Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Ford Fusion SE

Update: See how the Ford Fusion did in our 2013 Mid-Size Family Sedan Comparison

It is an Aston Martin doppelganger!
When Ford first introduced the new Fusion as a prototype, the uncanny resemblance to an Aston Martin immediately caught my eye. A family sedan with all the style and panache of the legendary British mark at a price that the middle-class family could actually afford sounded like a real winner to me. Sure it would not be able to deliver the jaw-dropping performance that a DBS or V8 Vantage would, but at least I could cruise around and make believe that I was James Bond. So when the Ford Fusion hit the showrooms, sporting the handsome good looks and available EcoBoost turbocharged motors, I knew I had to find the opportunity to take one for a spin.

The 2013 Ford Fusion SE made available to us, however, was hardly the one that James Bond would drive. Lacking the big wheels and tires of the Titanium trim, and with the optional 18-inch wheels a rather costly upgrade, we had to settle for the much more pedestrian version you see here. The body still sports a rather coupe like profile and the front grille's Aston Martin influence is hard to miss, but without the big wheels to feel in the tire wells, the car lacks the dynamic appearance that made the original prototype so appealing. Do not get me wrong, this is still a very stylish and fantastic looking car, but, as with most slab-sided sedans of today, a set of large wheels sporting low-profile tires goes a long way towards improving the overall appeal of even the most pedestrian family sedan.

Stepping into the Fusion's cabin, the first thing that dominates one's attention is the large screen in the center console. This is the display for the MyFord Touch infotainment system optioned on this car and is something that has been much maligned by many in the automotive press. After spending just a few minutes with the system, I found it easy to use, relatively intuitive, and nowhere near as laggy as the CUE system in Cadillac's ATS sedan. While I am still not sold on the use of capactive buttons in place of traditional ones, at least Ford's implementation of it here did not feel unresponsive or irritating to use. The other system that garners attention are the nice digital TFT screens flanking the analog speedometer that is centered in the instrument panel. These screens are customizable and offer access to a tremendous amount of information, though possibly so much as to be a bit distracting. Unfortunately, despite all of this technology, or possibly because of it, the rest of the interior feels cheap by comparison. The leather seats in the model we tested felt cheaper than the vinyl that many other brands are using for their "leatherette" and the plastics, while relatively soft to the touch, looked so cheap in places that it dragged the entire ambiance
of the car down. If seems that Ford simply put technology at the top of its priority list here instead of investing in some better materials for the interior which would have made the overall experience much more enjoyable.

S
tarting the car up and getting on the road, the 1.6L, which produces 178 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, exhibits essentially no turbo lag, offering a nice wave of power down low, which is great for the day-to-day driving that most people will do with this car. However, the drawback from this is that the car feels rather anemic at the top of rev range, running out of breath pretty quickly as you approach the redline. On the go, the little turbo motor offers a nice rumbly intake note, which is unfortunately paired with a lot of wind noise, especially at highway speed. One would think that the slick shape would help in quelling that, but apparently one would be wrong.

Overall, the ride is well sorted, with small bumps managed well, large bumps getting felt without being jolting, and nothing sending shudders through the cars structure. Steering weights up nicely off center, though feedback is definitely a bit on the lighter side, without being numb. The whole car travels down the road with good manners and generally drives more expensive than it should be.

In finally driving the Fusion, my impressions are mixed. It is a truly handsome car, with that Aston Martin inspired front fascia causing double-takes everywhere you go. At the most premium trim level, this car looks sharp riding on the big 19-inch wheels, but unless you are willing to spring for the extra cost, what you get in the lower trims really ruins the edgy profile. If you cannot tell by now, this is probably my biggest disappointment with the exterior. On the interior, the top of the line electronics are a nice touch, but clearly Ford sank so much money into gadgets that it was forced to skimp on the materials for the rest of the interior, resulting in a cool looking interior that feels cheap to the touch.

Every aspect of this car screams compromise, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when certain compromises are made, the end result is so middle of the road, it completely saps the uniqueness and passion from the final product. It is clear which teams that worked on this car went to bat for what they wanted and which teams just decided the fight was not worth it. In the end, what we have is still a good product, but falls miles short of being a great product. James Bond would never be caught dead in the likes of one of these...