EXPERT REVIEW

Orlando Sentinel's view


Benchmark the Ford Fusion against comparable products from Toyota and Honda — Ford does, so we might as well, too — and it doesn’t quite match: The Fusion is slotted between the Toyota Corolla and the Camry, and between the Honda Civic and Accord, occupying the market territory once held by the Nissan Altima before the Altima was redesigned in 2002 as a much bigger, nicer, pricier car.

There’s nothing at all wrong with what the Fusion is. In fact, it seems pretty much the right size: At 190.2 inches long and 72.2 inches wide, it’s roughly the same as a Camry, but the Fusion looks, feels and drives smaller. That isn’t a bad thing. And given the price of our relatively modest 2008 Fusion S, $19,370, the price seems right, too. Or it will after Ford gets through adding on rebates and discounts.

The Fusion comes in three basic flavors: The entry-level S, the slightly nicer SE, and the top-of-the-line SEL. Load up an SEL with the V-6 engine and all-wheel-drive and a navigation system and leather upholstery, and you’re over $25,000.

At the other end is our plucky, unassuming Fusion S, which, even without lots of options, is nicely appointed. It had a good stereo with a single-disc CD player, anti-lock disc brakes, side and side-curtain air bags, cruise control, power locks, windows and mirrors; it neither looks nor feels stripped-down.

Much of that is because it’s based on the Mazda6 platform, an excellent place to start. And that the base 2.3-liter, 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine is Mazda-sourced, too — it’s smooth and reasonably powerful, and is happy with regular gasoline. The EPA-rated mileage is good, not great, at 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway. The five-speed automatic transmission, at $875, is the test car’s only option. It replaces a five-speed manual.

Inside, the instrument cluster is nicely designed and easy to read, and controls are where they should be. The cloth-covered front bucket seats are a little on the thin side, but comfortable enough. Rear seat room isn’t bad, and the 15.8-cubic-foot trunk is plenty big enough.

On the road, the Fusion S rides and handles very well, again thanks to the sound Mazda platform. Steering feel is fine, brakes are excellent, handling is good, but limited by the 16-inch tires. Standard electronic stability control would have been nice, but reportedly it doesn’t arrive until 2009.

The Fusion S excels at nothing, lacks nothing — it will never be a star player, but it’ll start every game. Nicely done.

Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smithcan be reached at scsmith@orlandosentinel.com.

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