As is sometimes the case at press events, the VW Full Line Drive whence we gathered these Intramural League driving impressions had a few “competitive vehicles” included as well. The idea is that you drive the featured car back-to-back with the competitor. Having done that, you consider the merits of the respective vehicles, and you consider who paid for your hotel room, and you write the test accordingly. Volkswagen had a wide variety of “competitive vehicles” they could have chosen for the Passat and CC which, so far, have taken fourth and fifth place in our feature. The Malibu, the Accord, the Camry. The car they chose was a brand-new, $27,000, Fusion SE Ecoboost.
I’m not sure that was a good idea.
Turns out the Fusion isn’t just a good reason not to buy a Lincoln MKZ; against the Passat/CC two-punch combo from Chattanooga and Emden it acquits itself remarkably well. Since VW paid for my hotel room, however, I’ll tell you what I didn’t like about said Fusion right away and perhaps the nice PR people will stop reading there and invite me back for next year. So here we go: the combination of the 1.6 Ecoboost and the GM/Ford combo six-speed torque-converter automatic completely, utterly, totally fails to impress. Had I taken the shortest drive loop available, which most of the journalists did, I think I might have come back with the sole impression that both VW big-sedan powerplants — the 1.8TSI and the 2.0T — bitch-slap the Fusion all the way to Hermosillo. There’s a noticeable difference between the 1.6 Ecoboost and the 1.8TSI in throttle response, motive power, and flexibility, and that difference is not in the Ford’s favor. That’s right: the Passat rocks the Fusion all the way through any street race you might care to run.
All VW fans should now stop reading the review and go read that thing we put up about the MRAP yesterday that has so many jimmies rustled at the moment. Thanks for stopping by! See you later today with the second-place finisher from the Intramurals!
Are they gone? Let’s run another Fusion picture to throw them off.
Okay. Coast is clear. So the Passat and CC are faster. That’s pretty much all they’ve got going for them. Over the same mountain drive loop I ran in the CC and Passat, the Fusion completely dominated the plus-size Volkswagens. Shall I count the ways?
#1: NVH. The Fusion is quieter than any Volkswagen save for the Phaeton. It practically oozes premium feel in much the same way that the CC does not. The same bumps that rattled the windows almost out of the CC’s frames were distant thuds in the Ford; the repaired pavement that sounded like a steel drum band in the Passat was not entirely discernible from behind the Fusion’s steering wheel. My audio notes tell me that the Ford’s stereo is better. Is it? Probably not, but the noise floor is so much lower in the Mex-American car it’s possible to actually enjoy said stereo more. It’s relaxing and pleasant to drive.
#2: Interior. The Fusion has the distinct look of a car that was engineered from the ground up in the twenty-first century. It’s stylish and made from interesting materials and it’s quite modern. Next to this, the CC looks ancient and the Passat looks dowdy. The seats are positively brilliant and they look the proverbial business as well. Once you internalize how the various Ford infotainment systems work, you’ll enjoy a much broader set of features than you would in the Volkswagens. Don’t forget the fact that the Fusion has two LCD screens in the instrument panel, multi-configurable and chock full of interesting information.
To be fair, VW buyers aren’t interested in stuff like that and they never have been. The only “gimmick” standard-issue Volkswagens ever really had was the shift light on the dash. Hell, my Fox had one turn signal indicator in the instrument panel. It was a single exposed green LED. “Volkswagen,” I used to intone primly to my uncaring passengers, “assumes, perhaps alone in this industry, that its customer base is intelligent enough to know which direction of turn it has selected.” Admit it: there’s something cool about that. But there’s also something cheap about that. The Passat and CC feel cheap next to the Fusion. That’s okay. What’s not okay is:
#3: Dynamics. The Fusion has real brakes that really work and really inspire confidence, despite being the porky pig of this bunch. It has overall grip limits that slightly shade the CC and it communicates better through the wheel. It’s properly damped. You can hustle it and it consistently managed to post similar speeds between corners despite having less engine than the Passat by a fair amount. It feels more like a traditional German Autobahn car than the German cars here. If the Passat is the Dasher or Quantum reincarnate, with light steering and plenty of intrusion from the road everywhere you feel or hear, then the Fusion has the hefty arrogance of an E39 BMW, smothering the road and delivering accurate but low-amplitude information through the control surfaces. If you race a Passat for pink slips in a straight line, you’ll walk home. If, on the other hand, you bring it to a mountain over Tokyo to face the “Drift King” and DK is driving a Passat, chances are you’re going to have Sonny Chiba tell you that you’re allowed to stay in Tokyo and date the hot Eurasian chick.
So those are the three primary ways in which the Fusion is superior to the Passat and CC. Let’s check the sticker price:
It’s more car for less money. Let me slip on my dusty old VW Fanboy Knit Cap and point out that FORD MAKES THE FUSION SOUTH OF THE BORDER IN A CONVERTED HENHOUSE WHILE THE CC IS ASSEMBLED BY FORMER ME262 STURMVOGEL PILOTS IN EMDEN TO STANDARDS OF CARE AND MATERIAL THAT FORD’S “EL POLLO LOCO” FACTORY WILL NEVER ACHIEVE. Also something about how the girls working on the line in Tennessee in their zipperless outfits will probably break your heart, given a chance. I’m being hyperbolic but there’s something to it: if you want a car assembled in Europe, it will cost you more money and you should be prepared to pay more money. Period. Ford saves money by assembling the car in a NAFTA wage-free, I mean, free-trade zone. With that said, if you’re careful when you shop you should be able to get a Flat Rock one now. Many of the parts, however, will still be sourced from places where “fifteen dollars an hour” isn’t a prospective McDonald’s wage but rather the combined take-home pay of a working family of four.
This is also the part of the review where our readers will think to themselves, “Yeah, Ford. Right. I read Consumer Reports, too.” Okay, but the competition here is from Volkswagen. Too bad they didn’t have a Trabant and a ’96 Range Rover at the event so we could put it all in true perspective. If you want to be more or less certain that your new car will still run fifteen years from now, you might not want to fall in love with any of the vehicles under discussion.
Still. Imagine you’ve set the time machine to 1994. Your local Ford dealer has the Tempo and the facelift Taurus for sale. After looking at both of them, you stop by the VW dealer to check out the Passat VR6. Just consider the difference there, in handling, dynamics, materials quality, sheer curb appeal, snob appeal. Now get out of the time machine and sit in both the Fusion and the Passat. Which one feels like the upscale, expensive, luxurious car? Which one has more desire attached to it?
Face it: Ford’s on the move, while VW sits still.