In an age of total automotive uniformity — take the Pepsi Challenge yourself and see if you can tell the difference between an Altima, a Malibu or a Mazda6 these days — it’s become a pretty tough battle to pick a winner in the midsized sedan category.
Happily, the very impressive Ford Fusion, available in 2014 models with four different gasoline engine choices, a 47-mile-per-gallon hybrid and an even more efficient plug-in electric hybrid variation, has done a bit extra to emerge as one of the very best choices in this segment.
There are those of you who still see all these cars as a blur of stylish lines and long sweeping cabins, so I’ll make it easy for you: Fusion is the one that also looks a bit like a full, four-door version of an Aston Martin, which is not such a bad place to start.
Your day-to-day motoring experience is smooth, comfortable and maybe just a little taut with the optional higher-performance summer tires; should you want to get a little adventurous and push the car on a curvy mountain road, you’ll also be delighted to find that it’s responsive and admirably sticky (my optional AWD system only added to that on dry roads). Paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel allow you some additional flexibility in getting the most out of the engine, though I found it won’t always play along if you try to run the car like it’s a giant Focus ST racer. So it goes.
And inside, it is indeed futuristic, with curved headrests, body-hugging sport seats and a broad, sweeping and very black center console with, as an option, a much-improved, Sony sound-integrated touchscreen and haptic control system for the Sync/MyFordTouch controls. That console also includes a large, reach-through storage tray with an AC outlet, a good place for storing your phone while linking it to the easy-to-use hands-free system.
Your decision on what to get under the hood is now a somewhat complex choice as 2014 brings four different gasoline engines, including a new, higher-efficiency 1.5-liter EcoBoost. Your other options are the impressive 240-horsepower 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder I got to enjoy in my test vehicle, the older 1.6-liter EcoBoost (good for 178 hp) or a traditional 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated engine good for 175 hp and 34 highway mpg.
The more powerful 2.0-liter engine does indeed get the not-insubstantial vehicle rolling along (Fusion’s about 3,400 pounds and is a full 191 inches long, with a 112-inch wheelbase). At the same time, even with the AWD system, the car is able to get as much as 31 mpg on the highway and did indeed return approximately 25 mpg in a mix of occasionally spirited driving, with the AC cranked all the way up.
The driver-passenger experience inside the Fusion is still one of the best in the segment. Offset stitching on the leather seating and door panels in the premium Titanium model I drove was indeed subtle but stylish, and those seats hold you in a deep but comfortable position, with supportive side bolstering. In the back, a slightly upwardly raked seating angle does the same, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by both the amount of leg room and the overall comfort to be found there for regular-sized passengers.
Driver focus immediately goes to the deep-set, chrome-edged central instrument cluster, which is bookended by a pair of infinitely adjustable video display screens — allowing you full access to both trip computer and audio, navigation and even climate control, via two thumb controllers on the wheel, without your eyes straying to the center stack. All that was missing was the digital speedometer now found on many competitors’ cars.
Alternately, you can still occasionally focus your attention on that much-improved MyFordTouch navigation control system, which now responds in a quicker fashion and is a little easier to poke and scroll while driving. I still seem to run into connection problems at the worst time for the live traffic information, but otherwise the system — and the Sony sound package — were both very nice.