Fusion steers Ford in a new direction

April 29, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

You might best know Ford for its unique ability to look into the rear-view mirror and build vehicles that pay tribute to the past: the GT supercar; the new 2005 Mustang and the Thunderbird.

However, for its new mid-sized sedan, called the Fusion, Ford is staring straight into the future . . . with the help of a little sharing with Mazda,

Along with the full-size Five Hundred, the Fusion, due to arrive this fall, replaces the Taurus, an aging brand that's headed for a well-earned retirement.

And underneath the new model's swanky skin beats the soul of the Mazda6.

Borrowing from this Japanese automaker only makes sense since Ford owns a significant chunk of Mazda. As well, the award-winning 6's architecture and various mechanical components are considered to be league-leading items.


For the Fusion's purposes, the platform is slightly wider and longer, which, Ford says, provides more passenger and trunk space than most of the competition. In fact, the designers used a size-14 shoe as a template for determining entry-exit standards through the rear doors.

The intention is for the Fusion to take a lead role in doing battle against a group of sedan all-stars, such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata and Chevrolet Malibu.

Sophisticated style along with considerable substance appears to be the Fusion's plan of attack. The car's exterior is distinctly North American, particularly from a head-on perspective. The grille above and below the bumper features a series chrome bars, a rare but welcomed sight on any automobile these days. As well, the flush-mounted headlight pods curve into the hood, studiously avoiding the bulging front fenders.

Base S, SE and SEL models will come with a 160-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine connected to either a five-speed manual transmission or optional five-speed automatic. Optional on the mid-level SE and full-load SEL Fusions is a 210-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 (10 more horsepower than its big-brother Five Hundred) that operates through a standard six-speed automatic transmission. Both powertrains are similar to those fitted to the Mazda6.

For the time being, all versions will be driven through the front wheels, but Ford is promising that an all-wheel-drive alternative will hit the streets for the '07 model year, with a gasoline/electric hybrid on the options list a bit farther down the road.

All Fusions will be equipped with air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, locks and outside mirrors, remote keyless entry and a tire-pressure monitoring system. As a point of interest, the vehicle's remote locking functions are built into the key and are not part of a separate separate "fob" unit.

Stepping up to the SE adds an upgraded audio system, six-way power driver's seat, steering-wheel-mounted radio controls, four-wheel disc brakes and a message center with trip computer and outside temperature gauge.

At the top end of the scale, SEL buyers will enjoy climate control, additional exterior trim, fog lamps 17-inch wheels and a premium cloth interior.

The long-as-your-arm options list includes a leather interior with heated leather front seats, eight-speaker premium sound system, anti-lock brakes, side-impact/side-curtain air bags, power moonroof and traction control.

Although final pricing has yet to be firmed up, Ford estimates a starting point of around $18,000, placing the Fusion right in the thick of things with similarly sized import- and domestic-based makes.

Given its generous overall dimensions, attractive styling and appealing power choices, the Fusion has the potential to provide Ford with a strong sedan alternative that, unlike many Ford offerings, points to the future instead of the past.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

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