According to Congress, Detroit doesn't know how to build cars that the majority of people want to drive. The 2010 Ford Fusion comprehensively proves that it can.
Full Disclosure: Ford wanted me to drive the new Ford Fusion so badly they flew me out and put me up in a nice hotel to make sure I wrote about it. Also, they fed me candy. Sweet, sweet candy.
Like the 2010 Ford Mustang, this new Fusion isn't an all-new model, but rather a comprehensive update of the old one. Retaining the same basic platform, nearly every mechanical component has been upgraded to function better. The new Fusion is a much quieter, more luxurious place to spend time; it's more involving to drive; it rides more smoothly; it's faster and it's more economical. They've even done a good job giving the outside enough curb appeal to set it apart from its main rivals: the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
It's those two models, particularly the Camry, which are the benchmarks for the mid-size sedan segment; the most popular and the most boring segment in the country. Compared trim level to trim level, engine to engine to those two vehicles the Fusion is faster, more economical, nicer inside and, dare we say, not all that boring. That's because it drives better than its rivals.
That's not to say that the Fusion is a sports car. For some bizarre reason Ford insisted that we drive slushbox-equipped, four-cylinder Fusions around an autocross course. Even with the traction control off, the vehicle resisted any attempts to push its performance envelope, literally putting the brakes on things the second it transitioned into inevitable understeer. More frustrating was the gearbox, which spent the majority of the time hunting for gears than it did providing acceleration. The same was true of the 3.5-liter V6-equipped whiz-bang Fusion Sport.
In fact, the only thing more boring than driving the Fusion around the course was driving the Camry. We really fail to see what appeal the Camry holds to anyone, but it's particularly bad at being driven quickly. In fact, it's hard to believe that a vehicle that drives so poorly manages to find favor with anyone, let alone its millions of loyal buyers.
Also like the Mustang, the Fusion proves to be all about spec. But in this case it's not about the stuff you add, but the stuff you leave off. The best Fusion is also the cheapest one. At $19,270, the basic, manual transmission 2.5-liter four-cylinder is the clear leader in terms of driving enjoyment. Not only is it the only model available with the manual transmission (a 6-speed), but it's noticeably lighter on its feet than the faster V6-equipped versions, delivering more involvement and better steering.
Despite having a much slower 0-to-60 time (9.5 seconds vs. 7.9 for the 3.0-liter and 7.0 for the 3.5), the manual tranny 4-cylinder is more responsive, more rewarding and just plain more fun to drive fast. And you can drive the Fusion fast.
While it is no good on the autocross course, the Fusion is good on the road. Higher speed corners remove its tendency to throw on the stability control at the faintest sign of slip, while the manual transmission allows you to pick the gears yourself instead of relying on a semi-retarded computer to attempt to do so for you.
Through the canyons north of Los Angeles the four-cylinder Fusion proved to be a willing companion to some serious law breaking. It steers quickly, holds its line and isn't at all reluctant to rotate the rear with a bit of braking or lift-off should that line need to tighten. While the 175 HP engine's a bit gutless, we like the challenge of passing other auto hacks in supposedly faster models using every last one of the available revs.
All this from a car that competes in the most mundane of segments. The Fusion's not likely to be the most economical, most luxurious or most fun car you'll ever drive, but it is likely to satisfy most of those requirements more of the time than any other mid-size sedan on sale in America has before it. It's product like this that's going to give the American car industry a future. No matter how much we wish this segment of America's car "needs" would just disappear.