Ford Fusion offers European flair
It's rare to see a hint of Maserati or a dash of Aston Martin in a family sedan.
The reason is simple: Automakers need to sell mid-size sedans by the truckload — about 1,000 a day. To please that many people at once, the design needs to avoid offending buyers even more than it needs to entice them.
So it's refreshing to see Ford's 2013 Fusion, a good and good-looking car in a segment where form follows way behind function. The second generation sedan doesn't share a freckle with its predecessor. The new silhouette is inspired by the wave of four-door coupes from European luxury brands. Think Audi's A7 or Mercedes-Benz's CLS.
These cars lose the clear delineation between greenhouse and trunk. Instead, a rear window gently slopes toward a short trunk lid. The effect is sleek and, rare for a Ford, elegant.
The Aston Martin influence shows in the open-mouthed chrome grille, flanked by a pair of squinting headlights. The Maserati homage is in the taillights, with stretched red lenses surrounding a clear insert in a shape reminiscent of a GranTurismo.
Inside, Ford integrates the car's many features into a clean dashboard.
The interior has its flaws. Too much flat plastic robs its character, and the climate buttons don't work unless punched. But the seats are supportive, and passengers have ample room.
Beyond design, the Fusion stands out for the number of engine options: a forgettable base four-cylinder that starts at $22,495, two turbocharged four-cylinders (the latter in lieu of a V-6), a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. Ford expects most buyers will choose the smaller of the EcoBoost turbocharged engines, a 1.6-liter unit that makes 178 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque on premium fuel. Buyers can get it paired with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic; either unit starts at $25,290.
If you can stand it, choose the manual. The smooth shifter and light clutch lets you make full use of the composed engine. The outdated automatic transmission, meanwhile, tends to get in the engine's way with slow and jarring shifts.
The suspension hustles the car through corners without sacrificing ride quality. Road and wind noise are all but banished from the cabin.
The entire Fusion lineup won the Green Car of the Year award, given out by the Green Car Journal at the Los Angeles Auto Show. But Consumer Reports found the Fusion hybrid did not live up to Ford's claims of 47 mpg in city and highway driving. (The magazine's tests found 39 mpg in combined driving.)
The car has racked up two recalls. Ford this month recalled 16,000 Fusions for excessive engine temperatures that could lead to fire and 19,000 Fusions for a defect with low-beam headlights.
Teething problems aside, Ford has put together a solid offering that holds its own in a cutthroat segment.