In style and stance, the Ford Fusion has a sporting, fun-to-drive spirit not normally associated with workaday, midsize Japanese or American cars. The Fusion, rather, has the cues of a finely conceived European sedan gone global.
The Fusion was substantially restyled for 2010, but there are a couple of noteworthy exterior changes for 2011. Cars not equipped with BLIS blind-spot warning electronics add beveled blind-spot mirrors that expand the view over the driver's shoulders. The 2011 Fusion Sport has a larger, even more aggressive grille and other subtle styling tweaks.
Fusion's front-end design, beginning with a bold, three-bar chrome grille and racecar-like chrome-trimmed intakes at the bottom corners of the nose, has a muscular confidence that makes you take a second, more interested, look. Not often in the past 10 or 15 years has a mainstream American midsize elicited that.
The sinuousness continues through the carefully raised modeling of the hood, implying that what lies beneath is something genuinely worthy. The Fusion's flanks are accented by gleaming streaks of chrome, delivering both a dynamically fresh appearance and excellent aerodynamic efficiency. Its coefficient of drag, aided by underbody airflow tuning, is a low 0.32, helping to reduce wind noise and achieve higher fuel mileage.
Given the conservative looks of primary competitors like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Fusion's styling makes a statement all its own. Indeed, Honda has taken a Fusion-inspired tact with its latest styling update for the Accord.
Ford designers have combined graceful styling with practicality in another way. The Fusion's high-bustled three-box design delivers a tall trunk space, but maintains an easy lift-over height. An acoustically laminated windshield, thick front-door glass and double or triple sealing gaskets help reduced interior noise. Ford's capless fuel-filler is great, with no cap to unscrew when you pull up to the pump.
Fusion's wheel options range up to 18 inches in diameter, with multiple choices for varied tastes. There are painted, machined and full-polished options in several patterns, but even the standard plastic covers look decent.
From the base model to those to loaded with features, the Ford Fusion is comfortable and quiet, with nothing that seems excessively cheap. Measured by interior layout and interaction between driver and machine, it's one of the best cars in its class.
The driver is greeted by a sequence that almost makes it seem as if the Fusion is coming to life. Gauge needles sweep back and forth as the interior lighting and chimes come on. The optional ambient lighting system subtly illuminates the footwells and front cup holders in a choice of colors.
One of our test cars was upholstered with handsome black leather. The Luxury Package in particular, new for 2011, has a rich, quality feel, but even the base upholstery is appealing. The seats have contrasting piping and inserts with a different print scheme. The fabric seems easy to clean and sturdy but not burlap utilitarian. Black pebble-grain texture on the dash gives things a well-furnished glow, and the plastic dash trim has a nice, metallic silver finish. The weak link might be the vinyl at the top of the door panels. It's soft to the touch, but a hint too shiny.
The driver's seat has decent lateral and lumbar support and proper elevation at the cushion's front to inhibit submarining (slipping forward under the belts) in hard stops. A sturdy chrome-trimmed shifter provides a businesslike grip. Storage space for odds and ends is not a Fusion high point, other cars in this class offer more.
The steering wheel features cruise control buttons on the left side of the hub, audio and media controls on the right, and they're far enough away from typical hand placement points to avoid accidental radio station changes. Switches are neither showy nor cheap, with a straightforward utility appropriate to this car. The arrangement is aesthetically appealing, and we'd call it one of the most effective designs in midsize sedans.
The Sony audio upgrade delivers gorgeous sound, and better still, is adjusted by genuine knobs, rather than push-and-hold buttons. The most effective way to tune a sound system is with a radial knob, particularly when underway and especially on a rough road.
Ford's SYNC system has finally been fully integrated with the optional navigation system. The navigation system is straightforward, and one of the easiest to use. SYNC easily pairs phones and audio devices with the car, allowing voice control for both. With the nav system, SYNC provides a comprehensive communication network that allows the driver to track storms, place hands-free calls, find a movie start time, locate the cheapest gas, and more.
The Fusion Hybrid is equipped with instrumentation not found in any gas-engine version. The Hybrid's so-called EcoGuide information system flanks the center-mounted speedometer with two LCD panels, communicating what the powertrain is doing, how it's doing it, and how, in real time, you can optimize its fuel efficiency.
Pushing a couple of buttons, you select between four different formats. Learning the distinctions between Inform Mode, Enlighten Mode, Engage Mode, and Empower Mode takes a moment, but if you're driving a hybrid, you're likely to want the best from your system. And as annoying and intimidating as some digital systems can be, we found that within 10 minutes driving, thanks to the tutorial nature of EcoGuide, we were already using the throttle pedal to effectively stretch our mileage. Think of EcoGuide as an automotive video game. It's actually fun.
The air conditioning, which on the Hybrid runs directly off the battery pack (so there's no power-sapping belt drag on the engine), was cool and powerful.
Rear seating is conventional for this class, which is to say, so-so. Space is competitive, but there are no interesting little features that set it apart. The seats are nearly flat and minimally cushioned. The two outside seats have a hint of lateral support, while the passenger in the center rear would be well advised to negotiate an upgrade. Headroom is reasonably good in back, given the downward taper of the roofline, but leave the fedora in your Bentley.
A big trunk adds to the utility. With 16.5 cubic feet of volume, the Fusion ranks near the top of the class and surpasses both the Toyota Camry (15 cubic feet) and Honda Accord (14). All Fusions past the least expensive model come with a split-folding rear seat. It expands cargo space and makes bulky items easier to maneuver by providing access through the rear side doors.
In the Hybrid model, the battery pack encroaches into the truck space, reducing it by nearly a third, to 11.8 cubic feet. That still equals the trunk space in a Honda Civic or the typical compact sedan.