Jalopnik Reviews: 2007 Ford Fusion SE, Part 2

Exterior Design: ***
I don't dig the five "razor blades" — three in the grill, two in the air dam — fitted to the Fusion's front. (Yeah, there's chrome all over the place in search of a tie-in, but so what?) Worse, while the grill, headlamps and taillights are properly fussy, at 20 paces it's impossible to tell the Fusion from other mid-sized sedans. It's not an ugly car, by any means, and its crisp lines cut a sharper profile than does the Mazda6's bulbosity, but its other platform-mate, the Mercury Milan, is much more the looker.

Interior Design: **
I'm sure you're sick to death of hearing how ill-rendered Ford interiors are. And frankly, I'm sick of writing it. Yes, while the Fusion shares a head unit with the Focus, Mustang, F-150 and Explorer, it somehow doesn't look totally craptacular. But it's got the same gag-inducing HVAC and trip computer controls and bargain-basement stem controlling turn signals, highbeams and wipers. Boo. The seats in our tester appear to have been stolen from VW's reject pile: black leather with fat red stitching and patterned inserts. And they rival an absentee father in terms of support.

Acceleration: **
The official line on the I4 Fusion is 9.3 seconds to 60 mph, though the Fusion feels faster than it is. It's a high-revving, feisty mill that provides some ballsy passing power once it gets going. Just make sure it's pointed straight when getting off the clutch, because the front wheels tend to squirt all over the place. Which is kind of fun, actually.

Braking: ***
Another case of "feels better than it is." I'm sure if we'd set up some cones, the brakes' stoppage distances would fail to impress. However, they brace up with authority and with a minimum of drama when you stand on them. Anti-lockers are a $595 option and our tester had them.

Ride: ****
Rolling on biggish (optional) 17" aluminum painted wheels wrapped with 50-series V-rated tires, the lightest of Fusion models rides smoothly. There's a particularly horrifying stretch of the I-5 near Dodger Stadium that nearly caused an unwelcome reunion with past meals during a jaunt in an Audi RS4. The Fusion handled that antique highway with ease. The worst you can say is the ride's a little dull.

Handling: *****
Turn that tiller at speed and you'll instantly realize you're driving one of the best-handling cars on the road. The Fusion I4's low-low weight conspires with its tuned, independent suspension (with front and rear sway bars) to make it dance when the road winds. The larger tires provide extensive grip, and on long sweepers it's tempting to kick down a gear and stoke the furnace, just to see where adhesion ends. I was having so much fun on a particularly great road that a flying bottle of Listerine knocked the car out of gear. That's good handling. And that was without traction control, which is optional. (With only 160 horses and such fantastic grip, you don't need it.)

Gearbox: ****
A mixed bag. The clutch is ideal, but the shifter is bulky and clumsy. First, the oversized knob feels inaccurate — though not so much as to cause missed shifts. Second, while in gear, the handle can be rowed from side to side, giving it the tactility of cheapness. Still, there are very few midsize sedans that still sport manual transmissions. The Fusion SE is all the better for having one — despite its lack of a sixth cog — if just to make downshifting ahead of a hot corner possible. That's what driving's all about.

Audio/Video: **
Back when Austin was torturing me with trance-hop or whatever the hell it is he listens to, he commented on how Sirius is worse than XM in terms of interference. This Fusion came with Sirius, and it cut out under butterflies. Though, it could have just been a malfunctioning system, not ready for primetime is my verdict. The second star is simply because Ford bothered to activate Sirius on the press car. (Not all carmakers do so. I'm looking at you, Mercedes Benz.)

Toys: *
It had a trip computer — like almost all Fords do — that let me track the rather impressive gas mileage. And that's it.

Trunk: *****
Huge, cavernous, quite large and big. You could fit a mountain bike in there no problem. Or three golfers.

Value: *****
Our tester was the midrange SE model, which came loaded with $1,600 worth of extras, pushing the price up over $20,000. Considering the mix of handling and hauling the Fusion offers, and that you could leave a dealer in a brand new Fusion for right around $17,000, its value is undeniable.

Overall: ****
All that's holding the Fusion back from being best in class is... the class. Remember, the Fusion goes up against Honda's Accord, and as much I like the Fusion, the Accord is a more well-rounded entry. Nonetheless, the four-banger, manual-transmission Fusion is a performance sleeper waiting to be discovered by the masses. While it won't be fast enough for the speed freak in us, even a certified track-day hound will appreciate Fusion's sublime and unexpected handling. Alan, you were right.

Related:
Jalopnik Reviews: 2007 Ford Fusion SE, Part 1