For the Fusion Sport, Ford follows a rather conventional method of adding capability. There's a larger, 3.5-liter V-6 upfront, which makes 263-hp (compared with the base V-6's 240-hp), plus firmer dampers and thicker antiroll bars. The resulting Fusion certainly feels quicker than lesser, 3.0-liter V-6 models, but even with the optional all-wheel drive, which brings the curb-weight up to a hefty 3800 pounds, it remains soft around the edges, and primarily focused on coddling the driver. Steering is a bit slow and suffers at times from artificial-feeling feedback.
Subaru, on the other hand, manages to slip a few of quirks into the 2.5GT that make it drive like more than a nice afterthought. For starters, there's a turbocharged, 2.5-liter boxer engine that makes 265-hp, just as in the WRX. We wondered at first why Subaru still bothers with an entirely different engine for its top dog when the slightly cheaper, six-cylinder Legacy 3.6R is for all intents and purposes just as powerful. The turbocharger's urgent whine and sportscar-like midrange thrust provided a more than satisfactory answer. Subaru further asserts that it means business by backing up the four-cylinder with a six-speed manual. It would be unusual enough for Subaru to offer a stick-shift in anything other than a base mid-size sedan - almost no one else does these days - but the GT goes a step further and isn't even available with an automatic. It's not the best gearbox, with long, somewhat balky throws, but we'll gladly take it over the Fusion's ho-hum six-speed slushbox, which has neither shift paddles nor a manual mode. The smaller displacement engine also contributes to the Subaru's noticeable handling advantage, as the four-cylinder Legacy weighs about 350 pounds less than the Fusion. Lest we overstate matters, it's worth noting that the 2.5GT receives no suspension improvements over the comfort-oriented 3.6R and, like the Fusion, exhibits more body roll than we'd like. It also does a poorer job absorbing road imperfections than the Fusion.
The Fusion Sport AWD and Legacy 2.5GT are both worth a second look in their crowded segment. If your main qualifications are comfort and refinement, the Ford deserves a slight edge. But if you're like us, and want a dose of feistiness to go along with a roomy back seat, than we'd recommend the 2.5T, which, despite its larger and more practical exterior, remains a family-man's WRX.
We'll be honest though: we think both automakers can do better. Ford has a twin-turbocharged, 365-hp Ecoboost engine and a team of SVT engineers who just finished souping up the Mustang and F-150. Subaru has a whole raft of WRX performance parts and a talented tuning team of its own. So, how about it, guys? When can we look forward to comparing the Ford Fusion SHO and Subaru Legacy STI?