According to the “Infinite Monkey Theorem”, if you lock three monkeys in a room with typewriters for infinity, eventually they will produce Hamlet. By the same measure, should you lock three engineers in a room for infinity, eventually they will produce the perfect car. Ford has seemingly absorbed this philosophy through their European division, however, as most theorems go, instead of a the perfect car, they produced “Aston Martin Rapide part Deux, the Budget Restrained Sequel”.
The previous generation Euro Ford Mondeo 2.2 TDCi Titanium set up my expectations for the latest Ford Fusion/Mondeo when I flogged it around the Nurburgring in about 9 minutes. Capable, comfortable, attractive, and well screwed together, the Mondeo was the best car to wear the wrong badge. So now comes an even better looking, and supposedly even more capable version to both shores of the Atlantic (according to Ford). So does the Budget Restrained Sequel to the Aston Martin Rapide (or BRSAMR according to my Blackhawk pilot mentor, Lt. Col Mary Bell) match or exceed the high precedent set forth by the engineers in Cologne, Germany? Well, ja und nein.
At first glance, the BRSAMR looks gorgeous. The designers nailed the classic flowing lines coupled with a gigantic grill in near perfect proportions. The grill and headlights assemblies are remarkably well integrated, especially next to the nearly similar sized Taurus: making the Big Bull Barge look dated. Euro creases down the side with a fastback rear complete the effect of looking fast while standing still. But look closer. Ford sweated the details: the creases merge and flow in incredibly complex ways that make nearly every angle interesting to look at, with surprise and delight to behold. For example, the center high-mounted brake light: instead of slapping it inside the rear glass, Ford designers and engineers made a relief in the glass, a unique element for the brakelight that merges into the roof. It provides a slight spoiler effect for the rear. This is functional, cleans up the air flow, and looks interesting. If they put that much thought into the brake light, that speaks volumes to the rest of the car…hopefully…
But it looks like an Aston Martin rip-off you say. Well…yes, and I welcome it. That’s like complaining Kiera Knightley looks too much like Natalie Portman. We need more beauty in this world, not more Malibus. Yet, the rear spoiler needs more elegant integration and when staring up close, the vertical front grill is massive. While it shall make a great zombie ram (take note Walking Dead producers, ditch Hyundai, you want the Fusion), I wonder how well pedestrians in crowded cities fare when the driver fails to look up while adjusting that MyFord Touch stereo.
Inside, the Fusion delights and surprises almost as much as the outside. I said almost…the dash swoops between the front passengers hiding a cavernous storage hole and elevating the multimedia interface within easy reaching distance of the driver and passenger. But what’s this? Fake wood on the door panels and dash? FAKE WOOD?!? Or is it tortoiseshell a’la Chrysler Sebring circa 2008. I can’t quite tell as the panels are small, and the sparkly element fails like a Twilight vampire. All I could ascertain was it was plastic, and unwelcome. Brushed aluminum, or even silver plastic would have worked wonders here…but I’m paid to criticize, not design, so Ford guys…fix this.
The other ergonomic foible that drove me up batty was the location of the manual shift mode buttons. The Toyota Camry had well placed paddles behind the wheel. The BRSAMR has a rocker switch on the side of the shift lever placed at a bizarre angle, while made of not the stoutest feeling plastic ever. This ergonomic misstep left me awkwardly angling my wrist to the point I left the BRSAMR in ‘Sport,’ hoping the magic transmission angel’s controlled shift logic avoided behaviors of a demon spawn. It wasn’t successful, but managed to remain on the level of annoying street preacher and not Westboro Baptist Church. Yet when pushed, the transmission snapped off shifts and downshifted in corners like a wizard. I guess it likes torture and not sedation. BDSM followers take note.
I shall now point out that the Fusion SE with the 1.6L turbo comes in manual. But I will only point it out, as the BRSAMR does not need it, nor will it add much to the enjoyment of the car. As I shall now explain, stay with me padawans.
The Fusion grips, steers and flows with aplomb… for such a large car. The steering feels a bit dead on center, but once past that, the wheel is accurate, well weighted, and precise. Turn into a corner, and the Fusion grips with minimal understeer, while giving decent feedback through the tiller. It’s possible to alter your line mid-corner without much drama, but then, the BRSAMR is heavy. You feel the suspension working overtime like a fat dude at Zumba. Body roll remains limited, but the alacrity in turn transition is just not there. The brakes stop, but the initial travel felt a bit vague as the big car tries to slow down. It makes commuting easier as you can lazily stomp on it with no finesse, but you are not driving a Focus, and you know it.
Ride quality remains good with firm, damped responses, although the optional larger wheels on my tester transmitted surface irregularities a bit more than I liked. Stick with the stock wheels. You aren’t fooling anyone that you are driving an expensive car, and if you are concerned about that, buy an old Lincoln for cheap, and get some 22’s… so you can indeed be ‘different’.
Overall, the Fusion was fun when pushed, but only just. Climbing back into my Audi A4 only compounded this impression. I wouldn’t mind trying to flog the Fusion, but I wouldn’t seek out any twisties just because I could.
Oh yeah, I forgot… the engine. Well, I heard something under the hood, but it was so smooth and quiet, I kinda forgot it was there. So did the acceleration curve. At 170bhp and minimal turbo lag, the engine proves adequate, if not mind blowing acceleration. It keeps the excitement down to levels where a Mormon girlfriend won’t leave you for the guy in the Camry, but won’t leave you trying to outgun the hipster in the diesel Golf.
So what IS the Fusion/Mondeo/BRSAMR? It’s simply the best looking, and nearly the most capable mid/full-sized sedan on the market. The Accord drives better. The KIA/Hyundai twins do the same for a bit cheaper, and the Malibu provides subprime financing fodder. Yet I give the Fusion the nod, as it looks good, drives well for a commuter, and has little things that remind you that cars should have character. Now Ford, make an SHO version…but don’t call it the ‘Rapide’.