2006 Ford Fusion SEL V6 Review


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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2006 Ford Fusion SEL V6

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Ford

Once upon a time Ford ruled the mid-size sedan world with the original Taurus. And then change occurred. Then the second-generation Taurus debuted with styling that was very different and controversial, and the Japanese competitors got larger. And larger.

The Taurus was toppled from the throne, but Ford didn't seem too worried. At the same time, SUVs took off in popularity and profitability, with the Ford Explorer leading the way.

Fast forward to today. SUV sales are flat, even declining a bit, and there is a renewed interest in sedans. And Ford is ready to fight back and regain market share with its new Fusion.

The 2006 Fusion may be the most important Ford sedan since the first Taurus 20 years ago. It showcases Ford Motor Company's global orientation and way of doing business. It was developed digitally - the original design, engineering, and simulated construction and testing were done in computerized and computer simulation environments for rapid development. Rather than start from scratch for the Fusion's chassis, a time-consuming and expensive process, Ford looked to its partner Mazda, and modified the unibody structure and suspension of the Mazda6. The Fusion is slightly longer and wider, and engineering development has made its structure more rigid. It fits neatly between the compact Focus and the large Five Hundred.

As is the norm for mid-size sedans, the Fusion is offered with four-cylinder and V6 engines. Both are familiar Ford Duratec units with dual overhead cam, four valve per cylinder architecture, variable intake cam timing, and electronic throttle control. The 160-horsepower 2.3-liter four is matched to a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transaxle; the 221-hp V6 is matched to a six-speed transaxle, the first in its class, for benefits to both performance and fuel economy.

At all trim levels - S, SE, and SEL for the four, and SE and SEL for the V6 - the Fusion is well-equipped, with power windows, mirrors, and doorlocks with remote keyless entry, a 60/40 folding rear seat, an AM/FM/CD sound system that can play MP3 CDs, a rear window defroster, a tilt and telescope-adjustable steering wheel, and quite a number of other convenience and safety features.

I've just finished a week with a V6 SEL with some key options that made it a very pleasant vehicle, indeed. It was most impressive for its solid construction and well-developed suspension, which together made for quiet, comfortable traveling and a pleasant driving experience. Ford's V6 has found its match in the new six-speed automatic, for good performance and economy, on the order of 19 mpg in city traffic and 27 at speed on my local and hilly highways. Success in the automobile business is ultimately all about the product, not marketing, and in the Fusion, Ford has the product. Well-equipped for the price of an average new car or less, it is far more than an average car.

APPEARANCE: In a class infamous for bland styling, the Fusion's chiseled lines stand out. It's different enough to attract attention, and in a positive way - just ask the jogger who, while I was parked, ran by, stopped, backed up, and circled the car, peering at it intently. This does not happen with most mass-market family sedans. The Fusion is stylish but functional. The wheels are pushed out toward the corners, with short overhangs, for maximum interior space. Its angular lines, highlighted by a massive horizontal chrome grille and vertically-stacked headlights, were inspired by the Ford 427 concept car of a couple of years ago. And the 427 was itself inspired by Ford styling from the mid-1960s. So the look is pure Ford, with a nod to the past and a strong eye toward the future.

COMFORT: Small on the outside, big on the inside, and with pleasantly upscale styling to boot - what's not to like about the Fusion? In SEL trim, with optional heated (front, anyway) leather seats, it could almost be mistaken for a European entry-luxury car. The controls are large, well marked, and easy to use; backlighting makes most easily visible at night. At the SEL level, there are several color motifs available. My test car was black over beige, with ``piano black'' interior trim, a pleasant difference from the common faux wood. The front buckets are more bolstered than common for a family sedan, and offer a high degree of comfort and support. The tilt and telescope-adjustable steering wheel, standard in all models, is a definite plus for driver comfort and safety, and unusual in this class. The rear seat is spacious and comfortable, and convenient, with a spring-loaded split folding feature. The releases are in the trunk, which is large and has a low liftover for ease of loading and external hydraulic struts to prevent crushed luggage.

SAFETY: The Fusion's structure is designed to meet or exceed all safety standards for the foreseeable future. Ford's ``Personal Safety System''(tm), with dual-deployment front airbags, and load-limiting safety belt retractors and pretensioners. Front side and full-length side-curtain airbags are available, as are antilock brakes and traction control.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Ford engineers did their homework. The Fusion's rigid structure and good use of soundproofing materials makes for a quiet ride experience, and it's also a good base for the suspension. A fully-independent design, with unequal-length double wishbones in front and a multilink setup in the rear, its tuning balances comfort and handling requirements very well. It's firmer than the norm for an American-style family sedan, and so more European, with good shock damping. Handling is very good, and the Fusion is as pleasant a car to drive on the scenic route as on the highway. The only minor drawback is a large turning circle.

PERFORMANCE: A 3.0-liter V6 with 221 horsepower and 205 lb-ft of torque may not be remarkable in a middle-class, mid-size sedan today, but a six-speed transmission certainly is. The extra gear ratios, compared to the common four- or five-speed transmissions, allow both lower low gears, for quicker acceleration, and higher high gears, for greater fuel economy, with all ratios spaced closely together for optimum engine performance and economy. The result, in the Fusion V6, is good acceleration, with a 0-60 time of around 7.5 seconds, and good fuel economy. Four wheel disc brakes stop well, with antilock and traction control highly-recommended options.

CONCLUSIONS: Ford has fused its state-of-the-art engineering, global parts and assembly sourcing, and American design heritage into the aptly-named Fusion.

SPECIFICATIONS

2006 Ford Fusion SEL V6

Base Price $ 21,710
Price As Tested $ 25,135
Engine Type aluminum alloy dual overhead cam 24- valve V6 with variable intake cam timing
Engine Size 3.0 liters / 182 cu. in.
Horsepower 221 @ 6250 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 205 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission 6-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length 107.4 in. / 190.2 in.
Curb Weight 3,280 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 14.8
Fuel Capacity 18 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P225/50 VR17
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock optional
Suspension, front/rear independent short and long arm / independent multilink
Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway (observed) 19 / 27
0 to 60 mph est. 7.5 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
SEL Premium Package- includes: heated outside rearview mirrors with puddle lamps, electrochromic inside rearview mirror, automatic headlamps $595
Safety and Security Package - includes: Front side impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, perimeter alarm $395
Heated front seats $295
ABS $595
Leather seats $895
Destination $650

Complete specifications on the 2006 Ford Fusion V6 SEL and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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