It wasn't easy, but with a little help from Mazda, Ford managed to resuscitate its midsize sedan portfolio with the Fusion. With new styling, substantial powertrain improvements and a new hybrid model, we're expecting the 2010 Ford Fusion to be a similar success.
A Bold Front
Though much of the sheetmetal between the A- and C-pillars carries over unchanged, the fore and aft ends of the 2010 Fusion do receive considerable cosmetic changes. The three-bar grille grows larger and plays into a large power bulge on the hood, similar to the Interceptor concept shown at the 2008 Detroit auto show.
Design changes in back are surprisingly limited. Apart from chrome exhaust tips, larger taillights with honeycomb inserts and a thicker center-mounted stoplight, the 2010 Fusion's rump is quite similar to the 2009 model.
Some extra change comes courtesy of the Fusion Sport model, which adds a chromed front bumper insert, larger 18-inch alloy wheels, and flared side skirts.
Yeah, That Thing's Got a Hybrid.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Fusion Hybrid. For 2010, Ford's fitted the hybrid powertrain from the Escape Hybrid cute-ute to both the Fusion and the Mercury Milan - though it's also added a few new features for the sedan.
For starters, there's the issue of the battery pack. The battery is still a nickel metal hydride pack supplied by Sanyo, but chemistry changes allow it to carry 20 percent more power than the Escape's pack. That's a significant feat, considering it's 23 percent lighter and considerably smaller, allowing it to tuck in behind the Fusion's rear seats.
But the biggest change lies with the transmission itself. Yes, it's mated to the same 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle I-4 found in the Escape/Mariner hybrids, but the hybrid electric CVT (e-CVT) has been substantially recalibrated. With a gentle right foot, drivers will be capable of accelerating up to 47 mph in pure electric mode. An impressive figure, but Ford promises equally exciting numbers when it comes to fuel economy. The Fusion Hybrid should best the Toyota Camry Hybrid - which already attains 33 mpg in the city - by at least 5 mpg.
That may be enough to attract die-hard hypermilers, but they'll also fall in love with Ford's SmartGauge instrument cluster. Consisting of an analog speedometer flanked by twin high-definition LCD screens, the cluster can display a dizzying array of information, including battery levels, fuel economy plotting, and more. Perhaps most useful is a tachometer which displays a variable EV-mode "threshold," helping drivers keep the engine off for as long as possible.
Four Cylinder Fun?
Thanks to both significant revisions and a new transmission range, a four-cylinder Fusion should be much more fun.
Starting with the same Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter I-4 found in the Escape Hybrid, engineers added a new head, intake manifold, and cam lobe. That last piece plays well with the new variable cam timing system, which is quicker to engage than previous systems
All in all, the revised motor now produces 175 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque, increases of 14 hp and 16 lb-ft, respectively. Fuel economy is further improved by adding electric power steering, adaptive spark ignition, and a new fuel cut-off system, which activates upon deceleration.
It may be frugal, but we think the new power may be fun to play with, especially if you enjoy driving a manual transmission. The 2010 Fusion is part of Ford's mandate to install six-speed transmissions in everything by 2015, and as such, the five-speed manual and four-speed automatic are replaced by six-speed manual and automatic transaxles. We've enjoyed previous examples of the I-4 Fusion when equipped with a manual, but with a 0-60 mph time of 9.5 seconds, the automatic model isn't a complete slouch.
V-6 Reigns Supreme
When it comes to configurations and power, there's still no trumping the V-6 Fusion. These models are available with either front- or all-wheel-drive, and are equipped with Ford's SelectShift manu-matic transmission controls for the six-speed automatic.
The 3.0-liter V-6 may seem familiar to Fusion owners, but it's been completely redesigned from the cylinder heads on up. Now equipped with variable cam timing and E85 capability, it's also throwing down 240 hp - nearly 20 hp more than before. Lest you think the power eats into fuel economy, Ford says it will return 2 mpg better than the current engine.
If that isn't enough power to whet your appetite, you'll want to spluge for the Fusion Sport model, which receives the same Duratec 3.5-liter V-6 found in the larger Taurus sedan and Flex crossover. Though it seems sluggish in heavier vehicles, its 263 hp should move the Fusion Sport from 0-60 mph in seven seconds.
How About The Cabin?
Like the Fusion's aft section, the interior redesign is evolutionary, not revolutionary. The general shape and arrangement of the dash is very familiar, though we're glad to see some softer materials used throughout. Controls on the center stack - which can now house Ford's premium eight-inch navigation system - are now arranged similar to those on the current Focus, though they seem to have a slightly better tactile feel.
When will we see this in showrooms?
The folks at Ford seem quite proud of their work, but it'll take some time before the new Fusion arrives at a dealer near you. We expect early builds to roll down the assembly line in Hermosillo, Mexico, early next year and arrive in showrooms by the spring of 2009.