Plus-Size Utility, Petite Road Manners
The festival of upsizing that has dominated the midsize sedan segment for generations has mercifully come to an end. Everywhere, that is, but Ford.
The new generations of the Honda Accord and Mazda 6 have both evolved into sedans with less overhang and shorter overall lengths than their predecessors. Chevy's 2013 Malibu is shorter, too. At Ford, however, the 2013 Fusion grows in both length (1.0 inch) and wheelbase (4.8 inches).
And despite perpetuating a dying trend, the upsizing pays dividends for Team Blue Oval in tangible ways.
At 112.2 inches, the 2013 Ford Fusion has the longest wheelbase in the midsize segment by a large margin. Though this added length makes the car look big, it is beneficial for rear-seat passengers. More importantly, from behind the wheel you never know it's there, as this Fusion is the best-handling family sedan we've tested in recent memory.
The Power of EcoBoost
It's worth noting that our 2013 Ford Fusion test car is an all-wheel-drive model, which likely contributed to its strong handling in our instrumented tests. As important, though, is that Ford succeeded in making a large car with a very long wheelbase drive like, well, a smaller car.
Part of the credit goes to the new 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine. It's now the most powerful engine in the lineup and it stomps out 237 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at a low 3,000 rpm on 87 octane fuel. Compare this to the V6 in Honda's Accord — probably the best big engine in the segment — and the Ford's liveliness begins to make some sense. The 3.5-liter Honda mill needs 1,900 more revs to deliver 18 fewer lb-ft of torque. Advantage: turbo engine.
The new four-cylinder is smooth and quiet, too. There's virtually none of the unpleasant harmonics common to this layout and it gladly revs to its 6,500-rpm redline.
Of course, the real reason Ford replaced the Fusion's old V6 options with a turbo-4 was to improve fuel economy. On this front the verdict is still out. Like most boosted four-cylinders, this engine encourages use of its low-rpm grunt enough that most drivers will take advantage of it.
We are no exception.
The EPA says this powertrain is good for 22 city/31 highway/25 combined in the 2013 Ford Fusion. We recorded 22.1 mpg over 432 miles spent largely on the highway. The words "your mileage may vary" have never been more true.
Comparing the Other Numbers
Ford couples the EcoBoost engine to a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and a Sport mode, which is a huge step up in control over the "Drive" and "Low" positions common to Ford products in recent years.
Our test car requires 6.9 seconds (6.6 seconds with 1 foot of rollout) to achieve 60 mph and passes through the quarter-mile in 15.1 seconds at 90.6 mph. These milestones are slower than most other turbocharged four-cylinder or V6-powered family cars. Kia's Optima SX, for example, hit 60 in 6.5 seconds (6.1 with rollout) and completed the quarter in 14.6 seconds at 98.4 mph. Honda's stonk-fast Accord V6 hits 60 in 6.1 seconds (5.7 with rollout) and purrs through the quarter in 14.3 seconds at 98.1 mph.
Here, the all-wheel-drive system that makes the car so nimble is a burden, as it contributes to the Fusion's 3,736-pound as-tested weight. That's 201 and 205 pounds heavier than the Optima and Accord, respectively.
The Fusion's brakes don't seem to mind, though, as it stops from 60 mph in 123 feet, which is a few feet shorter than both the Optima and Accord.
Back to the Handling
Remarkably, the longest-wheelbase car in the segment also produces the quickest slalom speed we've ever seen for the group. Balanced by an all-wheel-drive system using an electronically controlled clutch-type center differential, the system yields a more neutral attitude on the throttle than its front-drive competition. The result is a 66.3-mph slalom speed despite nondefeat stability control.
If we had to pick a midsize sedan for pure driving pleasure, the all-wheel-drive 2013 Ford Fusion would be our first choice. Its light steering yields ample feedback and the whole package changes direction with remarkable ease. Circling the skid pad at 0.87g puts it at the top of the field in outright grip, too.
The Fusion's Practical Side
Inside, the Fusion now sports Ford's latest instrument panel design that uses a centered speedometer flanked by reconfigurable displays on each side. On the right is a screen displaying phone, navigation or audio functions, and on the left you can select from various displays including a digital tachometer, trip meters or fuel economy data.
Other than these flashy displays, the new interior offers a clean layout thanks to the largely smooth center stack, which has only two traditional buttons and one knob. There's an open area for small-item storage just below the center stack and easily accessible cupholders. Leather is standard on Titanium trim models like our tester, and while it doesn't feel luxurious, we know from experience that it is durable.
As one might imagine from a car with the longest wheelbase in its class, there's ample interior space — especially in the rear seats. Even large adults swim around in the rear like toddlers in an Olympic pool. Bulky, rear-facing child seats are swallowed without a thought — even behind 6-footers up front. Also, the trunk pass-through coupled with 60/40-split folding rear seats is large enough to accommodate a bike, while the overall space in the trunk is near the top of its class at 16 cubic feet.
With the passing of the size war in the midsize segment, manufacturers are turning to features — mostly tech features — to distinguish themselves. The technology arms race includes Toyota's Entune and Honda's Hondalink, which couple Internet services with a Bluetooth-paired smartphone to ensure you're never without your social media or streaming music. Ford's answer is Sync, a system developed by Microsoft, and although it was first on the market, it hasn't necessarily been without issues.
Our own experience with Sync has been mixed. Pairing a phone is commendably easy and the system's traffic rendering on freeways is good. Overall usability is solid, with straightforward access to major functions like phone, navigation, climate and entertainment.
But there were glitches in our test car. It periodically refused volume control on both Sync's single-knob interface and its steering wheel buttons until we turned the car completely off and then back on again like a seized-up computer. Another Fusion we had repeatedly took minutes to bring the whole system to life after starting the car. "Powered by Microsoft," indeed.
There are additional gripes with My Ford Touch, the biggest of which is that, unlike buttons, contact with the touchscreen isn't registered without your having to take your eyes off the road. Of course, if you happen to like talking to your car, there are voice commands for most functions.
A $35,980 tab for the 2013 Ford Fusion produced real sticker shock, but it's a fully loaded Titanium model with nearly every box checked. Among its $2,985 in options are 19-inch wheels, navigation, Platinum Tri-coat paint and the Driver's Assist package which includes blind-spot monitoring and a lane-keeping feature.
For perspective, a fully loaded Honda Accord Touring V6 will run up a $34,220 tab and it isn't available with all-wheel drive. Nor are the Hyundai/Kia twins for that matter. Stick with front-wheel drive and the midgrade SE trim and the Fusion starts closer to $26K and goes up from there.
Pricing aside, the Fusion's road manners and solid powertrain make it a sedan we prefer over many cars in the segment, even if it's bigger on the outside. Plus, the added size pays off on the inside, where its passenger and cargo room are exceptional. And despite the Sync glitches, its interior is largely functional and easy to use.
Perhaps bigger still is better.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.