Quietly Wowed by the 2013 Ford Fusion
What can you say about the Ford Fusion? It debuted as a perfectly nice midsize vehicle, and we've been fans of its hybrid model since its introduction...
... but it never made me say "wow," as AskPatty's Patricia Roberts did when she previewed the 2013 Ford Fusion reboot earlier this year.
Last month, I got my chance to see what she was talking about, as Ford unveiled its new models with great fanfare in Santa Monica. I was one of the journalists who was invited to test-drive the vehicles.
And this time, I did say "Wow." For one thing, the new Fusion is as pretty a car as Ford has made in a long time.
The sedan's new body and grill pick up the same design language Ford introduced on the Focus last year.
Apparently, there is function as well as form to Fusion's attractive new front-end. The company's press release states it was designed to meet "simultaneous – and seemingly conflictive – standards across regions" around the world."
With the aid of computer modeling and 180 crash tests, Ford's engineers have designed Fusion's front end to meet both North American collision and European pedestrian protection standards.
We drove four variants of the 2013 Fusion over two days, beginning with the Fusion Hybird, which has been EPA-certified at 47 mpg highway AND city -- which makes it the current fuel efficiency leader for a midsize sedan. It benefits from new, lighter, more powerful lithium-ion batteries and technologies like regenerative braking and electric power steering.
The Fusion hybrid gives you plenty of power for passing other vehicles. You won't mistake it for a turbo, but it does the trick. And the electric power steering really makes it handle very well.
But my real revelation came when I followed my Fusion drive with a hybrid Toyota Camry Ford brought along for comparison. I immediately felt the difference: Fusion is much more robust and feels solid while the Camry has a lighter touch. The Camry's brakes made an annoying noise every time they were engaged. Fusion's noise cancellation functions make it exceedingly quiet, which may be the most impressive of its impressive features.
The one downside to the Fusion hybrid is a lack of trunk-space, thanks to that hybrid battery. I think I could live with that in exchange for fewer trips to the gas pump.
A Little Bit About Engines
The Fusion Hybrird I drove sported a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. I also tested a 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder model with Auto Start-Stop, a 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder with a manual transmission and the top of the line Titanium model, with a 2.0 liter EcoBoost engine.
I know: What does that all mean?
I am no mechanic, nor am I an engineer. Until I started writing about cars, I never paid attention to the size of my vehicle's engine, other than to evaluate how responsive it was and its fuel efficiency. So my knowledge of what is under the hood was limited to the number of cylinders my car had and whether its transmission was manual or automatic.
Fusion's New Start-Stop Feature Available with 1.6-Litre EcoBoost Engine
So I spent a lot of time at the Fusion launch asking Ford's engineers to explain the significance of the different models' fuel-efficient power-trains. I especially needed a definition of a feature I'd never heard of: Start-Stop. It turns out this is a fuel-efficient technology that is economical, too:
The 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine on the model I drove is EPA-rated 26/37, and the Start-Stop feature can increase that fuel efficiency by as much as 10%. The fact that the option only adds $200 to the cost of the vehicle makes this an excellent choice for car shoppers on a budget.
The model I drove also included adaptive cruise control, which uses radar to guide your speed and keep you at a safe distance from other vehicles on the road.
Fusion's Powerful 2.0-Litre Engine Options
While Day 1 of our 2013 Fusion experience was devoted to fuel-efficiency and technology, Day 2 was about the pure exhilaration of driving. We climbed into a Fusion with a 2.0-Litre EcoBoost engine and manual transmission on a journey through Southern California's winding canyon backroads to rural Ventura County.
The manual 6-speed transmission on our Fusion was remarkably responsive. The clutch has a hefty, solid feel and it was easy to find the sweet spot on the shift. And we were impressed by how much thought Ford's designers gave to the layout of the center console, because for once, shifting did not disturb the drinks in our cupholders.
And these larger engines were not noticeably noisier than the economical ones we drove the previous day.
We headed back in a Fusion Titanium model, equipped with a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine and a paddle-shifted six-speed SelectShift Automatic™ transmission. The interior was luxe and comfortable. But for all the power and performance built in to this model, I barely noticed a difference between it and the smaller fuel-efficient model I'd driven previously (other than the lack of the Start-Stop feature). That could just be a factor of the way I drive (cognizant of speed limits and cautious on hairpin turns). If you drive the way I do, you'd likely be just as happy with the less expensive model Fusions. But if it's performance you crave, this is the model you should try.
All in all, I think Ford's pride in the new Fusion is very well-placed. I expect to see a lot of them on the road very soon.
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