$17,145 - $21,710

Expert Review:Autoblog

2006 Ford Fusion SEL I4 Manual

Is this Déjà vu? Hasn't the Ford Fusion already occupied a spot in the Autoblog Garage? Am I going crazy?

You may be asking yourself these questions, and while we're not qualified to pass judgment on your sanity we can confirm that indeed we've spent time with the Ford Fusion before. That model, however, was equipped with a 3.0L V6 and six-speed automatic. What we have for you today is the first Fusion's less powerful (160-hp vs. 220 hp) and less expensive ($22,180 vs. $25,795) twin packing a 2.3L I4 and five-speed manual. Both are the top end SEL models with nearly every option, so we'll be focusing on what's different in the I4 Manual model and going over some things we didn't have a chance to mention the first time around.

While we would've liked a car we haven't had before, we tend not to look a gift horse in the mouth (what does that mean, anyway?), especially during these lean times before the auto show season starts. So let's begin…

The real difference between this Fusion and the one we reviewed earlier is the engine and transmission, and we’re going to over what the I4 and manual 5-speed have to offer in the next post. Right now we’ll take a little time to focus on some things about the future that we weren’t able to the first time around. They’re the small stuff we usually never get to in a review because there’s not enough space for them.

2006 Ford Fusion SEL I4 ManualThe dash and center stack have seemingly been as polarizing a feature of the Fusion as the car’s exterior. Many say the dash looks like it was lifted from an F-150, and others say “So what?” The F-150 dash is considered a paragon of truck interiors, although in the Fusion there exists a disconnect between the sum of the parts and the parts themselves. The squareness of the radio and the HVAC controls being exiled to the bottom are a bid odd. At least in the design of the center stack it feels like decisions were made not according to design aesthetic but something else. Regardless, we praise the Fusion for its two-stage seat warmers and heated mirrors, both of which have come in handy so far.

2006 Ford Fusion SEL I4 Manual

As an automotive journalist we try to stay objective and judge the overall impression of a vehicle, but as a consumer I tend to get sidetracked and pin the entire judgment of a vehicle on one small detail. For the Fusion it’s the turn-signal stalk, located on the left of the steering wheel, which also contains controls for the wipers. This is a meaty stalk and though it plays a relatively small part in the overall collective, it’s one that’s in constant contact with the driver and reinforces the idea that the Fusion’s built well and with premium materials. I call it the “infant-stalk” because I seriously believe you could hang an infant on it by his onesy and it would hold (don’t try that at home, please).

2006 Ford Fusion SEL I4 ManualThough we’re not talking about the Fusion I4’s performance today, we will talk about the medium through which the driver controls that performance – the stick. Grasping the five-speed feels like holding a baseball in your hand, as the leather head is almost as big and round as one. The shifter’s action is a bit notchy but it’s not loose. The stick doesn’t jiggle around much in place but rather has a defined track of movement. While we wouldn’t call the shifter smooth, its tightness is an almost welcome surprise in a family sedan where a shifter’s gate often feels like Jell-O.

The next time we speak we’ll be going over the meat and potatoes of this Fusion, it’s engine and manual transmission. Is it more than enough for most people or are the 3.0L V6 and six-speed auto worth their price of admission?

2006 Ford Fusion SEL I4 Manual

We've spent the entire week with the 2006 Ford Fusion I4 Manual and we've come away with the same impression as we did with its V6 sibling. The Fusion with either powerplant is a family car with a heaping helping of fun thrown on its plate, like peas and carrots with a side of cookie dough ice cream. With this model the lack of power (160 hp vs. 220 hp) is somewhat offset by the fact you get to row your own gears, but is the top of the line SEL with a four-cylinder powerplant a smart choice? Let's see…

2006 Ford Fusion SEL I4 Manual

First let’s talk about how the I4 coupled with its 5-speed manual performed. As mentioned, the fact that the power of gear selection is left to your own mental faculties instead of the car’s onboard computer makes driving more fun in any car. Manual gear selection is a skill in which one can take pride, almost a dying art in this day and age, so the fact the I4 can be had with a standard shift while the V6 model cannot is a big plus. At some point in the near future the four-cylinder model will also get the choice of a 5-speed automatic, although it’s listed on Ford’s website as “late availability”.

While a sense of speed is present in this version of the Fusion, the actual speed really isn’t. Many times I caught myself at a light feeling like I had gotten the jump on my pretend competitor in the next lane, only to have him in his Impala effortlessly pull away. The 2.3L four-cylinder is backed by 156 lb-ft. of torque, which is spread as thin as butter on toast across the power band. The I4 Fusion SEL is, however, 179 lbs. lighter than the V6 SEL, which was not lost on us as we chucked the car through some corners and on ramps. Again, despite the four-cylinder being down on power the car’s excellent chassis and lower weight contribute to a decent sense of speed. All of which is to say that this model is just as fun to drive as the V6 SEL, but in a totally different way.

2006 Ford Fusion SEL I4 Manual

After spending some time with the I4 SEL we couldn’t help but regret that we hadn’t snagged a base I4 S model. Nearly everything about the two SEL models is identical except for the engine and transmission. The suspension, wheels and brakes are all the same here as on the version we already reviewed. Both models we’ve driven were also optioned to the hilt, which ballooned their prices into a range well above $20K. Our I4 SEL that came with the optional Safety and Security package ($595), SEL Premium package ($395), heated front seats ($295), anti-lock brakes ($595), leather seating ($895) and Audiophile sound system ($420) stickered at $22,180. That’s more money than the V6 SEL’s base price ($21,710). Jettison all the options on the SEL I4 and you get its base price, a much more palatable $18,985. We’re guessing that a loaded SEL I4 like our tester will be the least sold Fusion, with more models being sold at the higher end with a V6 and lower end with few options.

Of course, there may be those out there who see the Fusion SEL I4’s combination of above average handling, convincing sense of speed and better gas mileage as reason enough to choose it over the V6 model. The two cars both do well on the EPA mileage cycle, however, with the I4 returning 23 city/31 highway and the V6 returning 21 city/29 highway. If you’re like us, chances are you’ll be enjoying the manual transmission in this family sedan way too much to ever hit the I4’s mileage numbers, though.

2006 Ford Fusion SEL I4 Manual

What we’d really like to know is whether the base Fusion I4 S is really a bargain at $17,795 or a stripped-to-the-bone version of the two sedans we’ve already driven. As for this tale of two SELs, we can say that in the end they’re about even in our book. You get more power and a slick tranny in the V6 model but less weight and a chance to row your own boat with the I4. You can pick your poison and wouldn’t go wrong with either, although we’d still probably opt for the V6 version because its larger displacement makes for a less labored engine under the hood. Part of the I4’s sense of speed can be traced directly back to the more hurried and raucous sound of all four pots pumping wildly in front of you.

We’ll close the book on the Fusion for now and wait patiently with our hands folded for a future date with another relative – the Lincoln Zephyr – and the arrival of Ford’s new 250-hp, 3.5L V6. Then we’re going to have to do this all over again. Sheesh.

All-new midsize sedan seems rock-solid.


It's tough to imagine that a decade ago Ford sold the best selling car in the U.S. Back in the 1990s, sales of the Ford Taurus eclipsed those of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. 

Then the market shifted to trucks and SUVs and it seemed like Ford abandoned the car market. Sales of the Ford Explorer skyrocketed. The Taurus slumped and was relegated to the rental car fleets. People who wanted a mid-size sedan bought Japanese cars. 

Ford is now determined to regain its footing in the car market. The Ford Fusion just may be the right answer and just in the nick of time. In any case, Ford appears to have done its homework. 

Based on the highly praised Mazda6 sedan, the Fusion is a rock solid entry at a decent price. It handles well, looks purposeful and delivers good value for the money. 


The 2006 Ford Fusion was launched with front-wheel drive, but an all-wheel-drive version will be available later in calendar year 2006. The mid-size, four-door sedan comes with the choice of two engines, three transmissions, and three trim levels. 

All trim levels come standard with a 2.3-liter 160-horsepower four-cylinder Duratec engine coupled to a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional ($1,095). 

The Fusion S ($17,345) comes standard with air conditioning, four-wheel disc brakes, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power door locks with remote keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, AM/FM stereo with four speakers and a single CD/MP3 player. 

The SE adds a six-way power driver seat, two additional speakers, redundant speed and audio controls on the steering wheel, dual illuminated mirrors in the sun visors and carbon fiber center stack applique. 

The SEL adds fog lamps, 17-inch wheels, automatic temperature control, upgraded wood or piano black interior trim, premium six-disc in-dash CD/MP3 player, leather wrapped steering wheel and an analog clock. 

A 3.0-liter V6 engine producing 221 horsepower coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission is available for the SE and SEL. (No manual transmission is offered with the V6.)

Leather seating is optional and a power moonroof is available. 

Safety features include optional side curtain airbags for head protection in both roads, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for thorax protection for the front seats, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and traction control. 


The Ford Fusion actually has presence, amazing in a segment where most cars blend in. Some people like the aggressive, angular look, some don't. 

It starts with the large headlights that rise up into the top edge of the front fender, which features a crisp fold along the top edge that runs all the way back along the edge of the roof to the trunk. Three thick chrome bars across the grille also make the car look more upmarket than its pricing might suggest. The front bumper almost disappears as there are two chrome strips below it that match the ones on the grille. 

The Fusion has a wide track, which makes it stand out on the freeway when viewed from behind. A high trunk line and large triangular taillight clusters with chrome trim give the rear end a classy look, not unlike some newer Cadillacs. 

Overall, the Fusion is slightly smaller than the Taurus it replaces, but it has much the same dimensions as its competitors. Although the Fusion shares the same basic floorpan as the Mazda 6 its wheelbase is two inches longer and it is an inch or so wider. Ford also says it is a stiffer bodyshell than the Mazda6, which is good. 


In keeping with its European influence, Ford has chosen to go with the soft touch for surface materials, which is expected in a luxury car but not in a mass-market car. 

The dashboard is a straightforward design that runs horizontally across the car's width with just a binnacle above the instrument pod. It contains four small gauges that are easy to read as they are separated from each other rather than overlapping and the figures are in a large font. Decent sized control buttons for the radio and climate controls should please everyone. 

The center stack is simple, but nothing to write home about. The car we drove had a dark charcoal interior so everything was finished in black. The optional two-tone interior, especially the dark stone and camel with faux wood trim looks more inviting. 

A convenient storage bin on top of the dashboard features a large clamshell lid and it's big enough to hold a phone or small camera as well as maps and the like. The center console, door pockets, and front seatback pockets provide additional storage. 

Rear-seat passengers will find a decent amount of leg room with nicely shaped front seatbacks that allow for plenty of foot space. Head and leg room measurements don't put the Fusion at the top of its class, but the back seat feels roomier than the numbers suggest. 

The Fusion has a good-size trunk with a flat floor and low lift over. The scissor-type hinges avoid the annoyance of luggage being crushed by gooseneck hinges. All Fusion models include a 60/40 split rear seatback, which allows for a generous amount of pass-through space. 

Driving Impression

The Mazda6 and Ford Focus have established themselves as class-leading cars when it comes to handling. Ford openly admits that it's taken these traits from the two cars to make sure the Fusion inherits the same attributes. Judging by our all-too-brief test drive in a V6-powered Fusion SEL we can say they have succeeded. 

On the road, the Ford Fusion feels bigger than it looks, but it handled curvy mountain roads above Hollywood with ease. The rack-and-pinion steering was precise with just the right amount of weight to make the driver feel connected to the road without being twitchy. 

In the past, a car that handled well often came with a stiff ride. That's certainly not the case with the Fusion. Its long wheelbase and wide track puts the four wheels at the corners for good handling and a better ride. The front suspension is a short/long arm design while the rear wheels are anchored through a multi-link setup. Improved bushings and hydraulic engine mounts keep vibration and road noise to a minimum. 

The 221-horsepower V6 engine provides enough power, although the Fusion will not likely be mistaken for a sports sedan. According to Ford's own tests the Fusion can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 8 seconds, a reasonable performance though not as quick as the V6 versions of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. 

The six-speed automatic transmission is very smooth. Shift into Drive and it works well. However, drivers who want more control won't find it here. Shifting from D to L only locks out fifth and sixth gears. Also, there's no indicator showing the driver what gear it's in at any given moment and around town it's difficult to tell by feel. 

The Fusion V6 manages 29 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA. That's quite respectable for a V6 and the four-cylinder model with the five-speed manual betters this figure by a couple of miles per gallon. 

We have not yet had the opportunity to try a Fusion with a four-cylinder engine. Considering the improved performance, smoother six-speed automatic transmission and almost identical fuel consumption, the V6 model is probably the best value for most buyers. Because of this, Ford expects more than half of Fusion buyers will opt for the V6 models. 


The new Ford Fusion combines the best features of a great European economy car with those a sporty Japanese sedan. The Fusion offers the sporty handling of the Mazda 6 and the value and comfort of the Ford Focus. Safety features are optional, however. 

New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie filed this report from Hollywood, California. 

Model Lineup

Ford Fusion S ($17,345); SE ($18,760); SEL ($19,845); SE V6 ($20,625); SEL V6 ($21,710). 

Assembled In

Hermosillo, Mexico. 

Options As Tested

Safety and Security Package (side air curtain, side impact airbags, anti-theft alarm); ABS; Traction Assist; Premium Package ($2,575) includes heated mirrors, elctrochromatic rearview mirror, compass, auto headlamps. 

Model Tested

Ford Fusion SEL ($21,710). 

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