For proof that Ford takes the midsize segment seriously, one need look no farther than the company's quality standards for the new 2013 Fusion sedan. Engineers benchmarked the Audi A6 for panel gaps and fitment, and Mercedes-Benz cars for interior materials quality. That attention to detail, along with a striking new design and fuel-efficient drivetrains, are designed to draw buyers out of other midsize sedans and into the Fusion. The new car bows at the Detroit auto show and goes on sale in the middle of 2012.
The 2013 Fusion is the first Ford product to be penned based on an evolution of the company's so-called Kinetic design language -- unofficially, the new style is called "Kinetic 2.0." The look was previewed by the Ford Evos concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show, which had exotic flourishes like butterfly doors. Although the new Fusion isn't quite as wild as the Evos, the production sedan does retain plenty of styling cues from the show car. For instance, designers worked hard to fit narrow, squinty headlights which are only about four inches tall. The front grille and rear license plate surround exhibit the elongated hexagon shapes that were prevalent on the Evos, and angular LED taillights also are nearly identical to those of the show car.
The Fusion has grown only 1.1 inches in length and 0.5 inches in width compared to the current car, but it looks significantly larger in part because the wheelbase increased by almost five inches. The shorter overhangs and attractive detailing lend the car an upscale appearance; there are hints of Audi, Jaguar, and even Aston Martin design in the new Fusion's body. A sharp character crease runs from the headlights through the door handles, and terminates at the wraparound taillights. A short strip of LED brake lights protrudes from above the dramatically sloping rear window, which terminates in a subtly integrated decklid spoiler. Ford's signature Blue Oval emblem, located above the front grille, has a new brushed-aluminum surround and embossed design.
Underbody trays and specially shaped mirrors help improve aerodynamics, bringing the car's overall coefficient of drag to just 0.27; extra sound deadening, a laminated windshield, and a seal around the hood help reduce engine noise.
The new car is less visually striking inside, where the cabin resembles most other new Ford products. The dashboard layout is simple and logical, with an abundance of buttons on the steering wheel for controlling the cruise control and stereo. Surfaces are a blend of soft-touch materials, high-quality plastics, and small chrome accents. As the roofline slopes steeply, there are concave indentations above the rear seat for passengers' heads. Rear legroom is slightly improved because the front seats are thinner than before. Trunk space is a generous 15.4 cubic feet, although the prior Fusion's was slightly larger at 16.5 cubic feet.
Three Four-Cylinder Engines, Two Types of Hybrid
The powertrain strategy for the new Fusion offers a choice of five different propulsion methods, all with four-cylinder gasoline engines. The base mill is carryover a 2.5-liter inline-four, which produces 170 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque.
Ford expects most buyers to gravitate to the Fusion's turbo engines, the first of which is a 1.6-liter EcoBoost inline-four engine, available with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. It is rated for 179 hp and 172 lb-ft. Thanks in part to a new engine stop-start system, Fusions with this engine are expected to return 26/37 mpg (city/highway). Ford says the stop-start feature alone can reduce fuel consumption by as much as ten percent in city driving.
The next choice is a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine which should produce 237 hp and 250 lb-ft, while returning 23/33 mpg. It is the most performance-oriented version of the Fusion, so the six-speed automatic receives paddle shifters, and 19-inch wheels with summer tires and all-wheel-drive are optional. The 2.0-liter does not receive the stop-start system.
The 2013 Fusion hybrid gets all-new hardware that represents Ford's third generation of hybrid tech, starting with a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four, downsized from 2.5 liters in the prior car. The new Fusion is expected to return 47/44 mpg (city/highway), up from 41/36 mpg for the current hybrid, and can travel at up to 62 mph on electrical power alone, versus 47 mph in the old car. Total power from the engine and motor is 185 hp and 130 lb-ft. The entire system is built by Ford in Michigan, although the batteries are imported from Mexico.
In a move to further improve efficiency, the gas engine has no belt-driven accessories: even the air conditioner and water pump are electrically driven. The battery pack now uses lithium-ion chemistry, which provides better power density that the prior nickel-metal hydride batteries, and an improved regenerative braking system can recover about 95 percent of the energy that otherwise would be lost to friction. As a result, the gasoline engine can turn off about ten percent more often than in the previous Fusion hybrid.
The final powertrain choice is the new Fusion Energi. Ford hopes the plug-in hybrid will be the most fuel-efficient midsize sedan in the world, and expects the car to achieve over 100 mpge (a measure of electric and gasoline energy efficiency) -- which beats out the mpge ratings of the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius plug-in. The Energi's hardware is essentially the same as in the Fusion hybrid but with a larger battery. Drivers will use electric propulsion for most of their driving, with the gasoline engine kicking in only when the car's batteries are drained or during high-speed cruising. The Fusion Energi will have a total driving range of at least 500 miles; Ford has yet to reveal how far the car can travel on battery power alone, but engineers say the range "beat expectations."
The car's chassis features four-wheel disc brakes, McPherson front strut suspension, and a new multilink rear suspension setup. Ford claims the chassis "rivals the best from Europe," with a forgiving ride and entertaining handling. Most trim levels wear 17-inch wheels; the base Fusion S has 16-inch steel wheels and the top-spec Titanium receives standard 18s.
More Technology, More Safety
To further help the Fusion stand out from its competitors, Ford has endowed the car with an impressive range of technology. The headlining trick is a lane-keep system that uses a camera mounted in the rear-view mirror to determine if the car is weaving out of the current lane. If so, the system provides a subtle vibration in the steering wheel to alert the driver, and can gently steer the car back on course. The Fusion also gets optional radar-based adaptive cruise control, an autonomous parallel-parking system, and a blind-spot warning system.
As over 80 percent of current Fusion sedans have the Sync voice-recognition system, it becomes standard equipment on the 2013 Fusion. Hybrid and Energi models also get an enhanced instrument cluster display which uses animated butterflies to illustrate how much battery charge remains, and provides tips on maximizing driving efficiency. All models receive an electric parking brake operated by a small button on the center console.
In addition to the active safety gizmos, the new Fusion has ten percent more high-strength steel than its predecessor, helping it meet both American and European crash-test regulations. There are eight standard airbags, including driver and passenger knee airbags.
The 2013 Fusion will attack the mid-size segment with a three-prong approach: exciting styling, class-leading fuel economy, and a smattering of available technology. Ford hopes this will make the Fusion appealing enough to continue its hot sales streak, which saw sales eclipse 248,000 in 2011 alone.
The new Fusion will continue to be built at Ford's plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, with additional capacity to be added at the Ford-Mazda plant in Flat Rock, Michigan. The Fusion EcoBoost and hybrid models go on sale this summer, with the Energi following later in 2012. Next year, Ford will introduce the Fusion to European and Asian markets as the new Mondeo sedan.