Blue Oval Goes All-In On The Family Sedan War With Style and Variety

2013 Ford Fusion

An Aston Martin Rapide followed us in traffic for nearly 20 minutes immediately after we climbed out of the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion. With the attractive styling of America's latest four-door sedan still very fresh in our mind, we couldn't help but stare as the exotic sedan's distinctive snout filled our rearview mirror. The resemblance was uncanny.

It is no coincidence that Ford's new mid-size sedan shares many styling cues with arguably the world's best-looking four-door sedan – styling motivates sales. But to lead a volume segment, and move in excess of 250,000 units annually, the Fusion must distinguish itself as a leader against best-sellers from Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Chevrolet, Subaru, Mazda, Hyundai and Kia.

Aiming to deliver head-turning styling, utility, value, technology, performance and fuel efficiency in one midsize package, and aligning with its "One Ford" proclamation (a business decision to sell global automotive platforms), Ford crossed the Atlantic for guidance. The result is a fashionable four-door built on a fresh platform with heavy European influence.

2013 Ford Fusion side view2013 Ford Fusion front view2013 Ford Fusion rear view

The all-new second-generation Ford Fusion debuted at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this year. Like most of its competitors, offering multiple powertrains and trim levels, there are many options for the consumer – maybe too many choices. In a nutshell, there are five different models, five different powerplants and two different drivelines all mixed-and-matched beneath one four-door chassis.

In a nutshell, there are five different models, five different powerplants, and two different drivelines.

Ford calls the range's new entry-level models the Fusion S (base price $21,700 plus $795 destination). As this trim is most likely to take up residence among rental car fleets, it is motivated by a returning naturally aspirated 2.5-liter iVCT four-cylinder engine rated at 175 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 175 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. Power is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission (6AT). Standard cloth seats, automatic headlights and 16-inch wheels are more functional than elegant.

The upgraded Fusion SE (base price $23,700 plus $795 destination) may also be configured with that base powertrain. More likely than not, it will be upgraded with a more powerful direct-injected and turbocharged 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder rated at 178 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 184 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm or a direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder rated at 240 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. For those who prefer to row their own gears, a six-speed manual gearbox (6MT) is offered with the 1.6-liter mill. All other engines are mated to the six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive is standard. Other standard equipment at this trim level includes a power-operated driver's seat, rear climate control vents, body-colored exterior trim panels and 17-inch alloy wheels.

2013 Ford Fusion engine

The range-topping Fusion Titanium (base price $30,200 plus $795 destination) is equipped with the 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission as standard equipment, but buyers are offered a choice between front- and all-wheel drive to tackle more challenging climates. The premium trim is configured with standard equipment like dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, push-button start (with remote ignition on the key fob) and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Lastly, the Fusion Hybrid (base price $27,200 plus $795 destination) combines a naturally aspirated Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a permanent magnet AC synchronous motor for a total of 185 horsepower. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive, is standard. (Pricing for the upcoming Fusion Energi, a plug-in version of the Fusion Hybrid expected to arrive in 2013, has not been announced.)

In addition to the aforementioned standard equipment, Ford has placed its voice-activated SYNC with MyFord and AppLink infotainment on all models. Other available technology (offered on most models for a price) includes a rear camera, lane-keeping system, driver alert system, adaptive cruise control, active park assist, pull-drift compensation and blind spot indicator system with cross-traffic alert.

2013 Ford Fusion headlight2013 Ford Fusion grille2013 Ford Fusion wheel2013 Ford Fusion taillight

To differentiate your Fusion from the one in your neighbor's driveway, there are ten different exterior colors (including Ginger Ale, Bordeaux Reserve and Deep Impact Blue) and three interior colors (black, gray and dune). Keeping the family safe, meanwhile, is a long list of safety equipment including dual front airbags, dual front knee airbags, dual front seat-mounted side airbags and side air curtain airbags.

Those counting inches will find the Accord and Passat are both roomier for second row passengers.

Instead of pounding out another two thousand words on equipment, options and packaging, let's cut right to the chase: driving impressions.

Last week, we spent a day in the Los Angeles basin driving two of Ford's new mid-size sedan models: a Fusion SE with the turbocharged 1.6-liter mated to a six-speed manual gearbox and a front-wheel-drive Fusion Titanium with the turbocharged 2.0-liter and automatic transmission (our photo car is an automatic-equipped SE).

While some would incorrectly assume that a midsize sedan slotted below the full-size Taurus but above the compact Focus would be cramped, that simply wasn't the case with the new Fusion. Your author's six-foot, two-inch frame found plenty of room in all four primary seats with generous shoulder and headroom (the fifth seating position, in the middle of the second row, is slightly raised). However, those counting inches will find the Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat roomier for second row passengers.

2013 Ford Fusion interior2013 Ford Fusion front seats2013 Ford Fusion rear seats

The primary instrument cluster is traditional in layout, but a bit more innovative in execution. Standard models, such as our SE 6MT, feature an analog tachometer and an analog speedometer with a multi-function screen situated between the two. Premium models place an analog speedometer in the middle, with multi-function digital gauges on each side (an analog tachometer may be digitally represented on the left part of the panel). The center cluster is also unique, again based on trim and options. Standard models have single-zone climate control, with four ergonomic and easy-to-use round dials; premium models feature a touch-sensitive panel and an integrated fixed color touchscreen at the top (our screen was marred with greasy fingerprints after just an hour). While the base setup was pleasing to the eye, we wished the more expensive of the two consoles was a bit more stylish.

The as-tested price of the Fusion SE we drove was a very reasonable $26,040.

Our test vehicles were both pre-production, meaning fit-and-finish wasn't up to production standards. Nevertheless, we found nearly all of the materials and upholsteries to be of high quality. Nothing glaring caught our attention, although we did find fault with the gloss black trim between the seats (a high use area surrounding the cupholders) as it was already showing fingerprints and surface scratches after just a few thousand miles of use.

First up for driving was a Fusion SE with the 1.6-liter engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission. While it's possible to pour on the options and drive the price of this particular model upwards to nearly $35,000, our sedan was wisely optioned. The interior featured comfortable cloth upholstery and full power accessories, but it was lacking the larger infotainment screen on the center stack. A quick glance at the options list revealed only equipment group 204A (18-inch wheels, rear decklid spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lamps and back-up sensors), bringing the as-tested price to a very reasonable $26,040 (including destination).

2013 Ford Fusion gauges2013 Ford Fusion climate control display2013 Ford Fusion shifter2013 Ford Fusion door speaker

Ford offers an optional start-stop system bundled with some aerodynamic aids with the 1.6-liter 6AT model.

In this rather sporty configuration, the Fusion SE put a smile on our faces. The manual transmission was slick in operation and there was abundant torque at the bottom end to make launching simple (electronic hill-hold made easy work of starting on a slope). The engine willingly ran to redline, buzzing away happily in typical four-cylinder fashion until the next gear was selected. Don't expect a stoplight racer, but power is more than adequate (again, much of the credit goes to the torque, which is the one substitute to cubic inches).

While it was no sports car, the Fusion's European-tuned MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension with stabilizers at each end made easy work of the canyons. Probing the limits, we pushed pretty hard on very familiar roads and could barely get the tires to protest. The lightweight 1.6-liter buried in the nose helps to keep the curb weight low (it is listed at 3,333 pounds) and the sedan felt eager and agile from behind the wheel. The electric steering felt good and the brakes predictable. It didn't take long to realize that we could easily live with this configuration, especially after taking a look at the Ford's fuel economy estimates of 25 mpg city, 37 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined (those numbers drop to 23 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined when mated to the 6AT). It is interesting to note that for those seeking even greater fuel economy, the automaker offers an optional start-stop system bundled with some aerodynamic aids with the 1.6-liter 6AT model, the first application of the fuel-saving technology in a Ford equipped with an automatic-transmission. It is good for another couple miles per gallon, but unfortunately is not available on the 6MT variant.

Autoblog Short Cuts: 2013 Ford Fusion

The hard-working yet diminutive and efficient 1.6-liter is pretty darn good.

Next we jumped behind the wheel of a Fusion Platinum with the 2.0-liter engine and 6AT. With upscale leather upholstery and nearly every option (it lacked the radar-based cruise control), the sticker was a more precious $34,280. There was unquestionably more power going to the front wheels and more attractive exhaust tips under the rear fascia, but it also felt as if it had a lot more mass up front to deal with. We played with the standard paddle shifters, but they didn't heighten the driving experience or seem to make quicker work of acceleration. The heavier sedan was plenty stable (we estimate a curb weight of about 3,550 pounds) but it also felt noticeably less nimble in the corners. Fuel economy expectedly drops with the more powerful engine and slushbox (Ford estimates 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined). While the turbocharged 2.0-liter easily replaces last year's six-cylinder option, after two hours behind the wheel we weren't entirely convinced that it was the better engine – the hard-working yet diminutive and efficient 1.6-liter is pretty darn good.

Both Fusion models are excellent highway cruisers, and not just because they ride well or squeeze bladder-busting miles from each gallon of fuel. The sleek styling cheats the wind with a .27 drag coefficient (a 10-percent improvement over last year's model) and the twin exterior mirrors have been moved to lessen turbulence. The result is a nearly silent passenger compartment at speed; the only noise that permeates the cabin is the familiar buzz of a four-cylinder engine coming through the firewall under heavy acceleration (there is no exhaust note audible from the cabin). Tire noise has also been kept in check, meaning all passenger conversations can be comfortably kept at low living room levels.

2013 Ford Fusion rear 3/4 view

Ford has completely side-stepped the pack with a five-passenger sedan that is both really exciting to look at and genuinely fun to drive.

Back at the hotel, we mulled over the segment and tried to figure out exactly where the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion fit in its particular universe. More specifically, how does it compare to the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, Subaru Legacy, Mazda Mazda6, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima? Even though we have spent countless hours in each of these vehicles, it became nearly impossible to stack rank the segment without physically comparing each in similar trim with equivalent powertrains – something we had no access to.

But we did come to a conclusion, mostly after reminding ourselves that the mid-size family sedan segment has largely been bland and boring for decades ("styling" to many of these automakers has meant nothing more than rearranging the lights on the fascia and "sport packages" are chock full of useless cosmetic goodies). We are pointing out the obvious when we say that most of the sedans in this segment have evolved into dull five-passenger appliances.

Ford's solution, while not particularly pioneering in any one particular area, arrives as a welcome surprise. Instead of just pushing the bar up in anticipation of the competition's next move, it has completely side-stepped the pack with a five-passenger sedan that is both really exciting to look at and genuinely fun to drive. The all-new 2013 Fusion possesses authentic European dynamics, class-leading technological innovation and mold-breaking stylish flair. Last year's Fusion was plenty good, but its all-new successor appears bold enough to chart its own course out of a traditionally lifeless category.