Ford introduced the Fusion for the 2006 model year, during a period when their sedan lineup seemed to be in a bit of disarray. It joined the recently released Ford Five Hundred (which was slated to be the eventual replacement for the aging Crown Victoria) and the increasingly uncompetitive Taurus.
Trouble was, the stubborn Crown Victoria refused to go quietly, as it still owned the police cruiser market and had a loyal following among older folks. Why Ford didn't make the Fusion the new Taurus is a mystery to us, but the old Taurus was sold (mostly to fleets) into the 2007 model year, when the Five Hundred was renamed Taurus. The new Taurus moved upmarket and no longer competed with its traditional rivals the Camry and Accord, leaving that battle to the new Fusion. Fortunately, the new Fusion was battle-ready, and far more competitive in a tough market segment than the old Taurus.
The S is the entry level model, and came only with the base 160hp 2.3L 4-cylinder engine. It was well equipped, with standard features such as power 4-wheel disc brakes, illuminated keyless remote entry system, stereo with CD and MP3, cruise, tilt, full power and air conditioning.
Next up was the SE model. It added a power driver's seat, steering wheel touch controls, dual illuminated vanity mirrors and a trip computer. A 221hp, 3.0L V6 engine backed by a 6-speed automatic was optional.
At the top of the line sat the SEL, with extra chrome, automatic climate control, 6-disc CD changer, fog lights, leather wrapped steering wheel and 17" aluminum wheels in place of the 16" steel wheels and covers in the other models. Adding the V6 also got you anti-lock brakes.
The Fusion's styling was thoroughly modern, with a distinctive front end that we rather like. It still looks good. The high decklid no doubt aids in aerodynamics, but makes looking rearward a pain in the neck. Literally. This a common affliction with cars these days, but it is particularly pronounced on the Fusion. Ford must have recognized this, and added a rear obstacle detection system to the option list in 2008.
The cabin is well designed and put together at a level well beyond what the Taurus ever was. Squeaks and rattles are extremely rare, indicating that a lot though went into not only how it looked but how it would feel. Switches and knobs all provide a nice tactile feedback. Our only complaint inside is the gauge cluster, which looks somewhat cheap with it's silver painted surrounds and blocky numerals. Chrome and a more sophisticated font would've helped tremendously here.
Both front and rear seats are comfortable and supportive, among the best in class. Three in the back is ok in a pinch, but don't get stuck there if you're going cross country. Rear seat leg room was adequate, even with the fronts pushed back.
Leather front seats were an option on the SE and SEL, as was a heat option. A moonroof and an audiophile stereo were other options on the SE and SEL. A Premium package available only on the SEL included automatic headlight control, puddle lights, automatic day/night mirror and heated outside mirrors. Navigation was added to the option list in 2007, and Ford's star crossed Sync system could be ordered in 2008.
The base 2.3L 4-cylinder motor generated 160 horsepower. While the power is adequate, its refinement is a half notch below that of a Camry or Accord 4-cylinder. A little noisier, and not quite as smooth. Not bad, but not a class leader. The 5-speed automatic is similar in action: adequate, but not distinctive. The 5-speed manual (which we didn't drive) got lukewarm reviews when new, but we do not have first hand experience with it. The 3.0L V6, on the other hand, is a little gem. Smooth, quiet and never thrashy, it makes the right sounds and feels just right running through the 6-speed automatic.
We think the ride/handling balance of the Fusion with the 17in wheels and slightly tighter suspension is at the top of this class.
That's quite a statement considering its competition, but well deserved. It rarely bottoms out even over the most extreme road surfaces, and it recovers quickly in all instances. Handling is crisp, predicable and very secure feeling, but front wheel drive understeer comes into play when pushed hard. Available traction control on V6 models (which needed it the most) helped. All-wheel drive became an option for 2007, and only improved matters, especially on wet surfaces.
A Sport Appearance package arrived for 2008 with a sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch alloys. It sharpened handling further, with only a slight increase in ride harshness.
One disappointment is fuel economy. The V6 generally delivers 20-24mpg in mixed driving, with the 4-cylinder adding about 3mpg to that. These are a bit below average for the class, and were greatly improved when the 2nd generation Fusion debuted.
Typical for the class, the Fusion's trunk looks good on paper but with the very short decklid it's impossible to put anything that not a neat, tidy box in there. Remember the old Galaxie? With an acre wide opening you could practically camp out in there.
A fold down seatback was added in 2007 on the SE and SEL, greatly improving versatility.
Fusions have proven to be very reliable, and also boast reasonable service costs. It rarely showed up with any problems in our reliability survey. In fact, other than the tried and true Crown Victoria, this is probably the most reliable passenger car Ford has produced in the last twenty years.
Four wheel disc brakes are standard on all Fusions. Initially, ABS was optional on all but the V6 SEL model, where it was standard. In 2008 ABS became standard on all Fusions. At first, two dash mounted front air bags were standard, while side curtain airbags for the front passengers were an option. In 2007 they became standard equipment. A sophiticated anti skid system was added to the option list in 2009.
The Fusion got Ford back on track in this fiercely competitive market segment, and the the 2nd and now 3rd generation editions have kept it in the hunt for best in class. As a used car we think the Fusion is one your best best bets, offering everything an Accord or Camry can -- including reliability -- at about $1,000 less.
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