Award-winning Ford Fusion demonstrates some American pride
summit daily auto writer
Motor Trend magazine’s recent and somewhat unexpected decision to lavish the largely rebuilt and restyled 2010 edition of the Ford Fusion with its Car of the Year award seems to come down to two issues.
Firstly, there’s the Fusion itself. While I still wouldn’t call it the most innovative or exciting machine on the market, the 2010 model is still pretty swell – attractively redesigned, featuring a good blend of functionality and, in its four-cylinder, non-hybrid version, still good for more than 30 mpg on the highway.
The second factor is that this is a pretty decent car manufactured by an American automaker, the one (sound of throat clearing) which did not ask for a massive taxpayer bailout. (Fun fact, by the way: According to PBS’s “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” expect General Motors to completely lose approximately $25 billion of their bailout investment, and yet still think that Howie Long is an effective spokesperson for their still substandard products.)
So let me lavish a bit of my own Thanksgiving Weekend, pro-North American ingenuity praise on the Fusion (props to our UAW brothers in Canada and the people in Mexico who assemble the Fusion), just to join the merry bandwagon.
Fusion has floated around the scene for several years, along with its close platform relatives, the Mercury Milan and the Lincoln MKZ; all three got considerable facelifts and interior redesigns for this model year, and the hybrid versions of the Fusion and the Milan are well-acclaimed in their own right.
One could say the Fusion is so far-looking in its design (especially its chrome, three-bar grill) that Lexus simply went out and copied it for its own new HS hybrid, but that may be jumping to conclusions. Whatever the case, the rest of the peppy, four-door everyman machine is sharp and understated enough to make it one of the country’s top sellers.
Fusion’s relatively long, lean cabin is offset by large curb-level character lines, and its new layered hood cascades into those shiny grill bars and sharply angled headlamps. My tester’s five-chevron wheels were a little goofy; the blocky tail design (complete with mesh-infused brake lamps) and a pair of chrome-tipped exhaust ports is a more pleasant treatment.
Out on the road, with the four-cylinder’s not-so-shabby 175 horses, you’re still able to harness plenty of useable boost (the optional 3.0 and 3.5 liter V-6s add crank, up to 263 HP in the sport model, but cut into the mileage). Regular rolling around, with plenty of highway travel, got me 29+ without any problems.
The engine is a little noisy on hard acceleration but provides ample strength for cruising and comfortable highway poise.
Ride has also been improved and is smooth, with good steering feel and ample and easy braking. I chucked the Fusion around on some winding roads and found even the basest of base models reasonably fun and responsive, riding on 17-inch wheels. I got the non-sequential version of the new six-speed automatic transmission (where the choices are “Drive” and “Low”): a self-shiftable automatic setup is clearly something to aspire to.
Fusion’s cabin layout has been given loads of contemporary flair, upping it from forgettable rental car style to moderately sporty (especially the high-bolstered leather seats).
A splashy new, turquoise color scheme on the instrument panel and a pleasant blend of materials throughout (leather surfaces, even some faux carbon fiber inlay on the center stack) also changes the car’s feel.
The audio and air controls are nicely and symmetrically arranged and the new-generation SYNC system, even without a navigation screen interface, now indeed offers simple Bluetooth integration (even streaming audio from some phones and music devices) and a litany of voice-operated controls, plus good sound from the 12 Sony speakers.
The deliciously goofy multicolored mood lighting I first saw on the Mustang now allows you to customize the ambiance of your nighttime drives with glowing cup holders and tiny lamps at knee level, both in the front and back seat.
More important features now part of Ford’s repertoire include the helpful blind spot information system (the company’s variation on the Volvo invention, which illuminates lights in your side mirrors when vehicles are in your blind spots) as well as the cross traffic alert, which senses approaching vehicles or pedestrians when backing the car. A handy new rearview camera, built in to the rearview mirror, also made for easier parking, coupled with the beeping proximity monitors.
Those who jump between a variety of Ford models are always excited to try to figure out where each automobile’s Info/Setup/Reset buttons are located, and Fusion’s are in a slightly ungainly spot, next to the light controls, on the dash on the left side of the steering wheel.
It’s not an enormous rear seat by any standards but it’s still reasonably comfortable, with low-profile headrests and a higher seating position than the front to aid in better visibility; the only cupholders and amenities are a set located inside the fold-down center armrest.
The whitish interior carpet on my tester was repeated in the small window bench behind those headrests and coupled with three speakers and two vents, made for some occasional glare problems in bright sunlight.
About the only part of the new Fusion that appeared to be a total afterthought were the cheap and flimsy looking rubber sill plate protectors inside the door panels (I must remind myself that the aluminum sill plates in the Aston Martin cost about as much as a Fusion itself).
So go ahead, America, be proud of the American-made machine that made some BMW-lovers change their minds.
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