The 2013 Fusion is a critical car for Ford. Despite the rise of the Koreans, an Americanized Passat, refreshed GM and Chrysler products and a dip in Fusion sales between the 2012 and the all-new 2013 model, the Ford is still the fourth-best-selling mid-size sedan in America. Michael was invited to a regional Ford event in September where he revealed his opinions, but what most readers seem to recall is Derek’s proclamation that the 2013 Fusion is a “gamechanger.” To answer the question once and for all, Ford tosses us the keys to the volume-selling SE model with Ford’s recall-beleaguered 1.6L Ecoboost engine for a week.
No, this isn’t Aston Martin’s new mid-size four-door entry, although you could be forgiven for making the mistake. The new design is as shocking and striking as the old Fusion was bland and boring. Making your mass-market car over-styled is risky, but despite the Fusion’s rump being less daring than its schnoz, it manages to avoid looking cartoonish like the Sonata. The Aston mini-me styling is refreshing in a segment where “restrained” and “slab sided” are the mantra of the day. The new Accord is elegant for sure, but the large green house screams family sedan. The current Camry attempts to meld an edgy nose with refrigerator flat door panels. Even the stylish (in comparison) Altima looks far less exciting. Styling is subjective and I usually avoid commenting on design directly, but the 2013 Fusion is an exception. This Ford is quite simply the best looking sedan in America under $50,000.
What do the 2013 Fusion and the unloved 1995 Contour have in common? They are both Ford Mondeo world cars. (Thankfully that’s all they have in common.) After years of designing one sedan for America and one for the rest of the world, the company’s “One Ford” strategy put the Mondeo and Fusion back into the same breeding program. I’m not sure what Europe gets out of the cross-breed, but Americans will benefit from a level of refinement, parts quality and European design hitherto unknown to the Blue Oval on our shores. On the flip side this also means the Fusion’s interior is a study in black with most of the interior looking like it was carved out of a single piece of black plastic. Opting for the tan cloth or leather interior won’t avoid the black dashboard, but it does make the interior look warmer. Sadly this color option is limited to the Fusion S and SE only as the Titanium trim comes only in black.
Our Fusion tester impressed with buttons and parts-bin parts that felt more premium than the competition thanks especially to an all-new steering wheel. While the new tiller doesn’t get soft split-grain leather like the new Accord, Ford’s new button arrangements are easier to use, easier to reach and feel better built than the wheel in the C-MAX and Escape. Speaking of buttons and controls, our Fusion tester showed no signs of fine scratching on the control surfaces, a problem that the Altima, Accord and Camry all suffer from, despite having far more miles on the odometer than the Japanese trio we tested.
Front seat comfort is excellent although a step behind the 2013 Honda Accord which has the most comfortable seats in the segment. Unlike some of the competition, Ford’s tilt/telescoping steering wheel provides a large range of motion making it easy to accommodate drivers of different heights. The Fusion’s driver’s seat is 10-way powered in the SE and Titanium models and sports an optional three-position memory system (standard on Titanium) to speed driver swaps (or keep your better half from complaining). As you would expect, the passenger doesn’t get the same kind of seat-love with your choice of manual or 4-way power adjusting.
Rear seats are as low to the ground as any in this segment and far less bolstered than the front thrones. In a family sedan this is more a feature than a problem since it makes the middle seat a more pleasant place to spend your time. Despite the sloping profile I was able to fit my six-foot frame into the middle seat without issue, although the 2013 Accord offers noticeably more room in the rear. Because of the differing ways that manufacturers measure rear seat leg room, I recommend you take your whole family with you shopping, stuff them all in the car and see how comfortable everyone is at the same time. Want to know more about the seating and cargo room? Check out the video review.
Infotainment & Gadgets
All models come with the basic SYNC system which offers USB/iDevice and Bluetooth phone integration. As you would expect, power windows and door locks and a perimeter alarm are standard, but few will be buying the base S model since there are zero options. This makes the $23,700 SE model your real starting point with standard XM satellite ratio, six speakers, a power driver’s seat, auto headlamps, body-colored mirrors and the keyless entry keypad that’s been a Ford hallmark for ages.
We also need to talk about My Ford Touch, because if you want to check pretty much any other option box on the Fusion, MyFord Touch needs to be selected first. Want dual-zone climate control, a backup cam, blind spot monitoring, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a 120V outlet, cross traffic alert, etc? The $1,000 MFT option (standard on Titanium) includes the 8-inch control screen in the dash, two 4.2-inch LCDs in the gauge cluster, dual-zone climate control and the backup camera. When MFT landed in 2010, the software had more bugs than a bag of 5-year-old flour. Thankfully, this latest version of MFT is more responsive and less problem prone. The competition has caught up however, with the Altima, Toyota and Honda systems delivering excellent USB/iDevice integration and basic voice commands without the lag and occasional software hiccups. Despite the system’s still-present flaws, MFT is still the sexiest system in this segment and the only one that brings the partial LCD disco-dash to the table. If you want the best in factory entertainment, you should know the 12-speaker Sony branded audio system is only available in the more expensive Titanium.
Automotive gadget dissemination follows a predictable path. The snazziest gadgets, safety features and entertainment concepts are first released by the big players in the luxury segment like BMW, Audi and Mercedes in their most expensive models. The next stop on the technology train is inevitable the mass-market sedan. It therefore shouldn’t surprise you that the Fusion can be had with an impressive list of options from an automated-parking system to adaptive cruise control and an innovative lane departure prevention system. Unlike most of the LDP systems up to this point, the Ford system doesn’t apply the brakes to one side of the car to get you back on track – it simply turns the steering wheel. The system is both slightly creepy and very effective. With the ability to apply more force to keep you in the lane than competing systems, the steering input feels more like a hand on the wheel than a gentle suggestion. If safety is your shtick, it’s worth noting that the Fusion and Accord scored well in the new IIHS small-overlap test while the top-selling Camry and Prius V “are the worst performers of the midsize group.” according to the IIHS.
As options lists go, the Fusion has more gadgets on offer than any of the competition – but it comes at a cost. The Fusion tops out at a fully-loaded AWD price of $38,170, $4,760 more than the most expensive Camry, $3,693 more than the Accord, and $5,730 more than a top-level Altima. As you would expect in such a cut-throat segment, comparing apples-to-apple,s the Fusion is priced very close to its top three competitors.
Compared to the competition, the Fusion has an oddly extensive powertrain lineup. There are four different engines, three transmissions, two hybrid variants and FWD or AWD to choose from. The base 2.5L four-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic are largely carried over from the previous Fusion and good for 175 horses and 175lb-ft of twist. This is the sole engine in the Fusion S and base engine in the Fusion SE. We’re told by Ford that most 2.5L Fusions will be headed to fleets.
Next up is the new to America (and thrice recalled) 1.6L turbo direct-injection Ecoboost engine available with or without start-stop technology and with your choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmissions. Proving yet again that turbos are the replacement for displacement, the 1.6L mill produces more power (178HP) and more torque (184lb-ft) at lower RPMs than the 2.5L while delivering 2 more MPGs in the city and 3 more on the highway.
The sporty option is the 2.0L direct injection turbo which takes the place of a V6 in the Fusion SE and Titanium. With 240HP and 270lb-ft of plateau-like forced-induction torque, you’ll never miss those two cylinders. Should AWD be on your must-have list, be ready to shell out $32,200 because it’s available only on the Titanium. Before you complain about the cost of admission, keep in mind your only other mass-market mid-sized AWD option would be a Subaru. Last up is Ford’s redesigned 188HP hybrid system sporting a 2.0L Atkinson-cycle engine, a Ford-designed hybrid CVT transaxle and your choice of regular hybrid or plug-in battery packs. With this much variety appealing to different shoppers, check back with us when we get our hands on the 2.0L Ecoboost and hybrid models.
The Fusion impressed during the photo shoot and looked unstoppable on the printed spec sheet but none of that would matter if it felt like a wet noodle out on the road. Despite having a decidedly American-sized 112.2-inch wheelbase, it’s obvious Ford’s European division took the lead when it came to the chassis. The result is a ride that is incredibly composed, tight in the corners and as communicative as anything with electric power steering. The surprises continue when you shift your right foot over to find linear brake feel, absolutely no Taurus-like brake fade and short stopping distances.
In an interesting twist, the 6-speed manual is available in the 1.6L Ecoboost equipped SE for the same price as the automatic. As you would expect, this is the same 6-speed transmission found in the Fusion’s Euro twin and has a distinctively German engagement and overall feel. Clutch feel is top-notch as well comparing with the liked of the VW Passat and Jetta. In addition, rowing your own doesn’t have a feature penalty allowing you to still check the self-parking and lane departure prevention option boxes. Don’t get too excited, you can’t get the stick with the 2.0L turbo and AWD and if you opt for MyFord Touch you get a tiny digital tach that’s practically useless. For shame.
The 1.6L Ecoboost engine is fairly smooth and quiet on the outside and, thanks to a dedication to sound proofing, almost unnoticeable on the inside. What you will notice however is the broad torque curve of the diminutive four-banger when passing or hill climbing. During a short drive with the 2.5L engine I was constantly annoyed by the transmission’s up-shift happy nature, but despite the 1.6L’s tranny being programmed the same way it didn’t bug me as much. Why? Because all 184lb-ft are available at 2,500RPM and, thanks to the hair-dryer, 90% of that twist is available from 1,500-5,700RPM. This broad torque curve makes the 1.6L Ecoboost Fusion feel faster than it is with our run to 60 completing in 7.9 seconds, about 9/10ths off my gut estimate. This is considerably faster than the Passat and Malibu but not as fast as the Accord and Altima with their efficient CVTs.
Our tester came with the optional ($295) start/stop system which Ford claims is good for a 10% improvement in city driving and results in a 1MPG improvement in the Fusion’s EPA scores bringing the 1.6L SE up to 24/37/28 MPG (City/Highway/Combined). Ford touts the system as smoother than BMW’s 328 start/stop system and they are right. Of course the reason has as much to do with the smaller displacement as the positioning of the engine (transverse vs longitudinal). The way a transverse engine and the vehicle’s suspension interact when cranking is just different. If you live in a particularly hot climate, don’t expect start/stop to save you much as the engine has to stay running to power the A/C. Unlike our stint in the C-MAX, our Fusion beat the EPA combined score by half an MPG over nearly a thousand miles of mixed driving. With excellent fuel economy, dashing good looks, a quiet cabin, good driving dynamics and the longest option list this side of luxury sedan, the Fusion is not just a viable alternative to the competition, it truly is a game changer. The only problem is the pesky (and seemingly frequent) 1.6L engine recalls. Is that enough for me to take the Fusion off my list? Probably not, but I’d buy the hybrid or the 2.0L Ecoboost model anyway.
Ford provided the vehicle, one tank of gas and insurance for this review
0-30: 2.6 Seconds
0-60: 7.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16 Seconds @ 88.5 MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 28.5MPG over 960 miles