2006 Ford Fusion Review
by Thom Cannell
Fusion is a new and vital mid-sized Ford is aimed directly at the heart of Asia, Inc. At a base price of just $17,795, it challenges low cost Korean vehicles with similar in-line four-cylinder engines and five-speed manual transmissions. At $22,360 the premium SEL Fusion offers a 221 horsepower, V6, six-speed automatic alternative to Camry and Altima.
Ford has no illusions that legions of happy Camry and Altima buyers will shift allegiance to the Blue Oval. Rather, its sights are set on 15 million F150 owners, 5 million Explorer owners, and countless Mustang enthusiasts who simply cannot buy a mid-size Ford. Until Fusion, it did not exist. And Fusion “fits nicely between Focus and 500,” according to Ford product planners.
As it must, every 2006 Fusion includes a host of standard features like MP3 CD audio systems, tilt-telescope steering wheel, cruise control, speed sensitive windscreen wipers, power windows and door locks, plus remote locking, and power remote mirrors. Every interior features a clean, uncluttered design with soft finishes, satin-rimmed gauges in a handsome instrument cluster, and seating for five passengers.
Styling, always a subjective quality, is somewhat of a mixed bag. You’ll not mistake a Fusion in your rear view mirror, nor head on. Taking cues from the “427” concept car, it features bold three-blade horizontal intake, bright multiply rectangular inset headlamps. Ford calls this rounded rectangle a “squircle.” Below a trim bumper made possible by advanced materials science, twin fog lamps nestle into rectangular luminaires. Between is another pair of bright blades protecting the lower intake where oil coolers and air conditioning evaporators often live. Fusion is unmistakable approaching, or in your rear view mirror.
When viewed accelerating away from you, a hefty trunk, large chrome outlined tail lamps, and a proportionally sized rear window are apparent. The rear deck lid is high to provide storage and the C-pillar slopes sharply upward for a very vast appearance. Distinctive tail lamps are a conundrum. Reminiscent of Honda’s triangles, they are blindingly outlined in chrome, with inset reverse lamps. It is a distinctive look, one you’ll love or hate.
From the side, a view few examine closely, the natural line between sparkling tail lamps and headlamps is somehow missing under most lighting conditions, leaving a flank that begs for a hint of chrome or reflections from a more prominent crease or bevel. Perhaps that’s just because all our test vehicles were black. Black shows the nose best, but leaves many details and curves to the imagination.
Fusion is at its best when driven. Based on architecture from Mazda 6, and reengineered for increased stiffness and responsiveness, this is a driver’s car. Steering is crisp, direct, responsive, and accurate. On the liveliness scale, steering is a bit numb even enthusiasts are willing to yield a bit of road feel in return for total accuracy. Steering effort is perfect, not too light, and certainly not heavy or slow. Equipped with Michelin Pilot MXM4 tires for precision, the total package reeks of quality and stability. Frankly, it drives several thousand dollars better than its price. On every road we traveled, Fusion was quiet; luxury quiet as in Lexus and Lincoln quiet. The only sounds in the cabin came from conversation, the radio, or air conditioner. Well, there was a whisper of wind noise from exterior mirrors, but only a whisper. This kind of interior silence usually requires laminated side glass, which Ford does not use.
Interiors¬—we only drove top of the line SEL models—featured oatmeal colored contrast stitching on black leather seats and either wood appliqué or piano-lacquer black surfaces. Alternative interiors in light stone or two-tone camel and charcoal are available.
Instrument design continues Ford’s tradition of delivering both style and information. Gauges are easy to read, large and uncluttered, red pointers and white numerals ringed by bright satin against a dark background. Only fuel and water temperature assist the tachometer and speedometer, increasingly a standard in automobiles. The center stack could be improved by integrating the standard box-shaped CD/AM/FM head end instead of pushing it through an aperture, and factory-installed satellite radio is two years over due. Still, it looks clean and solid.
We tested Fusions on legendary Los Angeles roadways like Mulholland Drive, Sunset Boulevard, Wilshire Boulevard, Topanga Canyon Road, and the Pacific Coast Highway. California roads are not billiard table smooth. Some have potholes, others repetitive misadjusted pavement segments. Fusion soaks up every impact with no problem and absolutely no squeaks or rattles. This is a level of sophistication we used to expect only from luxury imports, Lincolns and Cadillacs.
Fusion feels solid and reliable; you adapt to driving it within moments. Ergonomically, there’s no problem finding or operating controls. The SEL I was driving had steering wheel-mounted controls for temperature and fan speed, cruise control, and the audio system. Surprisingly there is only a single stalk to operate speed-sensitive wipers and turn signals. Lighting controls are a rotary knob on the dash.
I was, at first, annoyed to find that the six-speed automatic appears to have no manual mode, only PRNDL. “Life in D,” Ford’s advertising slogan, would seem to promise more accessible gears! Then I discovered that L, normally indicating low or first gear, is somewhat mislabeled. L is intended for hill descents. That is, when you shift into L you are actually entering a different transmission map, one that upshifts at higher rpm and holds the transmission about 1000 rpm higher than normal. Thus, you get engine breaking on downhill’s, and when driving briskly shifting into L will keep the 3.0-liter engine spinning at about 3,500 rpm. So shifting into L offers skilled drivers real opportunity for fun on challenging roads.
Though we’ve only discussed the V6 equipped Fusion with its 221 hp Duratec engine, there are three 2.3-liter Duratec I-4 models available. This engine produces 160 hp and is available with a 5-speed manual for ultimate fuel economy of 23 City/31 Highway—5-speed automatic versions are available, too. The Fusion S I4 includes an MP3 capable stereo with four speakers, tilt/telescope steering wheel with cruise control, manual adjusting bucket seats, and power mirrors, windows, and locks. Two other I4 models, SE and SEL add more features like automatic climate control, 17” wheels and tires, fog lamps, and premium 6-spealer 6-disc audio. All have the same EPA fuel economy rating.
V6 models, SE and SEL, offer similar interiors and options. Actually, the option list for all Fusions includes only a power Moonroof, leather seating, or audiophile 6-CD 8-speaker audio system.
Safety is a huge concern in family vehicles. Active safety is addressed through a rigid body structure, four-wheel disc brakes, and precise steering that make avoiding an accident more probable. Body design promises to channel impact forces away from occupants and advanced seat belt design plus advanced air bag design promises to mediate impact. Seat sensors assess driver size and whether seat belts are in use to assist the dual-stage air bags in deployment. Optional features like ABS and Roll-Fold (they slide down the windows) side curtain air bags raise the level of protection. The full story is available at www.fordvehicles .com
Fusion demonstrates that US automakers can compete; delivering safety, economy, style and value in competition with others whose cost structure is far lower. There are no corners cut, no cheapening of the product. Fusion is a mid-sized sedan that delivers panache to a tight pocketbook.