It has front- or all-wheel-drive and a trio of engines for mileage or muscle—a new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, a 3-liter V-6 that burns E85 and a 3.5-liter V-6 that simply burns off the line.
Fusion gives Ford a hybrid to compete against the Chevy Malibu, Saturn Aura and Toyota Camry in the midsize hybrid sedan segment, where Ford had been absent and Chrysler still is. It also gives Ford an AWD sedan its rivals don't have. Fusion joins Escape to form a hybrid sedan/SUV tandem, which in 2012 will be joined by a plug-in.
Most important, with a 41 m.p.g. city/36 m.p.g. highway rating, Fusion delivers 8 m.p.g. more city and 2 m.p.g. more highway mileage than the Camry hybrid. And Fusion's nickel-metal-hydride battery pack is smaller, yet 20 percent more potent, so it can run up to 47 m.p.g. on batteries only.
But the Fusion hybrid starts at $27,270, a $3,295 premium over the Fusion SEL 4-cylinder with automatic on which it is based. Its success depends, of course, on gas prices. At $2 or so a gallon, Camry sold only 1,141 hybrids in January, less than half the 2,750 sold a year earlier. Stay tuned.
Though hoping for a hybrid, a gas version arrived to test.
Fusion comes in S, SE, SEL and Sport trim as well as hybrid. We tested the SE with the 2.5-liter, 175-horsepower 4 and a 6-speed manual (6-speed automatic optional), which replaces the 2.3-liter, 160-h.p. 4 with 5-speed manual or automatic.
Though not officially rated yet, the mileage estimate is 26 m.p.g. city/35 m.p.g. highway with manual, 26/34 with automatic, or 6 m.p.g. more city/highway than the 2.3.
Fusion S comes with the 2.5-liter Duratec 4. The SE/SEL offers that that 4 or a 3-liter, 240-h.p. V-6, up from 221 h.p., that can run on E85, the blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas. The Sport has a 3.5-liter, 263-h.p. V-6. All are mated to 6-speed manuals or automatics.
Ford has toned down the 4-cylinder growl in the 2.5 liter, which has decent off-the-line spirit but won't snap your neck back on a power takeoff. The 6-speed is so smooth, you'd think Ford borrowed it from Honda.
Fusion is freshened to look sportier and more upscale. Outside, the now familiar three-bar, chrome grille is complemented by a raised hood that Ford calls "powerfully domed." Head and tail lamps are revised, fog lamps enlarged.
Inside, the dash has a "softer" vinyl skin that looks richer than plastic. The ice blue background lighting for instruments is soothing and hypnotic.
Ambient lighting that changes the mood color in footwells and cupholders is equally appealing though not available in the SE; it's standard in the SEL.
Seats are revised for better body contour and more side support. Rear seat room is good and seat backs fold flat to hold more cargo. But to lower the backs, you have to pull a handle in the trunk not in the cabin. Why?
Ford tweaked the suspension for pleasant ride. But you can't cross a tar mark without the suspension dancing and bumps in the road mean bounce in the cabin. Handling, however, is very good, thanks to the 17-inch radials and upgraded, quicker-response steering. No lean or dip in corners.
Ford packed Fusion with surprise-and-delight features to complement the long list of standard goodies and set it off from its rivals. The former includes a radar beam Blind Spot recognition system with Cross Traffic Alert that warns when a vehicle pulls into your blind spot or is approaching from either side when backing out of a parking space and a backup camera to show what's behind. Both are part of a $1,795 premium package on the SEL but neither is available on the SE.
Also, on-board diagnostics (part of the $545 Sync package); voice-activated navigation system ($1,775); and a Sony audio system with surround sound and 12 speakers (in the $1,795 premium package).
Fusion also offers Sirius Travel Link real-time traffic and accident info (part of the $1,775 premium package); and Sync, the voice-activated communication and entertainment system that integrates Bluetooth, digital media players and 911 assist that phones the emergency operator when an air bag deploys ($545). SOS Post Crash Alert is standard and automatically unlocks doors, flashes hazard lights and honks the horn after an air-bag deployment.
The Fusion SE starts at $20,545 with power driver's seat/windows/locks/mirrors, air conditioning, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, side-curtain air bags, AM/FM radio with CD/MP3 and fold-down front seat. Add $875 for automatic.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at transportation@tribune. com.