In the january ipad issue, I wrote the following about the Frankfurt concept car used as a teaser for the critically important production Ford Fusion/Mondeo: "I harbor a hope that the production Ford to be shown in Detroit two months after this is written will be even better than the Evos--and a worry that it won't be as good. Whichever it is, we'll be stuck with it for a while, because once the presses start stamping, it'll be a long time until anything can change." The definitive Fusion is now here, and it does not enjoy better styling than the Evos, but it's as good, in a less spectacular way. I'm very happy to see an excellent mainstream Ford sedan, probably the best since the brilliant original Taurus a quarter century ago.
I have usually found Ford sedans to be rather so-so. The 1937 model, with its built-in headlights, was terrific for the time, despite Model T engineering. It was the precursor for all the round-back Fords up until 1949 (and for the Chrysler PT Cruiser). I thought the 1940 model very nice and the 1949 "box" car terrific, but then there was a long period of mediocre T-square and straight-edge styling. This Fusion is definitely a superior mass-market car, certainly better-styled than the Chevrolet Malibu, the Chrysler 200, or any of its Japanese competitors.
The Fusion is no doubt the best sedan done under the J Mays styling regime, and Mays is justifiably proud of it. He and I sat in one perched on a roundtable at the Detroit show for about forty-five minutes, enjoying a view of another one as we talked. I didn't much enjoy the interior, which is not at all exciting, however competently done it is. But I did get the biggest thrill of the year when we were discussing the start/stop button on the dash and Mays told me to push it to see if it would light up the central-console display. It did, but it also started the engine, shocking both of us. Usually cars in an auto show are drained of fuel, the relevant fuses pulled, and they're safely inert.
Fortunately for both of us, the gearbox was in Park and we did not rocket off the stand and crash nose-down into the Press Day crowd.
After reflection, all I really have to criticize about the interior is the monotonous lack of color, the endless grayness (or, I was told, there's endless beige as an alternative). Fords are highly respected by the European motoring press for their handling and all-around on-road competence, and their gasoline and diesel engines are definitely on par with competitors. I know from experience that the gasoline engine starts instantly even when cold and that the diesels, developed in partnership with Peugeot, one of the two pioneers in automotive diesel applications (Mercedes-Benz is the other), are on par with their European competitors. Good for Ford.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1. Roof profile is really coupelike, but Ford has achieved the look without loss of vital headroom, unlike some of the stylish European luxury makers.
2. Glass roof panel is an agreeable option that costs a little headroom, but there is still plenty because the front part of the headliner is above minimum specifications.
3. This hard line, derived from the base of the A-pillar, diverges toward the upper corner of the grille, adding a bit of perceived length to the nose without excessive overhang.
4. Slightly raised center portion of the hood is useful to the driver, although the edges of the car are not visible.
5. Having the upper nose panel integral with the complete forward fascia makes restyling easy, but repairs will be extremely expensive for an owner.
6. It's hard to put a finger on it, but to many observers, the Fusion grille evokes Aston Martin, even without the outer wings. J Mays insists that he doesn't see it and is puzzled by the many who said so in Detroit. Doesn't matter; it looks really good.
7. By breaking the lower portion of the frontal air intake into two sections, slightly dissociated from the upper grille, stylists have added interest and avoided the excessive size embraced by Audi.
8. This lower slot somehow makes one think of racing cars, fighter jets, and other high-performance machines. And it allows development of interesting lower surfaces.
9. Elliptical surround for the lower lamps is so obvious a solution that it is downright disappointing. Something angular, like the surrounding hole and the headlamp cluster, would have been better.
10. Headlamp cluster is agreeably slim. Mays has been vociferous in condemning "big headlamp blobs that aren't needed anymore." He walked his talk here, to good effect. 11. There's a lot of fakery in the look of the car. The painted portion of the A-pillar is slim, the actual daylight opening is much smaller than the covering glass. Look at the hugely obtruding pillar opposite for confirmation.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
12. Check the really tiny transparency in the apparently large rear quarter window as more proof of the fakery. At least we know the top is superstrong with its massive supports.
13. The roof profile peaks over the front occupants' heads, allowing the swooping, sporty, near-fastback roof.
14. After a mixture of clashing lines on some recent Fords, this strong linear crease through the door handles is a welcome lengthening element.
15. The rising line of the stiffening crease helps the visual stance of the car, which is really remarkably sporty for a mainstream family sedan. The simplicity of the body side is modified by two strong creases, the whole unblemished by extraneous trim.
16. Not only are the exhaust outlets elegantly shaped, the whole lower rear section is enveloped in a surrounding elliptically ended frame. Very nice indeed.
17. This cliche skirt, on the other hand, is too common and finally boring.
18. Seats are slimmer and better-shaped than we are used to seeing in mainstream sedans, and they are very comfortable.
19. Bright exterior color on the mirror fairing points out the devastatingly dull gray of the total interior. It's high time for some interior decorating and fantasy, as in the Fiat 500.
20. Steering wheel is unremarkable except for the multitude of at-hand controls. Ford is good at ergonomics and convenience for the driver.
21. Center stack is clean, but it's a cascade of grayness. The handgrips at the lower corners are excellent.
22. The entire passenger side of the dashboard is featureless and boring, more like an old truck than a new car.