2010 Ford Fusion Sport – Click above for high-res image gallery

When Ford introduced the Ford Fusion back in 2005, the Blue Oval's midsize sedan was a pleasant surprise. Ford delivered vastly improved quality while also offering impressive driving dynamics, room for five adults and a choice of four- and six-cylinder engines. The Fusion put Ford back into play in the battle for midsize sedan supremacy, and in some ways the agile sedan shined brighter than the Camry and Accord. The Fusion also won respect from Consumer Reports for its high quality, and JD Powers named the Fusion an APEAL winner. For all that is right about the Fusion, though, it has consistently ranked fourth or fifth in the sales battle, losing big to the Altima, Accord, and Camry.

Ford put a lot into the first generation Fusion, and for 2010 the Dearborn, MI-based automaker is taking more big strides. The Fusion has a fresh look, more powertrain combinations, and hybrid offering that can achieve 41 mpg in the city. Ford also introduced the new 2010 Fusion Sport with a 3.5L V6 engine producing 263 hp and 249 lb-ft of torque. We've been waiting patiently for Ford to offer its 3.5L engine in the Fusion, so we happily took the keys to a well-equipped Fusion Sport recently to test it for ourselves. Follow the jump to see how the new Fusion Sport fared during its stay in the Autoblog Garage.

Photos copyright ©2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

Our Black Fusion Sport tester came equipped with all-wheel drive and carried a price tag of $29,590 including destination. Our tester had few options checked off, but it did include Ford's Moon and Tunes package that adds a moon roof and up-level Sony sound system. Our Fusion Sport tester also had a reverse sensing system that gives an audible warning whenever you're about to back over something or someone.

The original Fusion was the first Ford in North America to incorporate the brand's now familiar three-bar grille. For 2010, the Fusion is first again; this time it's the first vehicle in North America to combine Ford's North American Bold design language with some Kinetic cues from Europe. The large fog lamp openings and open-mouth lower fascia have roots in the Euro Focus and Mondeo, yet the all-American three-bar grille still hovers ever larger above. Also gone are the Fusion's "squircle" headlamps, replaced by more contemporary lamps that match up well with the grille.

The Fusion's bonnet is also all-new, with stamped metal similar to the new Taurus, yet featuring a far more aggressive appearance. Our Fusion Sport tester came equipped with body color rocker moldings, also giving it a lower appearance than other Fusions. Out back, the Fusion sports new taillamps and a shorter rear bumper with twin tailpipes peeking through. There's even a modest rear spoiler that we could honestly do without, but it helps differentiate the Sport model from other run-of-the-mill Fusions.

The Fusion's makeover leaves it looking sportier and more refined than the model it replaces, but without some sporty moves, the beauty is only skin deep. Fortunately, Ford delivered the goods. First, the Fusion Sport's exclusive 3.5L V6 is mated to Ford's tried and true 6F50 six-speed automatic transmission. The engine's 263 hp and 249 lb-ft of torque don't sound like a Mustang's V8, but the engine packs enough aural punch to let passengers and onlookers know that this is no ordinary midsize sedan.

The ample powertrain proved to be very engaging on the straights, with enough power to keep your mind on the accelerator and lesser sedans in the rear view mirror. The Fusion's six-speed transmission is smooth and shifted fast enough on its own to win out over the Select Shift manual shifting option. With "manual" shifts occurring up to a full second after selecting a gear, it joins most other manumatic transmissions in being consistently passed over.

The V6-powered Toyota Camry proves that a proven powertrain does not make a driver's car. The Fusion, however, has always had a willing chassis and the story improves for 2010. The Fusion Sport has greatly increased spring rates at the front and rear, and a rear stabilizer bar that's increased in diameter by 4mm for the AWD model verses the base Fusion. The rear suspension was also improved by moving the pivot points for the control arms closer to the center of the car, reducing body roll in the process.

The improvements to the Fusion's already athletic chassis has made for a very stable, engaging ride, which was only enhanced by our tester's optional, class exclusive all-wheel-drive system. On dry pavement, the Fusion Sport's Haldex AWD system and P235/45R18 Goodyear Eagle tires fly in the face of physics. In other words, the Fusion Sport has some serious grip, especially for a $29,000 midsize family sedan. Our second day with the Fusion came with four inches of snow, which gave us yet another reason to recommend the all-wheel-drive system. On a day when at least 10 drivers met the business end of a ditch during our 25-mile commute, the Fusion surrendered not one iota of wheel slip.

The only downside to a powerful V6 engine coupled with an all-wheel-drive system is fuel economy. We averaged 20.1 mpg during our week with the Fusion Sport, which isn't going to score you any points with the Sierra Club. If this news makes you a little uneasy, fear not. The 2.5L four-cylinder Fusion achieves 34 mpg on the highway while also exhibiting even better handling due to a reduction in mass. There's also the new Fusion Hybrid that uses an improved version of the Escape Hybrid's gas-electric powertrain and achieves a rather remarkable 41 mpg in the city.

For all of the Fusion's capabilities, it will spend most of its time as a competent, comfortable family sedan. Ford engineers worked to make the 2010 model quieter than the model it replaces, while at the same time creating a more rigid frame that can soak up road imperfections without fuss. And though the Fusion may look a bit smaller than the competition, its interior is roomy and thoughtfully packaged for four adults.

The Fusion Sport features supple leather seats with ample lateral support to keep you upright in your seat when cornering forces come calling. We happened to like the eye-catching red leather inserts and dash trim that differentiates this top-shelf model, though some may find the interior color palette tacky. The seats and steering wheel also feature red stitching, which is a nice touch for a mainstream midsize sedan. Finally, Ford kept the Fusion's interior stuffed with high quality, soft-touch materials throughout.

While the 2010 Fusion earns high marks for big stuff like its chassis, engine and exterior design, there are some more minor issues that tried to spoil our fun. Some of the interior switchgear feels cheap with chrome-painted plastic that looks ill-equipped to handle the test of time. The steering wheel is also too Ford-parts-bin familiar for a top-of-the-line sport model. Those issues can be easily overlooked, but what we least appreciated about our 2010 Fusion tester was its lack of heated seats. Heated seats are available as an option, but butt-warming tech should be standard for any leather-upholstered seating surface in the dead of Michigan winter.

We liked the first-generation Fusion quite a bit, and the 2010 model is clearly far more capable. In addition to the 2.5L four-cylinder and 3.0L V6 models, Ford has added both this Fusion Sport and the Fusion Hybrid to its lineup, which gives customers a choice of Fusion for any disposition. With four Fusions from which to choose, it will be easier than ever to pick the one that's right for you. The Fusion Sport earned our affection for sure, but we'll soon be spending time behind the wheel of the 240-hp 3.0L V6 model, the 34-mpg 2.5L four-cylinder model and the 41- mpg hybrid before deciding which Fusion fits us just right. Choice, however, is a very good thing, especially when it comes to great product.

Photos copyright ©2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

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