Santa Monica, Calif. - The winding corners on Malibu's storied Topanga Canyon - one-time home to Neil Young, Jim Morrison and Charlie Manson's extended family - might have been a little too perfect a setting to demonstrate the real-world sportiness and comfort of the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion.
It was, frankly, a little hard to keep focus with all those ghosts floating around, not to mention the fact that Porsche had simultaneously picked the twisting route to show off its new Cayennes and Boxsters - the but the Fusion did its best to keep up.
The car, after all, has got some big shoes to fill. As a high-volume player in Ford's worldwide strategy, the mid-size family sedan market has become mighty competitive, with all-new Malibus and much-improved presentation by Camry and Accord.
But from what we saw, the Fusion and its two more important variants, the Fusion Hybrid and the upcoming Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, will certainly appeal to buyers looking for something comfortable and boasting modern design and a very wide variety of engines and overall pricing possibilities.
Two things, off the bat: Yes, from the front, the Fusion does look very much like an Aston Martin - that horizontal chrome grille and the new, wraparound projector headlamps indeed resembling that very expensive British import.
There's even an Aston look in the back with the brakelamps and the optional spoiler; the very modern and elegant design, with its scalloped side panels, might even remind you of a very long Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
Secondly, the Atkinson-cycle Hybrid model will generate an absolutely real 47 miles per gallon, both in the city and on the highway. Consider that it's a mid-sized, four-door sedan with real trunk space and yet it gets better mileage than a Toyota Prius, and you'll see how much the world has changed. The new system is a 31 percent improvement over even the previous hybrid.
Early 2013 will see the debut of the even-more-efficient plug-in variation, which promises a short battery charge cycle and 600 total miles of range. New lithium-ion batteries have lightened the car's weight and a 360-degree package of aerodynamic tweaks to the body help provide that slightly outrageous mpg figure.
That hybrid system is also almost completely seamless, with smooth acceleration and stops unfettered by what used to be jerky regenerative brakes. With a total output of 188 horsepower, the extremely efficient machine also puts out more juice than two of the available non-hybrid engine choices, a 179-HP 1.6-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder, or the 175-HP standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder. There are also new diesel setups out there in the rest of the world where the car is known as the Mondeo; we don't get them here.
And for those looking for a low-cost alternative to one of the hybrid's standard fuel-saving features, an automatic start-stop system is available for only $295, shutting off the engine when stopped in traffic or at stoplights.
The smaller EcoBoost engine can still be a lot of fun when mated to a six-speed manual transmission, as we discovered during the Topanga adventure. Shifts are smooth, and the 3,427-pound car, as relatively large as it is (191 inches, with a 112-inch wheelbase), it responded nicely to some playful thrashing about.
There's also a larger EcoBoost option, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 240 horses, and that setup made for more confident and comfortable cruising on our hilly return trip.
Fusion debuted back in 2005 and got a full redesign in 2008, earning Car of the Year praises a few seasons back - at the height of some very tough times for its domestic competitors, admittedly - and the new variations are indeed pleasantly put together.
Inside, a flattened center console resembles the setup in the new Taurus and Edge, though the overly black touch controls now have some added haptic response (like your iPhone) to give better feedback. Its arched edges are wrapped in soft-to-the-touch surfaces, and the new, very comfortable seating is even finished in reclaimed cover material made of 39 soda pop bottles apiece.