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.