2008 Ford Fusion SEL

Although it's a credible entry in the mid-size family sedan segment, the Fusion has never attained the exalted status that this magazine and many other parties have bestowed on the Mazda 6. The 6, after all, shares its underpinnings with the Fusion and other FoMoCo products.

In an attempt to capture some of the Mazda's good vibes, both four- and six-cylinder front-wheel-drive Fusions are newly available for 2008 with an $895 sport package that includes eighteen-inch wheels, red seat inserts and stitching, and a sport-tuned suspension. These mild tweaks hardly create an SVT Fusion, but our four-cylinder test car with a five-speed manual was reasonably satisfying to drive. While not as refined as the Chevy Malibu, it's miles ahead of the Chrysler Sebring. The Fusion's damping was decently firm and its shifter was pleasant, but short gearing makes for a lot of revs on the highway. The steering, alas, was overboosted.

Still, the Fusion reminds us that the basic versions of most family sedans are underappreciated, and no one need feel terribly deprived for passing up a V-6.

A new Mazda 6 arrives later this year, and one hopes that its platform will eventually imbue the next-generation Fusion with a bit more of that Mazda magic.

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