The going has gotten exceedingly tough for the moribund American auto industry, but Ford is getting going. In the face of a historic crisis, the venerable company has taken a remarkably sensible approach — focus on volume-selling products, and improve them as much as possible without undertaking costly clean-sheet redesigns. Our 2010 Ford Fusion SEL V6 test car is proof positive that this approach is working. It's not the "all-new" vehicle that shoppers in this segment have come to expect every five years or so, but it is an impressively thorough update of what was already a competent midsize sedan.
Like the previous Fusion, this one rides on a slightly stretched version of the first-generation Mazda 6 platform, and that's fine by us. Frankly, platforms are generally rigid and capable enough these days that it's no longer necessary to come out with new ones on a regular basis. Indeed, the outgoing Fusion already boasted an impressive ride/handling balance, so the chassis wasn't the issue. Where it needed work was inside and under the hood, and that's exactly where Ford focused its energies for the 2010 model.
The effort paid off. The Fusion's 3.0-liter V6 sounds smoother than it used to, and it's been treated to a useful injection of 19 horsepower and 18 pound-feet of torque. The six-speed automatic transmission upshifts seamlessly. The dash evokes a luxury car's with its soft-touch surfaces from top to bottom, though it does admit to some cheap-feeling switchgear and storage compartments. For good measure, Ford touched up the exterior styling, too, and while the new car doesn't look dramatically different, its distinctively shaped red taillights are a notable upgrade from the old chrome-fringed triangles.
The 2010 Fusion SEL V6 is still one of the slowest V6-powered family sedans (the more competitive 3.5-liter V6 is only available in the Fusion Sport), and its button-happy center stack is too evocative of the downmarket Focus. But in a segment full of pleasantly forgettable four-doors, this much-improved Fusion is a serious contender.
The 2010 Ford Fusion SEL V6 is powered by a "flex-fuel" 3.0-liter V6 rated at 240 hp and 223 lb-ft of torque (or approximately 250 hp and 228 lb-ft on ethanol-based E85 fuel). A six-speed automatic with manual control is the only available transmission. At the test track, the best our 3,555-pound Fusion SEL V6 could do was a 7.3-second sprint from zero to 60 mph, in part because it required two shifts to get there. Only the Honda Accord EX V6 has recorded a slower time among top-ranked V6 family sedans. Braking performance was also marginal, with our Fusion requiring a longish 130 feet to stop from 60 mph. Fuel economy has yet to be determined by the EPA, but Ford estimates 18 mpg city and 27 highway, which isn't very impressive given the relatively small size of this V6.
On the road, the Fusion SEL V6 feels a bit sluggish off the line, which isn't surprising given that most rival V6s displace at least 3.5 liters. But once under way, the 3.0-liter V6 comes into its own, particularly above 4,000 rpm. It sounds decent, too, and the six-speed automatic provides imperceptible upshifts, even at full throttle. Downshifts are often belabored, though, and in manual mode the transmission's got it backward: It downshifts automatically when you step on it, thus making a mockery of "manual mode," yet it refuses to upshift for you even when you're banging off the rev limiter.
In tight corners, we were reminded that the Fusion's relatively compact dimensions are part of its appeal. It's plenty roomy inside, yet it doesn't feel overgrown like the supersized Honda Accord or Mazda 6. Our test car was equipped with the optional 18-inch wheels, which come with performance tires and a sport-tuned suspension, and we found this layout provided fairly sporty handling along with a supple ride. The weak link here is the steering: It's been converted to electric power-assist for 2010 (only the Fusion Sport retains the old belt-driven setup), and the result is numbness combined with a vague on-center feel. Think of this Fusion SEL V6 as a Nissan Altima with a better ride and worse steering, and you won't be too far off the mark.
Even with the 18-inch performance tires and sport suspension, the 2010 Ford Fusion soaks up impacts with impressive composure. Road and wind noise are nicely quelled. The leather-trimmed power front seats (standard on the SEL V6) provide surprisingly good lateral support, though those with wider torsos may find that the prominent seatback bolsters pinch a bit. Sadly, Ford's aggressively angled front head restraints are present and accounted for — it's a good thing the driver seat cushion tilts back so far, because for drivers with longer torsos, that's the only way to make the headrest angle bearable. The door armrests could also use some additional padding.
The Fusion's sleek roof line limits headroom for tall rear passengers, but legroom is ample, as is foot room under the front seats. The middle seat, however, is only viable for children or diminutive adults. Overall, the Fusion SEL V6's comfort easily meets expectations for a car in this segment.
The Fusion SEL V6 has clear gauges that perform a Lincoln-style light show upon startup, with only the grandfather-clocklike hash marks illuminating at first. However, the cluttered center stack has too many identical-looking and -feeling buttons. The worst offenders are the climate controls, which are buried at the bottom of the center stack, just ahead of the shifter. An uncomfortably long reach is required to make simple adjustments to airflow or temperature, particularly for taller drivers.
In the technology arena, the 2010 Ford Fusion SEL V6 comes standard with the excellent Sync multimedia integration system, which integrates audio and Bluetooth functionality with voice-recognition technology to provide slick hands-free operation of cell phones and portable MP3 players. Our test car also featured a tiny rearview-mirror-mounted back-up camera that was actually quite useful for parallel parking. The optional blind-spot warning system, which illuminates warning lights on the outside mirrors when a car is in your blind spot, is effective but paranoid — on numerous occasions the lights illuminated when it was obviously safe to change lanes. Finally, the uplevel Sony sound system's prodigious bass response is a hip-hop lover's delight, and while its clarity leaves something to be desired, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more muscular stereo in a family sedan.
In our real-world functionality tests, the Fusion's sizable 16.5-cubic-foot trunk swallowed our standard rollaway suitcase and golf bag without issue, receiving extra points for its wide trunk opening. Installing our child safety seat in the Fusion's backseat proved similarly painless.
Design/Fit and Finish
Outside, the 2010 Ford Fusion looks much like the car that came before it, with two notable exceptions: The front-end styling is new, including redone headlights and a toothy chrome grille that proved controversial among our staffers, and the taillights now have a more refined look. Inside, the button-happy center stack bears an uncomfortable resemblance to what you'll find in the Focus — it's arguably the stylistic low point of this car.
Build quality on our test car was impressive. The doors closed with a reassuring thump reminiscent of German cars, and we detected no squeaks or rattles in the cabin, even with the Sony stereo's bass cranked all the way up. The dashboard is slathered with soft-touch material, but these alone do not a fine interior make. The Fusion's interior designers still have to answer for the flimsy, undamped storage bin cover atop the center stack, which springs open like a jack-in-the-box, and the dollar-store coin drawer to the left of the steering wheel.
Who should consider this vehicle
Family sedan shoppers who want a refined combination of comfort and sport in an attractive new wrapper, and don't mind giving up a little power and fuel economy to other V6 midsizers.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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