Ford Fusion Review


Ford Fusion ReviewThe Ford Taurus is no more. Let that sink in; it takes time to get used to the absence of a product that has become as familiar and symbolically significant as a Big Mac or Jumbo Jack. Unfortunately, the similarities run a bit deeper: the Taurus is one piece of sloppy meat whose ingredients never really changed, that most people bought for being cheap, and that cursed its buyers with unseen consequences in the long run. The Taurus served its purpose, but most of us can agree it's time Ford sent its old bull off to Bovine University for an industrial-grade clubbing.

And why wait? Its newer, shinier, more contemporary replacement is already here. Following the Focus and Five Hundred, Ford gave its new middle child the moniker Fusion, a name that means "the merging of different elements into a union." Two of the elements in question would be Mazda engineering and Ford styling, a union that has created more than a few cars in the recent past. The Fusion combines space and speed like no Ford before it, and seems perfect for anyone who's been waiting for their Probe to sprout two extra doors, for their Contour to grow a real back seat, or for their Taurus to get a personality. And really, any outsider open to the idea of a four-door Ford should find reasons to give it a shot as well.

Road TestFord Fusion Review
The Mazda 6 made its mark by being the sportiest sled in sedanland. It's got nearly everything going for it, including nearly the shortest length and wheelbase, sticky tires, suspensions of the highest technical order, firm disc brakes, topped off with Mazda's obvious talent in tuning all of the above for human control.

That's still true, and guess what? It all carried over. Do you know how rare it is to find a family hauler with firm steering that no one can call overboosted? The Fusion is one such rarity: manhandle the steering wheel all you wish, its fast and friendly response takes care of every request quickly and clearly. It's almost stiff in parking lots, but I found it just right, just as I did the springing of the pedals and the linear reactions of the throttle and brakes they're attached to. Compared to the Mazda, Ford added an inch here and there (3.4 to length, 2.1 to wheelbase and width, 0.5 to height), but none of that's easy to notice without a back-to-back drive. In fact, Ford's weighing scale curiously paints the 3,280-pound Fusion as the marginally lighter car. There is a lot of tire grip, isn't a lot of body lean, and oversteer is an available item on the handling menu. Pretty sprightly, this car.

Relatively speaking, the Fusion doesn't have the power to match. Among V6 entrants, the 221 horsepower of the Taurus-sourced V6 (enhanced with Mazda valve timing) stands in the bottom half of the class. In truth, it does respond a little lethargically at lower revs, and the frequent need to shift down through the Fusion's many gears compounds the waiting feeling. But this is no slug; we're just too spoiled in this day and age, and most of the Fusion's faster competition gained their speed by dropping in bigger engines. Ford's choice to retain a V6 of 3.0 liters is to thank for our Fusion's test average of 24 MPG (highway biased), which is 1 or 2 thriftier than 3.5-plus-liter powerhouses like the Altima and Passat. The Fusion doesn't ask for premium fuel, either. Are you here to win races, or do you want balance? You picks your priorities and you lives with em.

It's a recurring question. Do peace and tranquility take top billing for your family? If so, note that the Fusion, like the Mazda, is possibly the worst offender in the class when it comes to road noise and impact firmness. Both are quite acceptable and not a real cause for concern, and in my opinion, the slight trade-off is worth the gains elsewhere. Just know that gentler sedans exist, that's all.

One divergence this Ford has over the Mazda: if you order six cylinders, you can't control them yourself. While 4-cylinder Fusions get their pick between 5-speed transmissions of either type, all V6 Fusions, as those "Life In D" advertisements unintentionally imply, get hooked up to a six-speed automatic - first seen last year in the Five Hundred and unchanged here. Also unlike Mazda, Ford doesn't give you a manual shiftgate, and the only choices you get on the transmission lever are Drive and Low.

Having driven more than a few Fords and Mazdas from late last century, an automatic transmission from either company would normally cause me to head for the hills. So infuriating was their behavior (random kickdowns, harsh shoves, delayed reactions, etc.) that you'd want to put a bullet right through the hood. But happily, this new tranny seemed like, say, an alcoholic in step nine of a ten-step rehab program: not yet fully recovered, but healthy enough to function in society. You can still get an unwanted kickdown at low speeds, but it's more of the exception than the rule. Also, if you think more is better, know that only the VW Passat can match the Fusion's six gears, and that the ratio range of 4.15 to 0.69 makes for a pretty flexible 6-to-1 spread.

Two questions: what's up with the 40-foot turning circle (cars with 17-inch wheels)? The freaking Explorer can do better than that. And not to encourage unruly behavior, but what kind of sports sedan is speed governed to 112 MPH? Questions aside, the Fusion serves as a pretty good answer to anyone looking for a roomy mid-sizer with a high entertainment factor.

Inside & OutFord Fusion Review
For anyone who, after the 1996 Taurus, lost all hope in Ford's ability to create an attractive, original sedan, it's time to re-examine those beliefs. Aside from the 1997 Honda Prelude headlights and 1992 Honda Prelude taillights, this look is all Ford's own, and in fact will serve as inspiration for future Blue Oval models. Have you noticed how automakers recently started coming up with corporate "faces"? Take a look at those three chrome bars, for they now form Ford's.

On the inside, you get the idea that the Fusion didn't get an infusion of class. Materials covering the dash are grainy and coarse, the "piano black" plastic trim is artificially shiny and reflective, the fonts and analog clock are pure cheese, and the stereo is a square peg in a trapezoidal hole. Stick with the cloth seats, because if you want leather with the slightest hint of quality, you'll have to do a lateral move back to Mazda or an upward move to the identical Lincoln Zephyr (the Mercury Milan, another Fusion clone, is no help). The leather on the steering wheel especially needs an upgrade; holding hands with such a low-grade tool honestly makes driving a little less pleasurable. Lastly, while some automakers can make an all-black interior look slick and sleek, the Fusion's just looks dark and dank. You'd think these guys would be better at it, having pioneered the idea in 1915.

There are a few ergonomic downgrades as well. The steering wheel controls are too numerous and complicated, and their sameness works against the idea of eyes-off operation, which is the whole point of steering wheel controls to begin with. The SEL model's mushy-buttoned automatic climate system is also a bit of a pain in the ass (though that's true of most auto units), the turn signal has a weird upward tilt, and on cars without sunroofs, what are the map lights doing way back in the center of the ceiling? Even the keyless entry system has issues, its buttons not being in the best arrangement and containing trunk and panic buttons that are too easily triggered, I discovered embarrassingly. On the positive, everything is legible, there are plenty of storage spaces (including an extra center console atop the dashboard), and Ford has modernized its power windows and locks to the ideal. I also liked Ford's unique take on wiper controls, which make sense in their own way and offer more variability in intermittent mode than do most cars. Overall, it's good enough to get by.

You can tell Ford put some effort into the audio by the sheer strength of the Fusion's big, bad bass. Even on the default setting you can cause your own little private thunderstorm. There's more power than crispness here - the sound is kind of blatty and not completely satisfying - but the Fusion stands ahead of some others by offering MP3 playback on every model, six standard speakers on all but the base S model, plus a 6-disc changer and 8 speakers on the optional Audophile system.

Seating, also, is enough to get by. The front buckets are roomy enough for the vast majority of profiles, cause no pain, and the telescoping steering column helps anyone find the perfect position. They don't feel as sporty as they could be, though, considering the Fusion's mission. Kind of flat, like you're sitting on a protruding poof of foam. But I guess they're comfortable.

That assessment carries over to the rear. Mazda's 6 has the distinction of being the tightest mid-size sedan; the Fusion's marginal increases help neutralize that. But the Fusion has a cushion that's slightly mushy at the front edge, making leg support a bit of a do-it-yourself affair. The more pressing issue is how cheapness crept into safety matters: the Fusion's rear head restraints - all two of them - are a joke: basically two extra vertical inches of foam. This is an issue shared with the Focus, meaning if you want a Ford sedan in which 60% of the occupants won't snap their necks in a rear-end collision, you'll have to step up to the Five Hundred. Side and side-curtain airbags are at least available as options, as are antilock brakes and all-speed traction control, though a full-scale stability control (the kind that brakes individual wheels) doesn't exist. Luckily, the Fusion has continued the Ford tradition of high scores in frontal crash tests, and the computer knows when to turn off the passenger's air bag.

At the hind end you'll find one of the best trunks in the business. It's nice and wide, nice and tall, suspended by struts, and could knocking down the back seat be any easier? Just pull two in-trunk levers and boom, your already-high 15.8 cubic feet nearly triples in volume.

Other ThoughtsFord Fusion Review
Ford keeps it relatively simple. There are basically eight Fusions: the 4-cylinder S, SE, and SEL 4-cylinder models with a 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic, and the V6 SE and SEL models with 6-speed automatic.

A stickshift S lowballs the field with a tempting $17,795 base price. It's $755 to the SE ($18,550), and from there, $1,085 to the SEL ($19,635). The SE adds a six-way power driver's seat, two tweeter speakers, steering wheel cruise and audio controls, message center (trip computer), illuminated vanity mirrors, and body-colored outside mirrors. The SEL adds fog lights, leather steering wheel, automatic climate control, 6-disc CD, analog clock, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Later-build Fusion SEL V6s get antilock brakes standard.

Add the $825 automatic, as most of you will, and those numbers become $18,620, $19,375, and $20,460. Adding the V6 engine (plus dual exhaust pipes) to the latter two takes $1,900, making the SE and SEL $21,275 and $22,360.

Options consist of the Safety & Security Package (the extra airbags plus an alarm, $595), antilock brakes ($595), traction control ($95), moonroof ($795), leather seats ($895), seat heaters ($295), Audiophile stereo ($420), the SE's Sport Package (alloy wheels plus the SEL's better stereo, $425), and the SEL's Premium Package (heated mirrors with puddle lights, auto-dimming mirror, compass, automatic headlights, $395).

Even when you pile it all on, the Fusion can still limbo lower than nearly any other car in price. Take the top-line Fusion SEL V6 and add the Safety & Security Package, and you've got a safe, speedy sedan for $23,550. A similar Altima 3.5SE and Accord LX V6 (the only remotely sporty Asian cars) go for $25,555 and $25,650. The Fusion even comes out with a lower sticker than the King of Desparate Discounts, the Pontiac G6 GT ($23,870 with airbags). Finally, this automotive derivation undercuts its source material, the Mazda 6 s, at $24,520. The Fusion puts the "Ford" in "affordable."

Short-term gain for long-term pain? Not this time. Ford vowed never gain to treat its most voluminous car as dumping material for Hertz rental fleets (they just sold Hertz anyway, in case you missed it); production will instead be dictated by real-world demand. Speaking of demand, the Fusion's solid initial sales numbers have negated the need for value-eroding discounts anyway. And finally, factor in the sizable chasm in consumer appeal between the Taurus and the Fusion, and resale values should stay stable. It seems to be working for the Five Hundred.

Well, that's resale for you. That brings us to reliability, which isn't easy to call since the Fusion isn't built in Michigan alongside the Mazda 6, but rather in Ford's plant south of the border, the previous residence of Escorts and Focuses. Some past studies have found that plant to make longer-lasting cars than Ford's stateside factories, for whatever that's worth.

PS: an all-wheel-drive Fusion is coming next year. A hybrid, the year after. [source : automotive.com]


 

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