2008 Ford Fusion SEL I4 Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2008 Ford Fusion SEL I4

When the Ford Fusion debuted as a 2006 car in late 2005, it heralded a new commitment to cars by Ford. The Fusion slotted into the lineup below the larger Taurus-replacement Five Hundred (which is now back to being called Taurus) and had the standard for the class selection of four-cylinder and V6 models.

If there was nothing in its specification to make the Fusion stand out in the very crowded mass-market, mid-size, middle-class sedan field, that was a nod to market demands. In that generally conservatively-styled class, the Fusion stood out with its bold, angular looks, well-executed chassis, and, at the time of its release, six-speed automatic transmission for the V6 models.

Competition never rests in the automotive world, and six-speed automatics, if not commonplace in the class, are becoming more prevalent. And the major competitors in that class (otherwise known as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord) have debuted new generations since the Fusion's introduction.

So what's to distinguish the Fusion from the other cars in its class? How about this: it's more fun.

In the option list for front-wheel drive SE and SEL models with either engine (but not the entry-level S) is the "Sport Appearance Package". Names like this can make me cringe, as they seemingly indicate image but no substance to back up that image. Fortunately, the brushed aluminum interior trim, red seat accents, rear spoiler, and alloy wheels that are the "appearance" part of the package are joined by a suspension tuning that is supple enough for sporty comfort but firm enough to minimize body roll, and sticky low-profile tires to add to that. Add in the four-cylinder car's standard five-speed manual transmission and rev-happy engine, and suddenly the Fusion is a stealthy sporty sedan for a competitive price. It's also competitive with the top imports in fuel economy - I saw 24 mpg during my week, and that was with as much second-gear country-road driving as possible.

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. The Sport Appearance Package is only one of the Fusion's new features and choices for 2008. All models now have antilock brakes and a tire-pressure monitoring system. The Sync(tm) system, developed in conjunction with Microsoft, provides hands-free communications and entertainment connectivity, and an optional interior lighting package adds style at night. There is enough variety in the lineup so a Fusion can be outfitted for a wide variety of midsize sedan needs and desires, and it is in no way a "one size fits all" generic transportation module.

APPEARANCE: Congratulations to Ford's styling department. The Fusion still looks fresh today, and it's easy to distinguish in a parking lot. Its chiseled,angular lines may have been inspired by styling cues from Ford's past - the mid-1960s in particular- but the car is in no way "retro". Its grille, with three thick, bright horizontal bars, is offset by vertically-stacked headlights in the newest Ford manner, as seen on the Edge crossover and latest Taurus. The wheels are pushed far to the corners, with small front and rear overhangs. The SEL has convenient puddle lamps on the undersides of the outside mirrors and Ford's truly keyless entry touchpad, an old but still useful feature.

COMFORT: Pushing the wheels to the corners does more than help the Fusion's looks. More importantly, that means very good space utilization. It's small enough to squeeze into tight parking spaces outside, and big enough inside for four people to be comfortable. In style it could easily be mistaken for a European marque, and the Sport Appearance Package's red seat inserts with matching stitching and brushed aluminum trim on the instrument panel and center stack emphasize this, especially with the optional leather seating package which was fitted to my test car. The seats are moderately-bolsterd and offer good support, and a fold-flat front passenger seat, along with the 60/40 folding rear contoured bench, offers more cargo versatility than in the average sedan. For the driver, the tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, good control placement, and easily-visible instruments make for a pleasant and safer driving experience. Useful interior storage spaces abound, including a box in the top of the dash, and rear passengers have better than average room. The ambient light package adds colored interior lighting for an interesting night-time experience. If anyone makes better air conditioning than Ford, I have yet to experience it - after the car sat undriven for five days while I was out of town, cold air was blowing on my face within two minutes of starting - in 90-degree heat.

SAFETY: The Fusion has received high ratings from both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Federal government. The Ford "Personal Safety SystemĘ", with dual-stage front, front-seat side, and side-curtain airbags, safety belt pretensioners, and front-seat weight-sensing system is standard in all models, as are four-wheel antilock disc brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Thinking Fusion? Get the Sport Appearance Package. Not for the cosmetic elements, nice as they are, but for the ride and handling upgrade. In standard trim, as was the V6 I drove a while back, the rigid unibody structure and moderately-tuned, fully-independent unequal-length double wishbone front/multilink rear suspension gives ride and handling qualities that are more European than American or Japanese. The firmer tuning of the Sport package brings it up a notch, with less body roll, improved tires, and no real decrease in comfort. It's more "sporty" than "sports" but that's perfect for its mission. Comfortable and quiet on the highway, the Fusion with Sport suspension is also capable and entertaining on more interesting roads, and good four-wheel antilock disc brakes ensure solid stopping abilities.

PERFORMANCE: If the Duratec 23's 160 horsepower (at 6250 rpm) and 156 lb-ft of torque (at 4250) don't seem all that impressive, there is more to life and performance than raw numbers. At about 3200 pounds, the four-cylinder Fusion is lighter than its major competitors, which benefits both performance and economy. With the optional five-speed automatic, I suspect "performance" would be out of the equation, as automatics are programmed to shift early for economy. The 2.3-liter twincam, 16-valve alloy engine likes to rev, and keeping it above 4000 rpm, or 3500 at the least, brings best results. Power drops off quickly after the 6250 peak, making acquaintance with the 6800-rpm rev limiter unnecessary. With deft use of the gears to keep the engine in the sweet spot, the Fusion four-cylinder is a blast to drive. In more normal, sedate, operation, it cruises quietly and efficiently on the highway, although it may be necessary to drop down to fourth or even third for passing power. Do it! Despite all that revving I still got 24 mpg overall - competitive with the four-cylinder Camry or Accord -, so a lighter foot could do even better.

CONCLUSIONS: With the Fusion, Ford has a real contender in the mid-size sedan class.

SPECIFICATIONS
2008 Ford Fusion SEL I4

Base Price			$ 19,785
Price As Tested			$ 23,585
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve aluminum
				 alloy inline 4-cylinder with variable
				 intake cam phasing
Engine Size			2.3 liters / 140 cu. in.
Horsepower			160 @ 6250 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			156 @ 4250 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		107.4 in. / 190.2 in.
Curb Weight			3181 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.9
Fuel Capacity			17.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P225/45R18 91V Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS and EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent short and long arm /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 29 / 24
0 to 60 mph				8.3  sec


OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Sport Appearance Package - includes:
  Brushed aluminum interior trim, red interior accents,
  18-inch alloy wheels and low-profile tires, 
  sport-tuned suspension, lip spoiler			$ 895

Moon & Tune Package - includes:
  power moonroof, audiophile sound system		$ 795

Ambient lighting					$ 295

Sirius satellite radio with 6 months service		$ 195

Leather seating						$ 895

Destination charge					$ 725

Complete specifications on the 2008 Ford Fusion I4 SEL and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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