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The introduction of the 2006 Ford Fusion marks the first time in nearly two decades that Ford has a high-quality midsize sedan that can go toe-to-toe with the imports while maintaining a distinctly American style.
Cutting-edge looks, upscale interior, tight construction, confident handling, competitive price.
Engines are down on power for this class, automatic doesn't offer manual-shift control.
Available Fusion Models
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The Fusion is an all-new midsize family sedan from Ford designed to take on segment leaders. Both four- and six-cylinder engines are available, as is a six-speed automatic transmission.
A few years ago Ford's head of vehicle design, J Mays, was asked why the American automakers had "lost" the family sedan market. His response: "We didn't lose it, we walked away from it." Those comments were made at the introduction of a sleek and stylish sedan concept car, the 427, in 2003. The car represented Ford's interest in reestablishing itself in the family four-door segment, and many of its design elements, including the large headlights and bold, three-bar grille, are prominent features on the all-new Ford Fusion.
The Fusion gives notice, to customers and competitors alike, that Ford is once again ready to compete for midsize family sedan buyers. The last time Ford had a serious contender in this category it went by the name Taurus. That model even held the title "best-selling car in America" for a few years before being relegated to rental car status as superior offerings from Honda, Nissan and Toyota stole the sales spotlight.
But the 2006 Ford Fusion -- riding on a lengthened, widened version of the highly acclaimed Mazda 6 platform -- has plenty going for it in this competitive market. Like the nimble 6, it rides on a four-wheel independent suspension and features a rack and pinion steering system. But unlike the 6, the Fusion provides passengers with adequate interior space by increasing both the length and width of the vehicle. Supplementing the cabin's space are upscale treatments like satin-finished bezels around the gauges and soft-touch material on the dash and door panels. Upscale models include leather seats with contrasting stitching, and all Fusions come standard with steering wheel-mounted buttons for cruise control, power windows, power locks and keyless entry.
Ford Fusion power comes from either a 2.3-liter, 160-horsepower four-cylinder or a 3.0-liter, 221-hp V6. The smaller engine is hooked to a standard five-speed manual with a five-speed automatic optional, but the V6 can only be had with a six-speed automatic transmission. The V6 does include dual exhaust pipes, and both engines feature four-valve-per-cylinder heads and 150,000-mile tune up intervals.
To address the safety concerns of family sedan buyers, Ford strengthened the car's platform in various areas. The B-pillars, between the front and rear doors, are reinforced above the car's beltline to direct side-impact energy down and away from passengers. The roof structure is similarly reinforced to pass proposed rollover crush standards that won't take effect until 2009, and an optional side airbag package offers seat-deployed torso airbags for front passengers and side curtain airbags that protect both front and rear occupants. It may be a bit overdue, but it would appear that the 2006 Ford Fusion was worth the wait.
The midsize 2006 Ford Fusion sedan comes in three trim levels: S, SE and SEL. The base S rides on 16-inch wheels and includes air conditioning, an MP3-compatible CD stereo with four speakers, a split-folding rear seat, cruise control, full power accessories and keyless entry. The SE adds a six-way power driver seat, audio controls on the steering wheel, carbon trim on the center console and dash, and two more speakers for the audio system. Options on the SE include alloy wheels, leather seats, a moonroof, an upgraded eight-speaker stereo and an in-dash CD changer. Top-of-the-line SEL models come with 17-inch alloy wheels, a six-disc CD changer, foglamps, automatic climate control, and wood or "piano black" interior trim. In addition to the SE options, the SEL is eligible for heated seats and a premium package with automatic headlights, heated outside mirrors and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The Fusion's base 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine makes 160 horsepower and meets PZEV certification in California. It's connected to a standard five-speed manual transmission, and a five-speed automatic is optional. A 221-hp, 3.0-liter V6 is available on SE and SEL Fusions. This engine comes with one transmission, a six-speed automatic. This transmission shifts well enough, but we wish it had a true manual-shift mode instead of just two forward-gear gates ("D" and "L"), neither of which has much effect on the tranny's behavior.
Four-wheel disc brakes are standard equipment on all Fusion models. Options on all Fusions include ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and an airbag package with front-seat side airbag and full-length head curtains. Traction control is optional on V6 models, but stability control is not available at all. In NHTSA crash tests, the 2006 Ford Fusion scored four stars (out of five) in frontal impact and four (five with the side airbag option) for side impact. In IIHS frontal offset testing, the Fusion rated "Acceptable" (the second highest rating); in side impact testing (without side airbags) it yielded a "Poor" rating.
The Fusion's upscale interior offers an effective blend of premium materials and functional design elements. All models feature gauges with satin-finished bezels, soft-touch dash and door material, and a storage bin in the center of the dash. Upscale Fusions feature leather seating surfaces with contrasting stitching, an analog clock, and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. All audio systems are MP3-capable, and the split-folding rear seat, along with a 15.8-cubic-foot trunk, adds to the Fusion's utility. Most buyers will find the Ford Fusion suitably roomy with ample head-, shoulder and legroom for adults to ride comfortably in the front or back
With its responsive steering and a refined ride, the 2006 Ford Fusion is one of the more entertaining vehicles in the family sedan segment. Wind and road noise is effectively quelled at highway speeds, and the six-speed transmission offers crisp upshifts and downshifts. More horsepower, and an automatic transmission with manual access to gears, would lend support to the Fusion's sporty aspirations, but it's still a fun car to drive by family sedan standards.
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