Steering and handling
I’ve said it previously, but it certainly bears repeating: next to the word “metamorphosis” in the dictionary there should be two illustrations: the first would be an image of the first-generation Ford Fusion while the second would picture the second-generation design. Trust me, they’re that different.
Such a radical transformation wasn’t nearly as difficult as it might seem, since the new 2013 Ford Fusion bears a striking resemblance to and is actually based on – platform and all –the previous-generation European Ford Mondeo.
That being said, the difference is truly dramatic. Gone is the plain vanilla cookie-cutter look of old, replaced by a slick and sophisticated style that looks quite at home alongside the best that Germany has to offer, thank you very much (give me an “A” – give me a “B”).
That resemblance is hardly accidental as the Dearborn-based manufacturer’s “One Ford Plan” now places styling responsibilities for all C-platform-based vehicles with Ford of Europe’s design studio, which also happens to be based in Germany.
The results, both aesthetically and dynamically, speak for themselves. Not only is the new Fusion hands-down the best-looking vehicle in its class, it’s also, in my opinion, the best-handling of the current group of affordable midsize sedans. Seriously.
While the Fusion bears a strong familial resemblance to vehicles ranging from the small Fiesta to the Escape compact CUV. This resemblance is hardly accidental as the Dearborn-based manufacturer’s “One Ford” plan now places styling responsibilities for all A, B, C and CD-platform-based vehicles with Ford of Europe’s design studio. That studio, along with the rest, are headed by J Mays, group vice president, Design, and chief creative officer, Ford Motor Company who is responsible for shaping the global design direction of Ford.
A native of Oklahoma and a graduate of the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Mays has very strong feelings regarding the role design plays in developing an emotional bond between vehicles and customers, describing it this way: “To me, the most important reason people buy a car is the way it looks. You don’t want customers to justify a car based on logic; you want them to justify the purchase based on emotion. It’s a bit like falling in love with a spouse. You don’t fall in love for practical reasons. You fall in love for emotional reasons. The practical things have to be there – but that’s just establishing trust, the price of entry. Ultimately, you need the emotional side to come through, just as it does in a relationship. As they do with art, people recognize quality; they recognize beauty. It speaks not only to their practical side, but to their emotions. And that’s what we want to see. ”
According to Ford, five elements provided direction for the design team. Silhouette innovation emphasizes a sleek profile setting it apart from other current “three box” midsize sedans. Perceived efficiency is created with thin roof pillars and character lines that sweep to the rear. Refined surface language calls for a well-executed design that requires no add-ons or visual clutter. Technical graphics deals with functional design elements (narrow headlamp enclosures, LED taillamps) that imply an enhanced technological capability, while its new face signals a further evolution of Ford’s global design language.
Inside, front seat passengers will find an airy cabin with plenty of leg and head room – a result of Ford moving the instrument panel toward the windshield. The nicely-bolstered front seats, according to Ford, sport thinner, lighter frames that are trimmed with an eco-friendly fabric consisting of recycled sustainable yarns. On our SE model the driver’s seat featured electric adjustments for seat height, seat back angle, fore and aft adjustment as well as seat cushion angle.
Outward visibility is generally excellent, although a relatively high beltline coupled with the smallish rear window and large C-pillars making backing up and maneuvering in tight spaces a bit of a challenge.
A handy feature are the inset blind zone spotter mirrors built into the rear view mirrors – a welcome addition to both urban and freeway driving.
Interior fit and finish is generally excellent, although there was a larger than expected gap in a portion of the center console trim. The dashboard has a clean modern look and is composed of soft touch surfaces accented by silver metal and piano black trim. Instrumentation gauges are clearly marked and backlit.
Our tester being an SE model, the overly-complex MyFord Touch infotainment system was mercifully absent from the dashboard. In its stead was a smaller display screen along with the simpler “MyFord” system that features Bluetooth connectivity along with voice-activated controls for phone and entertainment features.
Flanking the screen are buttons that control the music source, phone and menu functions as well as station pre-selects.
The module below this contains the CD slot, volume and tuning knobs and function knobs, while the HVAC controls are located in the bottom-most section.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel had a substantial feel to it with just the right amount of grip. It tilts and telescopes, making it easy to find a comfortable driving position while it also features redundant controls for the information center, infotainment system, Bluetooth phone and cruise control functions.
All controls are logically placed and are within easy reach of the driver. Two features, in particular, that I appreciated were the touch-sensitive overhead reading lights as well as the handy electronic parking brake tab located on the center console next to the driver’s seat.
Our Deep Impact blue SE came very well equipped even without any of the extras. Aside from the aforementioned niceties, power windows (one-touch up-down for driver and passenger), mirrors and door locks with keyless entry, tinted glass, automatic headlamps, electric power steering and projector beam headlamps are just some of the standard features drivers will enjoy.
As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to ride and handling the Ford Fusion is in a class by itself. It features a composed ride worthy of vehicles costing more than twice as much. On the road it not only feels solid and well-planted, it literally begs to be thrown about – its MacPherson strut front and fully independent multilink rear suspension doing a great job of damping road imperfections while telegraphing to the driver exactly where it is.
I specifically requested a six-speed manually-equipped Fusion because after driving one for a brief period earlier this year it proved to be a revelation.
Despite the fact that the six-speed is only available with Ford’s 178-horsepower 1.6-liter EcoBoost four, this engine also produces 184 lb.-ft. of torque at just 2,500 rpm and is a perfect match for the slick six-speed manual.
As expected, the six-speed transmission performed flawlessly. The shifter falls close to hand, the clutch works effortlessly, feedback through the brake pedal is excellent and the electric power steering is nothing short of amazing. Yes, the entire setup really is that good.
With a sedan that handles this well, fuel economy might even be considered an afterthought. But even so, this combination is rated by the EPA at 25 mpg city/37 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. Over the course of a week of aggressive suburban driving my observed fuel economy was an impressive 24.6 miles per gallon.
2013 Fusion new car dealer prices begin with the S model that has a base MSRP of $22,695 and can top out at nearly $40,000 for a fully-optioned AWD Titanium model and nearly $3,000 more for the plug-in hybrid Titanium model.
Our SE tester had a base price of $23,700 with the 302A Equipment Group and Reverse Sensing System adding an additional $1,805. Factoring in a $795 destination and delivery fee minus $260 for the equipment group savings brought it to a total suggest retail price of $26,040.
The Bottom Line
So what’s the bottom line to all this?
In the Ford’s new Fusion we have much more than just another winner in the styling department. Minor gripes aside – a smallish back seat and the lack of a lighted ignition switch in our SE that, given its overall excellence, seemed like an odd omission – it raises the bar in the midsize sedan segment.
The Fusion also serves notice to the other manufacturers that quality and reliability are no longer the end-all and be-all for affordable midsize sedans.
Earlier this year I voted for the Ford Fusion as the Midwest Automotive Media Association’s Family Car of the Year. It won that award, which was presented at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show. To that accolade I’d like to add another: the 2013 Ford Fusion is also LotPro.com’s first Car of the Year.