Although immensely popular, the midsize sedan segment too often falls back on generic styling, with vehicles designed for the lowest common denominator in taste. With its 2013 Fusion, Ford breaks out of that mold, giving this midsize sedan attractive features and a distinctive character while keeping it from looking overwrought.
At the same time, Ford takes a technological lead, fitting the newest Fusion with an engine exhibiting the latest in efficiency engineering. In the cabin, the Fusion gets the MyFord Touch system, combining navigation, hands-free phone, and digital audio in one interface. More exciting are the driver assistance features, which let the car almost drive itself.
The car delivered to CNET was a 2013 Ford Fusion Titanium with all-wheel drive and a number of optional packages. As such, it priced out in the mid-$30s; a bit hefty, but most premium-level sedans would come in $10,000 or $15,000 more, similarly equipped. In Titanium trim, the car gets Ford's 2-liter EcoBoost engine.
That engine uses direct injection and a turbocharger to achieve 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, excellent numbers for a 2-liter four-cylinder. At the same time, EPA fuel economy comes in at 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, the all-wheel-drive option bringing it down a little over the front-wheel-drive version.
Lesser-trim Fusions come with Ford's 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine and a port-injected 2.5-liter four-cylinder. As an example of the 2-liter EcoBoost engine's efficiency, the 2.5-liter only produces 175 horsepower while getting similar fuel economy. Ford also offers a hybrid version of the Fusion, which achieves 47 mpg in both city and highway testing.
The Titanium-trim car only comes with a six-speed automatic transmission, supplementing its P, R, N, and D with an S, or sport, mode. Paddles on the steering wheel allow manual gear selection.
Nearly automatic driving
I found the Fusion to be an uncomplicated driver, supporting the half-attentive state of most commuters. The electric power-steering system made it very easy to turn the wheel at low speeds, but firmed up the turning resistance as the speedometer needle climbed. This steering wheel was tuned with a strong penchant to return to center, and required a little more effort than I would expect to hold it in a turn.
The power steering enables a lane-keeping feature that stands out as one of the more unusual technologies in the Fusion. The system was off by default, requiring me to push a button on the turn signal stalk to activate it. A forward-looking camera identifies lane lines while an icon in the instrument cluster shows virtual lane lines. These lines are lit up in green when the car can see the lines on the road.
When I let the car drift over a lane line, the virtual line in the instrument cluster turned yellow and the power-steering system pulled the wheel slightly, getting the car back into its lane. There is no warning sound, but the motion of the wheel would probably be enough to wake a dozing driver. I was able to easily override the wheel motion, as it took very little strength to overcome.
This power-steering technology also enables Ford's automatic parallel-parking feature, and the more I use this system the more I like it. When looking for curbside parking, I just pushed a button on the console, and a message on the main LCD told me when the car's sonar identified a spot in which it could fit. The LCD showed when to stop and engage reverse. Taking my hands off the wheel, I modulated the brake while it steered itself back into the parking spot perfectly.
Living in San Francisco, I am a very experienced at parallel parking, but even so, I don't get it right 100 percent of the time, so I am happy to let the car execute this maneuver. Where I might get too close to the curb and scratch a rim, the Fusion's parking system won't.
Efficient power on tap
The power from the Fusion's EcoBoost engine was easy to find as I drove the car, although it didn't always come on evenly. When I floored the gas pedal from a dead stop, the Fusion hustled forward, bringing the full power of the engine to bear as the transmission let the rpms climb. However, in more common driving situations, such as cruising at 35 mph and suddenly looking for a burst of acceleration, there was some obvious lag. At lower speeds, it felt like turbo lag, while at higher speeds the transmission was a little slow to kick down.
The lag was in no way a serious problem; it just meant the occasional late boost. The automatic transmission felt pretty typical, delivering slushy torque converter gear changes. Its Sport mode made the Fusion more enjoyable to drive, with stronger, more even acceleration on tap. The Drive mode tends to reach for the highest gears, short-shifting so as to lose the power bands.
Of course, the Fusion is not really a sports car, which makes the Sport mode on the transmission a little odd. It handles comfortably, with a bit of understeer. The suspension tuning comes in on the stiff side, preventing wallow in the corners. Going over rough roads, the suspension competently dampens the bumps and also prevents back-and-forth oscillation.
The same instrument cluster icon that shows the lane-keeping feature also displays lines showing the adaptive cruise control's following distance. With this feature, I set my speed, usually on a freeway, and the Fusion automatically slowed down for traffic up ahead, matching the speed of other cars. A button on the steering wheel let me set the following distance. This system worked very well, even when I activated it in a traffic jam with cars going 20 mph.
The blind-spot monitoring system, another favorite safety feature of mine, lit up dots in the side mirrors whenever another car was traveling off the Fusion's rear quarter, letting me know if it wasn't safe to change lanes.
An abundance of LCDs
With MyFord Touch, the Fusion abounds with LCDs. A small display on the left side of the speedometer showed a virtual tachometer, fuel level, trip data, and other information I could bring up using the controls on the steering wheel's left spoke. The right side showed infotainment functions, letting me view navigation, phone, and audio with the right spoke controls.
The right side mimics the main LCD to some degree. I could browse my phone's contact list on the right display or on the bigger touch screen. There are some odd quirks, though. When streaming Bluetooth audio, the main screen shows the song title, but the smaller screen merely indicates Bluetooth streaming, with no track data.
The center touch screen suffers from the same slow response that I've seen with this system in other Ford models. There was often lag between the time I touched a virtual button and the system's response. However, voice command in the Fusion works exceedingly well, and let me control just about any in-cabin system. Once you get used to the commands, it is easier to request a song, enter a destination, and even set the temperature by voice than with the touch screen.
I have complained about the navigation system in MyFord Touch in past vehicles, but here I found one major issue addressed. The Fusion seems to have a better GPS antenna than other Ford models I've tested, as the navigation system never had a problem pinpointing the car's location.
However, I still got bogged down in navigation system menus, finding it hard to back out to a main destination screen without a lot of button pushes. The navigation system processing is also a little slow, taking too long to redraw the map.
Other than those issues, I found route guidance worked very well, using traffic data to route around jams and giving voice prompts in plenty of time for the driver to recognize a turn. The system also integrates with data from satellite radio, such as a list of nearby fuel prices. When I selected a gas station from the list with a low per-gallon price, the system loaded the address directly into navigation. The points-of-interest database contained another neat feature called Cityseekr, which showed detailed information about public attractions.
What this navigation system could use most would be online search for local business, through Google or another search service. Sync Services lets you activate an online voice recognition system for destination requests, similar to OnStar's concierge services, but I would prefer being able to enter a search term manually or through voice and get a list of results on the car's LCD.
Ford offers excellent app integration through its Sync AppLink feature. Supporting more than 10 apps now, more than any other automaker's system, this feature gives access to Pandora, Stitcher, and NPR, among others. The interfaces allow individual functionality for each app, such as marking a track as a favorite in Mog, a streaming-audio app that works with AppLink. Voice command works for each app, as well, letting you accomplish such things as requesting a personal station by name on Pandora.
Those audio-oriented apps are complemented by the car's digital audio system, which features two USB ports for USB drives or iOS devices. The music library interface showed up as identical for iOS or USB drives, categorizing music by album, artists, genre, and track. Selecting music required some menu drilling, but the voice command system also let me request music by genre, album, artist, and individual track.
The Titanium-trim Fusion comes standard with a premium Sony audio system, featuring 12 speakers. I find this system one of the best budget automotive audio systems around, up there with Volkswagen's Fender and Dodge's Beats systems. The Sony system achieves a well-balanced sound with excellent clarity. I enjoyed listening to a variety of rock, electronic, and old jazz tracks over the speakers. For my tastes, I turned up the bass and, to a lesser extent, the treble, which resulted in a more satisfying sound.
The 2013 Ford Fusion, in our car's Titanium trim, demonstrated an impressive array of technology. The engine uses the latest thinking in drivetrain tech to deliver very impressive numbers. The rest of the car is well-engineered for a satisfying driving experience, although an extra gear in the transmission might improve highway numbers further.
The driver assistance features show some real forward-thinking by Ford, and the automatic parallel parking in particular knows no equal. I have some perennial complaints about the MyFord Touch interface for cabin tech, but Ford is addressing them. A newer version of the interface is on the way, and current owners will be able to update their cars, which marks a bit of a revolution in the automotive market.
Fully loaded, as our car was, the Fusion becomes very pricey, and it isn't easy to figure out what to leave off to pare down the bill. Leaving off all-wheel drive would save two grand. Likewise, dropping to a lesser trim with Ford's 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine should shave off a couple grand, with little sacrifice of power.
|Model||2013 Ford Fusion|
|Power train||Turbocharged direct-injection 2-liter, four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||22 mpg city/31 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||23 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional flash memory-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Smartphone apps, onboard hard drive, iPod/iPhone, USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Sony 12-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, collision warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitor, automatic parking, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$36,975|