior space than the established all-wheel-drive Subaru Legacy sedan, which set the standard for this kind of vehicle. It comfortably seats five, including full-sized adults in the rear. Additionally, it has plenty of cargo capacity. The rear seats fold flat for temporarily increasing that capability, as does the passenger's seat.
The driving position seems high, even though the Fusion sits low.
The seats are positioned to have you facing out a good-size front windshield.
But there's a downside: You have to look down at the instrument panel. That's not bothersome with the main instrument cluster, but the center stack is another matter. We would have sacrificed the storage bin atop the dashboard to move the navigation screen - and with it the audio and climate controls - higher.
Our driving experience came in weather conditions that ranged from warm to cold, and snow to rain.
The Fusion handled all with aplomb with the exception of the wipers icing up during a heavy snow squall. We averaged 19.1 miles per gallon, a bit less than we would prefer, but representative in the new EPA rating system.
Still, it's a reason we are eager to get an early look at the hybrid version of the Fusion reportedly in the works.
It's supposed to be based on the same system used in the Escape, Ford's small SUV.
Let's just hope they keep that pothole-taming suspension.
Base price/as tested $24,385 -$28,980 Fuel economy 19.1 miles per gallon in Globe testing
THE EARLY LINE
Ford's entry in the midsized sedan market is a nice package that adds reliability to the company's resume.
Drivetrain 3.0-liter V6, with six-speed automatic transmission, and optional all-wheel-drive system
Seating 5 passengers
Torque 205 lb.-ft.
Overall length 109.2 inches
Wheelbase 107.4 inches
Height 57.2 inches
Width 72.2 inches
Curb weight 3,325 pounds
Nice touch The slightly convex side mirrors do a good job of covering blind spots.
Annoyance The gearshift lever can be easily be moved past Drive and into Low range if you're not paying close attention.
Watch for A hybrid version that's in the works.
Consider shopping it against Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, Saturn Aura, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry