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.

<a class=2006 Ford Fusion SEL I4 Manual" src="" align="right" border="1" height="333" hspace="4" vspace="4" width="250" />The 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?

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