More than three hours and two hundred miles after leaving home, a call came through on our Fusion’s SYNC system: the testing session we’d scheduled at Virginia International Raceway was canceled due to several inches of unexpected snowfall. With ambient temperatures hovering in the fifteen-degree range, and without any available track time to put Ford’s facelifted mid-sizer through its paces, how could we determine if the Fusion “Sport” lived up to the promise of it’s fashionable chrome badging?
To find out, we headed to Ohio’s Hocking Hills region, where the usual menu of blind corners, decreasing radii, and random camber changes would be augmented by glare ice, confused deer, and a heavy layer of road salt that made ABS engagement on corner entry the rule, not the exception. If the Fusion could make it here, as the song goes, it could make it anywhere.
Let’s get something straight here: the 2010 Fusion Sport is no successor to the vaunted SVT Contour. There’s no manual transmission and the suspension is tuned for ride comfort not outright grip. Nor does the three-and-a-half-liter Duratec V6 have the punch to match the Evolution/STi crowd. The old Contour was meant to be a front wheel-drive alternative to the BMW 3-Series; the Fusion Sport is aimed at the Camry SE and V6-powered Accords while simultaneously picking up the discarded mantle of its Mazdaspeed6 platform mate.
As we climb the first series of steep switchbacks, the Duratec awakens as a strong, willing partner, relentlessly propelling the Fusion’s new Super-Duty-style grille from turn to turn with a cultured, light-flywheel growl. In “SST” manual-selection mode, the six-speed automatic shifts quickly and virtually without slippage. The shift lever itself could use a slightly more positive feel, but Ford’s done it right and made downshifts a forward motion.
From a standing start, there’s a bit of torque steer, but once underway the AWD system provides wheelslip-free corner exits with no unwelcome feedback through the steering wheel. My last run through this series of roads was in my Porsche 993, and while the Fusion can’t begin to match the Porsche’s pace on the straights, it’s a far more trustworthy partner on corner entry and through the mid-corner phase.
Down the hill, the braking zones are dusted with random piles of road salt. The Fusion effectively transitions to and from ABS activation without excessive pedal feedback. Even in fifteen-degree weather, though, the brakes aren’t able to shed enough heat to resist fade. A set of high-temp pads would go a long way towards curing the situation; as it is, the fade resistance is better than my old E46 330i but nowhere close to what a Brembo-equipped Porsche would offer.
We dial the braking back a bit going into some of the fast sweepers and the big Ford reveals itself to be a little more neutral than the vast majority of FWD family sedans. A light brush of the left foot is effective on this low-traction surface and, of course, with this drivetrain it’s never too early to straighten out the wheel and let the V6 run to the rev limit—where it’s perfectly happy to stay there being no mandatory upshift built into the SST software.
After a solid day of being seemingly the only car on the road, it’s time to rejoin the freeway and head home. The Fusion isn’t a big car inside compared to the super-sized, modern Accord and Camry, but it’s roomy enough and the appointments have been upgraded to a class-competitive level for 2010. The revamped dashboard features metal-look, soft-touch accents that were bright red in our tester—this will be a matter of taste. A “Moon and Tune” package combines the well-executed SYNC system with a reasonably loud and clear Sony-branded stereo (there’s your tune) and a glass roof (there’s the moon).
More than a decade ago, Ford engineers took the pleasant-enough Mazda MX-6 and created the absolutely sublime second-generation Probe GT. This time they’ve begun with the charming but star-crossed Mazdaspeed6 and brought us a car which redeems that platform’s promise. It’s fast enough, roomy enough, pleasant enough, even economical enough (we saw 25.1 mpg over 480 freeway miles). While the Fusion Sport will never trouble a 335xi, it will absolutely demolish a “sporty” Camry or Accord when the road turns twisty. Frustrated family men banished to a lifetime sentence of unassuming sedans will find the Fusion to be a trustworthy dance partner.
There’s just one problem, really: at the as-tested price of $29,590, the Fusion Sport is far from cheap. For the same money, Honda and Toyota offer newer platforms, more room, and more respect from those oh-so-judgmental neighbors. This is the problem Ford faces today: the Camry and Accord are now the default choices. Buying a Fusion instead requires explanation. In this case, however, that explanation is just a couple of fast hairpins away.