Review: 2010 Ford Fusion SE 6MT proves that sometimes less is more

2010 Ford Fusion SE 6MT – Click above for high-res image gallery

What we have here is a rare breed. A mid-size sedan from a domestic automaker equipped with a manually actuated clutch. In fact, the 2010 Ford Fusion (and its rebadged brother, the Mercury Milan) are the last examples offered with Detroit Three nameplates. The Fusion's competition from Chrysler and General Motors are only available with automatic gearboxes, and while the import brands all offer the option to shift-it-yourself, few are actually purchased by stick-averse Americans.

So when Ford released its powertrain combinations for the 2010 Fusion, we were surprised to find that not only was a manual available on S and SE four-cylinder models, but the Blue Oval also upgraded ye olde five-speed cog-swapper to a six-speed unit. As fans of the three-pedal arrangement, we promptly requested a manual Fusion to see how it stacks up to the high expectations set by the V6-powered 2010 Fusion Sport we've already reviewed.

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Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

As our regular readers and podcast listeners are aware, a large cross-section of the editorial staff are fans of the Ford Fusion. For a reasonable price you can pick up a decently equipped, nicely sized, attractive sedan that can accommodate a family of four in comfort, yet still be fun to drive. Most of us like the 2010 Fusion's exterior and interior updates, and for those that want something more visually sedate, Ford continues to offer the Milan through Mercury dealers.

Here at Autoblog's Ypsilanti, MI office, we like a bit of bold mixed in with our daily drivers. Just because you are schlepping the kids to school or commuting to work doesn't mean you have to be invisible. With the most aggressive iteration of the three bar grille motif, the new Fusion is far from subdued. Our tester was a mid-level SE model equipped with the new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that debuted last year in the Escape. This was paired with a new six-speed manual transmission currently unavailable in any other North American market Ford, although we wouldn't be surprised to find that it winds up in the Focus and possibly the Fiesta.

With 175 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque, the four-cylinder Fusion is hardly a sports sedan, but that doesn't mean it's not a fun drive. With a comparatively modest (by modern standards) mass of 3,285 pounds, the four banger is more than adequate for daily commuting duties. And as the week progressed, we came to think of our Fusion as a riff on the sort of lightweight sport sedan you don't see anymore – the kind that didn't need massive amounts of power and kit to be thoroughly entertaining and quick to respond on twisty roads. If the span between your house and work-place includes stretches of winding tarmac, the manual-equipped Fusion could be just what you're looking for.

The clutch pedal is smooth and progressive, and one of the advantages of limited output is that the Fusion doesn't need a ridiculously heavy clutch to transmit power. That means that even if you get stuck in stop-and-go traffic, your left leg won't get a heavy workout. When things open up and you push the Fusion harder into and out of corners, the shift lever moves effortlessly through the gates with throws that aren't overly long. Using the six ratios wisely allows you to get the most out of the available power and torque while still returning acceptable fuel economy.

The Fusion's chassis is well sorted, allowing you to carry a surprising amount of momentum through the corners. If you opt for the SE trim over the S model, the rolling stock includes P225/50R17 all-season tires rather than P205/60R16 rubber. Interestingly, the 16-inch wheels on the Fusion S are aluminum while the 17-inch units on the SE are steel. In recent years, wheel makers have been able to develop new steel hoops that are just as light as aluminum and less expensive – a real boon when you hit a Michigan-sized pot-hole. And if the design on our 17-inch-equipped tester looks familiar, that's because it's the same style offered as an 18-inch alloy on the European Mondeo.

Like other Fusions we've driven (including the Sport), this four-cylinder version has a well sorted suspension with perfectly balanced spring rates to provide a decent ride over nasty roads, along with great damping and good roll control. The lighter four-pot and manual gearbox also means less mass on the front axle for better overall balance compared to the six-cylinder models.

As with the rest of the 2010 Fusions, the front seats offer solid comfort and lateral support. The rear seating provides plenty of legroom for adults, but with the optional sunroof, headroom does shrink. Ford's SYNC infotainment system worked well, with easy connection of phones and other devices partnered with reliable voice activation. Our SE model also had aluminum-look trim on the center stack, which looks far more attractive than any metal finish plastic or fake wood we've seen.

Ford estimates that 5% (or less) of Fusion/Milan buyers will option for the stick, but we hope the Blue Oval continues to buck the trend and keep it around. It's a great alternative for those who need a family-sized sedan, but aren't willing to completely compromise on driving dynamics. Our SE tester, equipped with the Sun & SYNC packages, stickered at $22,165, although these days, it's likely you can get one for quite a bit less. The time we spent with the Fusion was hopefully our last wave of frigid temps before spring arrives, so perhaps as a result of blasting the heaters and de-foggers, our mostly city fuel mileage was down more than we expected.

Over our week with the Fusion, we averaged 25 mpg compared to official EPA numbers of 22 city and 29 highway. The S, with its smaller wheels, gets up to 31 mpg on the highway, but the larger wheel and tire combo seems like a worthy compromise. Our numbers were only three mpg worse than the Milan Hybrid we drove earlier, and we might take another look at both powertrains when the weather gets warmer and gas prices inevitably climb.

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Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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