The Good: The 2006 Ford Fusion SEL V-6 offers a six-speed automatic transmission that significantly improves both fuel economy and performance, making for a driving experience that is more engaging than expected from a mainstream sedan. The Bad: Surprisingly for a completely new model, the Ford Fusion has no options for a navigation system, satellite radio, or connectivity with MP3 players or Bluetooth. The Bottom Line: The 2006 Ford Fusion SEL V-6 shows some modern technology under the hood and feels like a quality car, but it lacks useful or entertaining cabin gadgets that could lessen the boredom of long commutes. 2006 Ford Fusion SELSized and equipped to go head-to-head with the most popular midsize imports, the 2006 Ford Fusion is the first Ford to be completely developed digitally--designed, engineered, and tested for manufacturing in computer simulations before being physically constructed. The Fusion fits between the smaller Focus and the larger Five Hundred, and in ancestry, it demonstrates Ford's global orientation and current way of doing business. Ford owns controlling interest in Mazda, Mazda has a good if undermarketed sedan in the Mazda6, and so the Mazda6 structure was widened, lengthened, and strengthened to become the Fusion's architecture. Like the import brands that are its direct competitors, the Ford Fusion is offered with both four-cylinder and V-6 engines. The four-cylinder is the 2.3-liter, 160-horsepower unit also found in the Focus, matched to a five-speed manual or automatic transmission. The 221-horsepower V-6 comes with only a six-speed automatic. The list of standard equipment for the three trim levels is long, including AM\/FM\/MP3-compatible CD sound systems. But don't look for a nav system, cell phone integration, satellite radio, or MP3 player compatibility in the factory option list.Our test car was a top-of-the-line Fusion SEL V-6, with a very reasonable base price of $21,710. Even after adding leather seats for $895, antilock brakes for $595, heated front seats for $295, the $395 Safety and Security package (with front side-impact air bags, full-length side curtain air bags, and a perimeter alarm), the $595 SEL Premium Package (with heated outside rearview mirrors with puddle lamps, an electrochromic inside rearview mirror, and automatic headlights), and the $650 destination charge, the total was $25,135.An all-wheel-drive model is planned for introduction late in the 2006 calendar year, with a hybrid in 2008.Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. With the 2006 Ford Fusion, Ford reached into its global parts bin, mixing, matching, and modifying familiar ingredients, then wrapped the result in a new look. For the most part, it's successful, lacking only key electronic options that appeal to tech-savvy buyers. As a car, it's the first Ford to offer a serious alternative to the popular midsize sedans. The Ford Fusion's styling earned many looks and some interesting comments during our time with it. While it was parked on the street in a Silicon Valley residential neighborhood one morning, we observed a jogger stop and spend several minutes carefully checking out the car. This is a reaction not normally associated with affordable midsize sedans.Its clean exterior design and attention to details including tight panel gaps and external mirror shape. Its gasketless windshield and rear window glass help reduce noise inside the Fusion, as does extensive use of a variety of noise-damping materials around the interior.The interior has a fresh, international look, with three motifs depending on trim level. Our Fusion SEL V-6 was a handsome two-tone tan and black, with--as on all Fusion models--high-quality soft-touch synthetic materials on the instrument panel and doors. Controls for cruise, climate, and audio were mounted on the steering wheel. In the place of too-common artificial wood trim was what Ford calls piano black plastic, which fits well with the other interior materials and textures.The center stack includes a stereo set into a double-DIN slot, opening up the possibility for aftermarket improvements to the Ford Fusion's electronics.Instruments are shaded from glare under a European-looking hood. The SEL model comes with a good-quality six-speaker AM\/FM\/in-dash, six-CD sound system that can play MP3 CDs, displaying title, artist, and album information. Loading and unloading discs is, as with most changers, best done at a stop or by the front-seat passenger. Unfortunately, there is no provision for using an external MP3 player or iPod without aftermarket accessories. Satellite radio, navigation, and Bluetooth cell phone integration are also left to the aftermarket. The analog clock in the center of the stack is a bit incongruous but is easy to read at a glance. A bin located in the top of the dash provides storage space for small items.The Fusion SEL also has an automatic climate-control system that is simple to use and warms the car quickly in cool weather. There is a power point at the bottom of the center stack, where it joins the console, and another in the bottom of the two-layer console box. Anyone planning to charge a phone in that box is advised to keep it in the lower compartment, as there is no pass-through to the top.Being that the Ford Fusion is a completely new model, we would expect the interior to include 21st-century digital appointments--at the very least, an auxiliary audio input. However, the audio system sits in a double-DIN slot, and the center stack would work fine for a more robust aftermarket system.The 2006 Ford Fusion is powered by a 3.0-liter dual overhead cam, 24-valve Duratec V-6 with variable cam phasing on the intake camshafts, and electronic throttle control. It makes 221 horsepower at 6,250rpm, with 205 pound-feet of torque coming at 4,800rpm. Thanks to the variable cam phasing, there is good torque down low for quick acceleration when necessary, and both performance and fuel economy are assisted by a six-speed automatic transmission. This transmission allows a wide spread of gear ratios, with lower lows and higher highs, for both better acceleration and improved fuel economy. EPA mileage is listed at 21mpg (city) and 29mpg (highway). According to the car's trip computer, we averaged 19mpg around town and 27mpg on the highway, and it runs happily on unleaded regular gasoline. Acceleration, at around 7.5 seconds for 0 to 60mph, is brisk. The six-speed automatic was smooth in operation, and its many ratios and the engine's broad torque band ensure that the correct gear for the situation is chosen more often than not, which is good, as there is no manual gear selection; the driver gets to choose between D and L only. Despite the lack of manual shift control, we found the Fusion to be an enjoyable car to drive. If not truly sporty, it's also not merely a transportation appliance. The engine and transmission both represent good employment of modern technologies.While there is nothing revolutionary in the Ford Fusion's mechanical specification, it is very well executed, with good attention to detail. A solid chassis structure and a carefully designed and calibrated fully independent suspension give it highway comfort and good handling as well. The front suspension is, unusually, a short-and-long-arm design, not the usual MacPherson struts. Rebound springs in the front shocks help reduce pitch during acceleration and deceleration, as well as lessen roll when cornering. The rear multilink setup is designed to limit the effect of lateral forces for more precise handling. The Fusion's springs, shocks, and stabilizer bars are tuned more firmly than expected in a mainstream sedan but matched for moderately firm yet comfortable ride quality. The power rack-and-pinion steering is not overly light, and the Fusion's handling response feels more European than American or Japanese. Large four-wheel disc brakes provide good stopping power. Bottom line: The Fusion is a much more enjoyable car to drive than the average midsize, middle-class sedan. The only drawback, inherited with the Mazda6 chassis, is a wide, 40-foot turning circle that can make for extra work in tight spaces.The suspension also does a good job of controlling torque reaction, always a potential problem with a front-wheel-drive vehicle. Only under full-throttle acceleration with the front wheels turned is it overly noticeable.The V-6 gets a ULEV II tailpipe emissions rating from the California Air Resources Board. The four-cylinder engine with the five-speed automatic qualifies as a PZEV vehicle.Entrance to the 2006 Ford Fusion is controlled by Ford's first integrated fob key, which places the physical key and fob containing the lock, unlock, trunk, and emergency buttons together in one unit. The Fusion's rigid structure is designed to protect occupants in an impact in any direction by controlled deformation, directing energy around and underneath the passenger compartment. Side impact is controlled not only by the B-pillar design and anti-intrusion beams in each door but also by blocks of energy-absorbing expanded polypropylene foam in the doors. Energy-absorbing polycarbonate-polyester materials are placed behind the front and rear bumpers.Ford's Personal Safety System includes dual-deployment front air bags, energy-absorbing three-point safety belts for all occupants, and load-limiting retractors and pretensioners. A side air bag package is included with perimeter lighting in the Safety and Security option package. It includes seat-mounted front thorax and full-length head-protection air bags. The head air bags are designed to fill up between the window glass and an occupant's head, for protection from both impact and glass shards. Strong four-wheel disc brakes are standard equipment, with ABS a $595 option. There is no stability control system, but V-6 models with ABS may be outfitted with traction control.Like all 2006 Fords, the Fusion is covered by a three-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty on materials and workmanship. The safety-restraint system is covered for five years or 50,000 miles. Perforation from corrosion is covered for five years, with unlimited mileage.