Ford s attempt to regain its place atop the sales charts is looking more and more like the scientific pursuit of cold fusion. Theoretically, The Blue Oval Boys should be able to screw together a nice car for a reasonable price and then sell it to the millions of US car buyers whose automotive aspirations never reach higher than nice and reasonable. But The Blue Oval seems to share chemist Stanley Pons inability to turn theory into reality. I reckon that's because Ford can t get control of the mission-critical variables.
The Fusion s V6 powerplant is a good example. It's a peppy little unit (221hp) with plenty of torque and admirable mileage (21/29). And yet the Fusion's six is a gruff-sounding mill whose whine serves a constant reminder that refinement wasn t job one. By the same token, the Fusion s six-speed autobox is a class-first, yet it s not first-class. At highway velocities, its reluctance to deliver in-gear shove, or kickdown to produce same, makes passing situations more problematic an eighth grader's first dance.
The Fusion s interior fails at the final furlong. On one hand, the fit and finish give nothing away to Ford's foreign rivals. The car holsters four proper adults without fear or favor. The main gauges are simple, elegant and ergonomic. But... the Fusion s cabin is a spizzarkle-free zone. Every detail- from its unremittingly generic ICE and HVAC switchgear to the rhino-skin steering wheel- seems carefully crafted to withstand a Hertz hammering. In a world where a Civic sedan s cabin evokes the spirit of a Jedi knight, Ford s yeoman effort (as witnessed by its undamped top box) doesn t cut it.
From an exterior perspective, it s Fusion by name, Fusion by nature. The sedan's snout boldly goes where Infiniti (and the BIC disposable razor) have gone before. Cadillac called; they want their creases back. Honda s on Line 2; they re OK with the rear crib. And that nice gentleman from Audi s here; he wants to write a profile. Of course, you can t expect a mainstream Ford to shock and awe like the GT, or seduce with the lyricism of a Mustang GT; only why the Hell not?
On the road, the Fusion makes a more complete and compelling case for itself. Ford s family four-door/rental fleet mainstay may be a model cycle behind the competition, but Mr. Bill s chassis gurus have, at least, kept their newest mid-size contender at the forefront in the ride and handling department. The Fusion is harsh but fair over bumps and astonishingly nimble around corners. Body roll is suppressed like enemy fire during a napalm attack. During major flingage, the Gods of Understeer are appeased for a great deal longer than you d expect. If you sneak-up on serious speed (avoiding torque steer stomps), the Fusion is willing to have a proper go.
Still, flogging a Fusion is a curiously joyless process that reflects a certain grim determination all round. It s as if the Fusion was designed using a reverse-engineered checklist, based on a Toyota Corolla. While there s nothing particularly wrong with the perfectly priced Fusion, like its stable mates, it doesn t have the X-factor needed to rise above the category "more-than-merely-adequate everyday transportation." Does this mean Ford has lost its MOR mojo? The Fusion puts the theory to the test. [by Robert Farago]