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During Ford's 2008 model year preview they set up an autocross course on their vehicle dynamics area and provided a lineup of three Ford Fusions, a Mercury Milan and a Lincoln MKZ to toss around. After a reconaissance lap with a Ford staffer at the wheel, we were allowed two laps in each vehicle. In the twenty five minutes we had allotted I only had time to try the Milan and two different Fusions.

The available Milan and one of the Fusions were both equipped with the older 3.0L Duratec V-6 and all-wheel-drive. The second Fusion was a front wheel drive 2.3L automatic model with the new Sport Appearance package. The new package adds red inserts in the seats on the inside and a small lip spoiler on the trailing edge of the trunk lid. Out front the three bar grille gets a darker black-chrome finish and most importantly, each corner gets an 18" machined aluminum wheel.

Continue after the jump for driving impressions and video.



Modern midsize sedans such as the Fusion and its siblings have achieved a remarkable level of refinement and performance compared to their ancestors of only two decades ago. Something like a mid-eighties Tempo would roll and wallow through a slalom and plow right through the decreasing radius corner that was part of the course. All three of the samples I drove had well-controlled body roll and only mild understeer.

The steering didn't have a lot of feel but was nicely weighted and had no slop. Through the slalom and lane change the cars all responded briskly to steering inputs. All three cars were equipped automatic transmissions, the four-cylinder getting five forward speeds and the V6 engines getting six. Compared to the Saturn Aura Green Line I tested recently, the shifts were always smooth and seamless. In the Fusion/Milan the older 3.0L seems much more at home than in the larger Five Hundred, so waiting until next year for the 3.5L that 's now standard in the Lincoln MKZ won't be as much of a problem.

Mated to the automatic, the four-banger definitely struggles more and makes its presence felt when pushed. Until the SVT sets its sights on the Fusion, those who prefer a more sporting drive without sacrificing too much fuel economy might want to opt for the four-cylinder/manual gearbox combination with the Sport Appearance Package and it's eighteen inch wheels.




OVERVIEW

AWARD-WINNING FORD FUSION OFFERS MORE CHOICE, MORE STANDARD FEATURES FOR 2008

* More Safety. Anti-lock brakes and Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) are now standard on all models for 2008.
* More Convenience. Reverse Sensing System becomes an option and a convenient keyless entry keypad is now standard on all SEL models.
* More Connectivity. Ford Sync™ hands-free in-car communications and entertainment system fully integrates mobile phones and media players into the vehicle (late availability).
* More Choices. A new Sport Appearance Package, five new exterior color options and available ambient lighting (late availability) are all new for 2008.

Ford Fusion stands apart in the highly competitive mid-size car segment with a bold, distinctive design and segment-leading quality, safety and affordability. With first-in-class available all-wheel drive (AWD) and a powerful 3.0-liter V-6 engine, it is no wonder that more consumers are choosing the Ford Fusion.

For 2008, Fusion adds a standard anti-lock brake system (ABS) and Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), underscoring Ford's commitment to delivering more standard safety features across its entire product lineup. Fusion also offers total connectivity with Ford Sync™ (late availability). This Ford-exclusive, hands-free technology enables the integration of cell phones and portable media players into the vehicle's audio system via Bluetooth technology and USB connectivity.

Other features newly available for 2008 include Reverse Sensing System, keyless entry keypad and ambient lighting (late availability).

Fusion is a car built for comfort and convenience. Available all-wheel drive (AWD) provides responsive handling for enhanced driver confidence while standard Variable Cam Timing aids in performance. Stylish, premium interior materials create a relaxed ride, and newly available ambient lighting lends flair to the interior.

Fusion completes the Ford family of cars, settling between the award-winning Focus and Taurus, both all-new for 2008. Fusion is available in S, SE and SEL trims. All Fusions are built in Ford's Hermosillo Stamping and Assembly Plant in Mexico.

Fusion Dials Up the Style for 2008
Fusion brings style to the often bland mid-size car segment. With its signature chrome three-bar grille, Fusion makes a strong, all-American statement.

Fusion's interior is inviting and comfortable with high-quality appeal. Convenience features like grocery hooks in the trunk and the fold-down passenger front seat on SE and SEL are small touches with big impact. New ambient lighting (late availability) makes the Fusion even more distinctive.

Fusion's signature exterior design includes:

* The family face. The signature three-bar grille, also featured on the Ford Edge, Ford Taurus and 2009 Ford Flex crossovers, graces the Fusion's front fascia.
* An athletic and confident appearance. Sleek lines running along the sides draw the eye back to the high rear deck-lid, creating a bold American look. The athleticism of the design is further pronounced in the available 16-, 17- and 18-inch aluminum wheels.
* Five new exterior colors. White Suede Clearcoat, Moss Green Clearcoat Metallic, Vapor Silver Clearcoat Metallic, Dark Ink Blue Clearcoat Metallic and Light Sage Clearcoat Metallic are now available.

Fusion offers a new Sport Appearance Package for 2008 that includes a black chrome grille, color-keyed fog lamps, 18-inch tires and aluminum wheels with painted pockets, sport-tuned suspension, a unique spoiler, chrome exhaust tips, unique red seat inserts (cloth or leather) and red stitching on the seats, steering wheel and center console.

Highlights of Fusion's interior include:

* Premium interior materials. Available in three highly styled finishes: carbon graphite, wood or piano black.
* An inviting atmosphere. Fusion's new ambient lighting option (late availability) and available leather seating surfaces featuring contrast stitching enhance the interior sophistication and comfort.
* A highly flexible interior. Features include a pop-up storage bin located on the instrument panel, clamshell armrest, the largest trunk in its class, fold-down front-passenger seat and one-touch 60/40 spring-assisted fold-flat rear seats.

Innovative Features Keep Customers Connected
Fusion would be at home in any technophile's garage with the addition of several features. They include:

* Ford Sync, Ford's industry-exclusive, voice-activated hands-free in-car communications and entertainment system (late availability). This newly available system fully integrates mobile phones and media players into the vehicle using Bluetooth technology and USB connectivity. Developed in collaboration with Microsoft, Sync will be offered exclusively on 12 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles later this year.
* Voice-activated navigation system. Fusion's available navigation system is voice-activated for more convenient hands-free operation.
* Reverse Sensing System. The system emits a tone that increases in frequency and intensity, monitoring blind spots and allowing drivers increased confidence in rear parking and helping to reduce the risk of injury.
* MP3 audio input jack. For consumers who elect not to adopt the optional Sync system, the Fusion's audio input jack is standard on all Fusion models, allowing for audio input from any MP3 player.

Spirited Performance
Fusion with all-wheel drive is proving its mettle among consumers, earning kudos in Ford's Fusion Challenge advertising for being the most fun to drive and having the best handling, outperforming its competitors.

Fully independent front- and rear-suspension systems give Fusion smooth, confident handling in both front- and all-wheel drive. With the introduction of the 2008 model, ABS becomes standard, providing even more peace of mind for drivers.

The soul of any car is its engine, and Fusion offers a choice of Ford's 2.3-liter, Duratec 23 inline 4-cylinder or 3.0-liter, Duratec 30 V-6 engine. Both feature aluminum construction, dual-overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, intake variable-cam timing and electronic throttle control to deliver smooth, spirited performance along with good fuel economy and emissions ratings.

The 4-cylinder engine delivers 160-horsepower and can be paired with a 5-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic transmission. When mated to the automatic transmission, the Duratec 23 is rated as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) in states adopting California emission standards.

For even more power, there's the 221-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6, paired with an advanced 6-speed-automatic transmission. Fusion was the first car in its class to offer such a sophisticated automatic.

Safety and Security
Fusion received the highest ratings in both front and side impact from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in 2007. It also was named as one of the 2006 Best Sedans for Families by AAA and Parents magazine, based on family road tests and top crash test ratings.

For 2008, Fusion features more standard safety features, with standard ABS and Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) on all models.

Standard safety features include:

* Ford's Personal Safety System® and air bag protection. Safety features include six air bags (dual-stage driver and front passenger air bags, thorax side air bags for front seat occupants and side-impact air curtains), safety belt pretensioners, seat weight sensing system for the passenger seat and crash severity sensing.
* Ford's BeltMinder™ safety belt reminder for driver and front passenger. Fusion also comes equipped with such standard features as child safety locks on the rear doors, the LATCH child safety restraint system and Ford's tire pressure monitoring system.

Major Features and Options
Fusion S includes: 160-hp Duratec 23 I-4 engine with 5-speed-manual transmission; Bright chrome three-bar grille; Quad halogen headlamps; Integrated key fob transmitter; Black power exterior mirrors; 16-inch steel wheels with premium wheel covers and P205/60R 16 tires; Speed-sensitive windshield wipers; Air conditioning; Rear-seat armrest with dual cup holders; Four-speaker AM/FM audio system with MP3-capable, single-disc CD player; Auxiliary audio input jack; Two-tier center console; Dash-top storage compartment; Solar-tinted glass; Front and rear grab handles; Dual 12-volt power points; Four-way manual driver seat; Rear 60/40-split, spring-assisted, fold-down bench seat; Leather-wrapped shift knob; Variable-assist power steering; Tilt and telescopic steering wheel with speed controls; Dual visor vanity mirrors; Power locks; Power windows with one-touch-down driver's side window; Belt-Minder®; Rear-door child safety locks; Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system; Emergency trunk release; enhanced side-intrusion protection system; Illuminated entry; ABS; Occupant Classification System; SecuriLock® passive anti-theft system; Personal Safety System®; Front-seat side air bags and side-impact air curtains; and Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS).

Fusion SE adds: 16-inch aluminum wheels; Fog lamps; Body-color, power-operated exterior side mirrors; SE badge; Six-speaker premium AM/FM audio system with in-dash, six-disc, MP3-capable CD player; Six-way power driver seat with manual lumbar adjustment; Fold-down front-passenger seat; Unique center stack appliqué; Front seat-back map pockets; Message center with trip computer; Steering wheel with redundant speed and audio controls; Dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors; Dual exhaust tips (V-6 models); and brake actuated traction control (on V-6 AWD).

Fusion SEL adds: Automatic headlights; Bright belt line molding; Heated exterior mirrors with puddle lamps; Keyless entry pad; SEL badge; 17-inch aluminum wheels with P225/50R 17 performance-rated tires; Electronic automatic climate control; Upgraded cloth interior; Analog clock; Compass; Electrochromic rearview mirror; Unique appliqués for instrument panel and center stack; Leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant speed and audio controls.

Options include: All-wheel drive; 5-speed automatic transmission for Duratec 23 I-4 models; Audiophile eight-speaker sound system; SIRIUS® Satellite Radio; Traction control (FWD); Rear spoiler; Reverse Sensing System; Leather seating surfaces; Heated seats; Voice-activated DVD-based navigation system; and the following items available shortly after the 2008 model year launches: ambient lighting and Ford Sync.

Sport Appearance Package (available on Black, Silver Birch or Red Fire exterior colors and Charcoal Black interior) features: Unique red seat inserts (cloth or available leather); Black-chrome grille with color-keyed fog lamp bezels; 18-inch machined-aluminum wheels with painted pockets; Sport-tuned suspension; Unique decklid "lip" spoiler; Red cloth accents on seats, door trim; Red stitching on seats, steering wheel and center console; Unique brushed-aluminum radio surround: Dual chrome exhaust tip (on V-6 SE).

Moon and Tune Package for SE or SEL features: Power moonroof and Audiophile sound system with six-disc changer and eight speakers.

Milestones
2005 Fusion goes on sale as a 2006 model
2006 Named "Best Car for Families" by AAA and Parents Magazine
Strategic Vision named Fusion the highest quality vehicle in mid-size sedan segment
2007 Received highest rating in both front and side impact from IIHS
Smart Money magazine rated Fusion best value in the mid-size sedan segment

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