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From the outside, the new 2017 Ford Fusion Sport doesn't look all that special. Sure, there are gray split-spoke 19-inch wheels, a gloss-black mesh grille, exclusive LED fog lights, quad-tips on the dual-exhaust, and a spoiler, but none of those really set it apart from the rest of the Fusion lineup.
However, get behind the wheel and give the gas pedal a firm jab, and there will be no mistaking that the Fusion Sport is different -- very different. The needle on the speedometer sweeps past 60 mph in a flash, and the growling twin-turbo V6 exhaust note rushing into the cabin makes me smirk, but I wonder if there is much demand for a hot rod Fusion.
Apparently there is, with Ford saying customers wanted a V6, an option previously missing from the already large menu of Fusion powertrain offerings, which includes a litter of four-cylinders. You could have them naturally aspirated, turbocharged and in hybrid or plug-in hybrid form.
With the Sport, Ford returns a V6 to the fold, taking the 2.7-liter Ecoboost engine that's already seeing duty in the F-150 and Edge Sport and nestling it under the Fusion's hood. Here, the twin-turbocharged V6 produces 325 horsepower, and a stout 380 pound-feet of torque, while returning 17 mpg in the city, and 26 mpg on the highway. A more robust six-speed automatic gearbox bolts up to the engine to handle the extra grunt, and routes it through a standard all-wheel drive system.
The all-wheel drive system is a good move on Ford's part to efficiently get all that power to the ground. Without it, torque steer would likely be severe enough to make cars like the first-generation Mazdaspeed 3, and old Nissan Altima SE-R seem tame. Instead, the Fusion Sport suffers from zero torque steer through an electric steering system that's weighty but isn't as direct in feel as I like.
Being a Sport model, the majority of my drive is with the car in Sport mode, which activates with a push of the "S" button in the middle of the Jaguar-like rotary shifter on the center console. In Sport, steering tightens, throttle response livens up, and engine sounds are magnified electronically to be heard more clearly inside.
Transmission behavior also changes with more aggressive shifts and rev-matching for downshifts, while the paddle shifters give you more control over selecting gears. While many of automatics with manual-shift capabilities time out and revert back to full auto, the Fusion Sport's will hold a gear until you tell it otherwise to eliminate unwanted shifts through corners, and when stepping off the throttle. The only time the gearbox will shift by itself in manual mode is at redline.
Most notably, Sport mode stiffens the adaptive hydraulic Tokico dampers for good body composure around turns with minimal lean. Grip from the 19-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric tires isn't bad, but folks looking for maximum performance can spring for Continental summer rubber that Ford is offering as a $195 option.
Sadly, none of the test cars present have the stickier rubber, but the all-season Goodyears are fine to get the Fusion Sport confidently through all the twisties on the drive route. If pushed harder, there's little doubt that the front end will wash out, but the car's cornering capabilities are more than enough for typical Fusion drivers.
Besides steering feel, the only other quibble I have with the Fusion Sport dynamically involves the brakes. Engineers gave the Sport larger rotors and brake pads, which are great to better scrub off speed, but pedal feel is squishy and has more travel than I prefer before the binders begin to bite.
For regular driving, having the car in Sport mode isn't too rough-and-tumble. Ride quality isn't harsh, steering isn't overly heavy, nor is transmission behavior jerky. That's not to say having the car out of Sport mode isn't nicer for rush-hour slogs, or long distance runs where a cushier ride, less aggressive gearbox shifts and lighter steering effort are nice.
Also helping make the Fusion Sport a good daily driver is a cabin that's quiet, comfort, well-built and feature rich. An acoustic windshield, front side glass, active noise cancellation system and underbody shielding keep unwanted racket out. Front bucket seats are comfy but would benefit from bigger side bolsters to better lock you in place through lateral maneuvers.
Major surfaces throughout are soft-touch, while a leather-wrapped steering wheel, carbon-fiber-pattern trim, suede seat and door panel inserts, aluminum pedals and Sport logo floor mats add a small amount of visual differentiation to the Sport model from other Fusions.
To keep you entertained, Sync 3 is available with an 8-inch touchscreen, which runs both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. For those not comfortable handing your dashboard over to a smartphone, Ford's Sync AppLink connects compatible mobile applications directly to the car. Crisp-sounding tunes are heard over a 12-speaker premium Sony audio system, while optional navigation guides you to destinations.
Not surprisingly, the list of available safety technologies is healthy, too. Precollision assist with pedestrian detection warns of possible front impacts, while automatic emergency braking kicks in if the driver doesn't respond to warnings and stops the car. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert makes backing out of parking spaces easier by alerting you of cars approaching from the sides, and active park assist automatically parallel- and reverse-perpendicular-parks the Fusion.
Ford also offers adaptive cruise control that's capable of bringing the car to a complete stop and then will get going again, as well as lane-keeping assist that warns drivers when they begin to unintentionally drift from a lane.
If all this sounds fine and dandy to you, the Fusion Sport is available at Ford dealers now wearing a base price of $33,475, which falls in line with fully loaded direct competitors like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima V6 models. The problem with Ford is if you want a lot of the optional cabin tech, the price can creep up in a hurry. My nearly loaded test car's sticker reads $41,350, which is far from chump change.
On the flip side, the Fusion Sport outmuscles its V6 competition, gets standard all-wheel drive and boasts handling reflexes on par with the Accord, and close to the stellar Mazda6. That it can also be a comfortable, and has room to haul around the family is another selling point.
My favorite thing about the Sport goes back to the fact that it doesn't look all that different from other Fusions. Nothing visually gives away the fact that it's packing 325 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of twist, which makes it a sleeper in the midsize sedan segment, and serve as a proper successor to the original Taurus SHO.
I don't know about you, but there are few things cooler than a sleeper.