Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor
Just because the new 2013 Ford Fusion is being touted as a genuine "world car" doesn't mean much here in America. It's doubtful many people in the U.S. know what a "world car" is anyway, let alone care if they're driving one.
So the fact that this new Fusion midsize sedan will be sold in Europe as the Mondeo, and in other parts of the world under yet even more exotic names, doesn't matter much. What does matter is that Ford thinks this Fusion is so good that you'll like driving it no matter what part of the world you're from, and that's no easy task.
To achieve this mighty goal, Ford has redesigned the Fusion from its grille to its tailpipe. Let's go for a ride and see if Mulally and Co. pulled it off.
Plenty To Choose From
There may be only one Ford Fusion, but it will come in several different flavors to broaden its appeal when it hits dealers this fall. Like most sedans in this class, the Fusion will no longer offer a V6 engine. Instead, there's not one but three different four-cylinder options to choose from, depending on how much power and efficiency you're looking for.
If you want to keep the buy-in price low, there's a base 2.5-liter four-cylinder. If efficiency is your main priority, a new turbocharged 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder delivers maximum mileage. For maximum power, the V6 has been effectively replaced by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder with 240 horsepower that still delivers a respectable 33 mpg on the highway. All three engines drive the front wheels in standard trim, with all-wheel drive available as an option with the 2.0-liter. Two hybrid drivetrains (standard and plug-in) will be available later on as well.
We'll cover each of those Fusion iterations as they become available. For this first drive, we spent most of our time driving the most fuel-efficient, and dare we say, the most rewarding-to-drive version, the 2013 Ford Fusion SE equipped with the optional 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine and a six-speed manual transmission.
More Stylish, but Not Smaller
Few will argue that this Fusion is more handsome than before, but it's not obvious at first glance how much bigger this car is than its predecessor. The overall length has grown by just over an inch but the wheelbase by 4.8 inches. This means overall interior volume, where people will notice, has ballooned by two cubic feet while the trunk shrunk by 0.5 cubic feet. With the exception of rear headroom which remains the same, every passenger measurement also has increased significantly. Does this expansion make the Fusion any less fun to drive?
Not from our perspective. Through canyon roads the Fusion SE proved it is not only a well-engineered driver's car, but also a competent cruiser. With ample torque (184 pound-feet at 2,500 rpm), excellent throttle response and precise electric-assist steering, if felt perfectly competent even as we threw more at it than any family sedan should be expected to take.
Guardrails, rocks in the road and cliffs passed us by in a blur without a worry or even a hint of stability system intervention. Steering weight was moderate and the overall feel was precise. It's easily one of the sportier midsize sedans in the class, even with the smallest of the three engines.
Speaking of which, the 1.6-liter engine finally fulfills that decade-old promise of V6 power with four-cylinder efficiency. Although it's rated by the EPA to deliver 25 city/37 highway mpg and 29 mpg combined, we found ourselves rarely needing any gear other than 2nd to either pull ourselves from a hairpin or sprint to the next one. The engine feels underrated, and we'd guess this 3,333-pound Fusion SE will sprint to 60 mph in about 7 seconds.
Quick and Quiet
Despite all the tossing and turning, the 2013 Ford Fusion demonstrated uncommon quiet, poise and compliance. We noticed and appreciated the Fusion's noise-abatement measures like its slippery shape, acoustic undercarriage shields and perimeter hood seal. It's remarkably quiet. And unless you're an audiophile, the base audio system with standard Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio and iPod integration via USB will prove entirely sufficient.
The SE's driving position is highly adjustable, with a well-contoured 10-way power-adjustable sport seat and a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel. Even the visibility is good thanks to relatively slender A-pillars and a small triangular pane of glass at the bottom edge of each front side window.
The dashboard and center stack are fairly uncluttered and tastefully designed, without looking trendy or awkward with pitifully rendered faux wood. The passenger seat is quite supportive, but adjusted manually. The 60/40-split folding rear seats are well contoured, and despite the fashionable coupelike roof line, it's not hard to get in and out without bumping your head.
When ordered with the base 2.5-liter 175-hp engine, the Fusion SE's base price is $24,495, but ours was equipped with seductively named Equipment Group 204A. For an extra $1,510 it adds 18-inch aluminum sport wheels, a rear spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel, foglamps, EcoCloth interior and red stitching on the armrest, center console and seats. Upgrading to the 1.6-liter direct-injected turbo engine added another $795 to the bottom line, while rear parking sonar added an additional $295. All in, it was a $27,095 Fusion.
If you have a little more to spend there's plenty on the options list. Everything from blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, an automated parking system, lane-keeping assist to alert you if you're drifting and adaptive cruise control with collision warning.
Will the World Like It?
So that leaves the question hanging, yet again: Is it enough? Will people be drawn to a Ford showroom by the attractive new styling, the vastly improved fuel economy and the wide range of options and features?
There's no reason to think otherwise. This Fusion delivers all the things sedan buyers are looking for in this category, along with a few pleasant extras, like cutting-edge style and sharp handling. Competitors like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry still wear the mainstream looks that have served them well for decades, while this Fusion has taken a chance on a look that sets it apart from the crowd.
Get behind the wheel, however, and there's nothing daring about the 2013 Ford Fusion. It goes about its business the way a family sedan should. It's quiet, efficient and pleasantly enjoyable to drive. There's plenty of room, too, and an endless array of technology if you're into that sort of thing. We're not sure if it's enough to keep the whole world interested, but here in America, this Fusion is as worldly as it needs to be.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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