2013 Ford Fusion First Drive

Unlike our politicians, Ford's new Fusion reaches out for bipartisan support.

What It Is
Ford's reimagined take on the midsize sedan segment.
Best Thing
Strong drivetrains and excellent suspension balance.
Worst Thing
Tacky interior with illogical MyFord Touch, tight trunk opening.
Snap Judgment
In a field of dullards, the sexy choice. Who thought we would ever say that about a Ford?


These--these flyover people, they just don't get it! They're all fat and lazy and they love their Toby Keith and their soap operas and their guns and their deep-fried anything. They probably don't even know what wheatgrass is! They all voted for Goldwater! And get this: they love buying American cars!

Yessir, Best Coasters, say hello to the cross-section of Americans that reside in such colorful places like Keokuk, Illinois, and Texarkana, Texas, a town whose name leaves poor Arkansas bilked of its incremental nationwide fame. Ford dominates 45 percent of the car market here in the Midwest--flyover country, a cruel epithet--where "buy American" is a life credo and legions of grandparents tear up when they reminisce of working on the Lorain, Ohio, assembly line building Gran Torinos. Honda may build the Accord in Marysville in that aforementioned state, but that's just the foreign exchange student putting on a Browns jersey. Detroit Rock City is where it's at, champ, and it will never die!

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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But in the rest of the country (and a substantial chunk of the population, need we remind) Ford--and the rest of the American cheerleaders--are often about as popular as pork rinds in your Korean fusion tacos, a veritable delicacy in sunny Santa Monica, where Ford chose to show off its new 2013 Ford Fusion. And here's the deal: this new Ford Fusion is as close as capturing the hearts of our coastal sybarites than ever before...and even, maybe, possibly, dethroning the almighty Honda Accord.

The 2013 Ford Fusion is completely new. It has an all-new architecture, new styling, five new powertrain choices that don't include a V-6. First are is the base model 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Then a pair of turbocharged four-cylinder engines sharing the Ecoboost label: one is a fuel-sipping 1.6-liter; and the other is a more powerful 2.0-liter version. A conventional hybrid launches immediately, with a plug-in hybrid to follow. Get crazy with options and models, and you can buy a Fusion for $38,565, but fortunately the Fusion starts at a more palatable $21,700, on par with the rest of the segment. Along the way, the Fusion can stop and speed up on its own, watch for cars around it, stay put in its own lane, goad the driver into taking a nap, and even park itself.

Walkaround

We'll get to the obvious out first: This is one of the best-looking family vehicles ever since somebody shoved a car seat into a Lamborghini. Some enterprising jokesters have criticized Ford for adopting Aston Martin's leering, trapezoidal-shaped grille for their own devices. To us, that's like criticizing your mate for looking too much like any number of attractive, successful network television actors.

But yes, look at it. If you've always wanted an Aston Martin Rapide, you can park this doppelganger in your driveway for $70,000 less. Various character lines, hood strakes, swoops, dips, and contours break up what would otherwise be a boring surface, but the 2013 Ford Fusion never looks gaudy. It's a subdued, handsome wrapper that belies an overall rotund shape, one that will eventually age well. Buy one in Ruby Red with the Sport Appearance Package (with grey, split 5-spoke wheels) and you might even expect Alison Brie to climb out in an inspired bout of product placement.

Sitting Down

Ford loves itself some black interiors. Not a single Ford we've driven has contained any glimmer of brightness or light upon its pitch-black dashboards; theoretically, one can order a 2013 Fusion in "Dune," with leather seats the color of oatmeal--but none of the supplied test cars came in such a cheery shade. Whoever is manning the interior design board at Ford is going through his Johnny Cash phase.

That said, the interior is a pleasant, if cramped place to be. That center console is wide and bulky enough to make drivers feel snug, not smug, unless they're driving the Hybrid. The dashboard is mounted low and provides airy visibility out the front. Too bad it is made from the same brusque, squishy plastic as a decade's worth of rental cars, with a tacky texture unbefitting of a car that represents a new era in Ford design (inside and out). Note to designers: just because it's soft, doesn't mean it's less cheap.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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Here's a nice touch: the side-by-side cupholders are tucked out of the way of errant elbows, allowing manual drivers--the estimated 3-percent take-rate freaks that they are--better cup-dodging abilities than in a Mazda Miata.

The center console makes the most of MyFord Touch, to which we've expunged plenty of digital ink kvetching about the entire system like spoiled opinion-makers. But what's more egregious than MFT, which we've gotten somewhat used to, is the confusing climate and radio controls--not just on the top-end Titanium models, but across all three available 2013 Ford Fusion models. Buttons are laid out in a complex mishmash of cramped, quadrilateral switches, fitting together like a narrow jigsaw puzzle. SYNC-equipped cars get the full brunt of MyFord Touch, which admittedly is much improved from earlier iterations. But the most egregious example of touch-panel insanity run amok, sheer we know better than you doggedness, is nestled within the optional Sony sound system, available on the Titanium: a solitary black panel with scattered chickenscratch symbols, as if sneezed out by a printing machine. Stab at a "button" on the panel, and you'll likely brush the TUNE+ button by accident, losing the most critical segment of your Fresh Air episode. Is this the future we signed up for?

In back, things are somewhat better. There's a good amount of legroom, and the seats are well-sculpted for long, fatigue-less journeys. The back seat folds 60/40 as well, and you won't have to dig into the trunk for the seatback release like on many other sedans. That sexy sloping rear window can cause some problems: headroom is understandably tight, but like on the Focus, the Fusion's back window cuts into the 16 cubic-foot trunk, making for a narrow opening for your antiquing finds from rural Americana.

Driving

Out of five planned drivetrains, we drove three different examples of the Fusion: the 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter Ecoboost four cylinders, and a hybrid; we didn't get a chance to try out the 2.5-liter four-cylinder, but we'll report back once we've sampled Hertz's newest fleet. You might notice a pattern here. Like Hyundai, Kia and Chevrolet, Ford is gambling on its turbocharged four-cylinder engines to match the V-6 power of Honda and Toyota, which seems downright un-American. If there's one thing Americans know, it's that the bigger the engine, the more parking lot testosterone your car's going to pump.

But with 178 horsepower and 184 ft-lbs of torque, the 1.6-liter Ecoboost was a gutsy little guy: always with enough power to flit through traffic, and enough torque to get up the California canyon roads with which manufacturers are always seeking out to impress Midwestern journalists. A hidden gem is the six-speed manual transmission available on SE models--precise, light, and accurate, it shifts with none of the numbness of Hyundai transmissions and none of the brittleness of Volkswagen's. Honda may have the edge on manual family sedans, but Ford is creeping up fast. Impress your kids, and teach 'em how to row their own.

The 2.0-liter Ecoboost engine represents a 62-horsepower boost over the 1.6, and a 3-4 mpg hit across the board for economy. It's also a $2,510 increase, money that could be better spent on a 1998 Kawasaki Ninja 250 or about 1,255 bags of Starburst Gummies. There's little reason to spring for the 2.0-liter engine, other than gaining access to fun new technology features, which themselves carry differing levels of dubiousness; yes, the Fusion can park itself, but whether you want it to is a whole different story. Its power difference was hardly noticeable, and its automatic transmission--geared towards fuel economy, as is the norm these days--exhibited some delays in accelerating on the freeway.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Today's four cylinders have enough practical power for daily driving and fuel economy credentials to boot. But if you want even better economy, then prepare to write a check for $27,995 for the Fusion Hybrid. Like the previously tested 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid with which it shares its drivetrain, it also gets 47 miles per gallon in city, highway, and combined driving modes...although given recent political sentiments, it might not be a good time for Ford to aggressively pursue that number in its marketing efforts.

The Hybrid is a pleasant car to drive, imparting an even more stable feeling than the gasoline engines, with a seamless transition between gasoline and electric modes, the latter of which can do up to 62 mph. The company expects the Fusion Hybrid to pay off its initially steep cost in 3.5 years; compare that, it says, to the Camry Hybrid's 5-year payback. We'll see, because it already has the edge in the fuel economy game.

All three cars had excellent brake feel and accurate yet slightly numb steering, boosted artificially to impart a sense of stability. The Fusion rode with little body roll, finding that rare balance between good road manners and a thoroughly comfortable ride. In fact, it felt like the outgoing Accord, which plied the freeways and byways like the Navy's Pacific Fleet. Now that the new Accord has gone all sporty-like, if you will, those who want some of that stable, solid heft back should look at the 2013 Ford Fusion.

Summary

Like most manufacturers, Ford marketers came up with their own ideal customer when developing the Fusion. Meet Jennifer: a 35-year old midlevel manager who loves technology, yoga, girl time, the margherita pizza from Westwood hotspot 800 Degrees, and wheatgrass, presumably. Ford hopes a world of Jennifers will beat a path to its dealerships, and bring down the average age of the previous generation Fusion buyer, which was 55 years old.

But they sure loved the outgoing Fusion. In the past six years Fusion sales steadily rose, hitting nearly 250,000 per year in 2011. But Ford's new, diverse target demographic will be younger, and edging up against the water. Hiring cult-television heartthrob Joel McHale to shill the Fusion was a proof-of-concept. Designing the Fusion to stand out in the crowd is the ultimate combination of proof and pudding. Ford wants to hit at least 250,000 annual sales with the new Fusion; we have no reason to doubt that it won't, especially all across the country. God bless America, indeed.

Basic Specs

2.5-liter four-cylinder, 22/34/26 mpg city/highway/combined
1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 25/37/29 mpg city/highway/combined
2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 22/33/26 mpg city/highway/combined
2.0-liter hybrid, 47/47/47 mpg city/highway/combined
6-speed manual and automatic transmissions, front- and all-wheel drive, $21,700

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