Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Test Drive: 2017 Ford Fusion Titanium

Among mid-size sedans, Ford's Fusion has always been one of our more favored choices. When renting cars, I tend to steer away from any Nissan, Toyota, and Dodge products while Hyundai and Ford tend to find themselves at the top of my list. So on the second leg of our all-Ford weekend (click here to read part one), I was pleased to be able to snag an almost brand new Ford Fusion Titanium for my time in the DC Metro area. Once again, National's Emerald Club program proves why it is my favorite option when renting from an airport. After grabbing the keys and tossing our luggage in the spacious trunk, we headed out for our weekend in our old stomping grounds.

At first glance, the new Fusion looks pretty much just like the old Fusion. Updates to the overall design are subtle, with revised lighting front and rear, slightly different bumper caps, and new wheels. The Fusion has always been a handsome car and the updates with this mid-cycle refresh only add to its distinguished good looks. This is a different kind of good-looking than say the more athletic and aggressive Honda Accord or the new angry and predatory Camry; this is more of a neatly trimmed and sharply dressed good-looking. It is certainly not the most exciting design, but few will turn it down as offensive.

Stepping inside, the theme of mild updating continues. Much of the interior layout remains identical, meaning the dash and center console feel very familiar. Thankfully, Ford has done away with capacitive touch buttons for the center console and instead instituted proper push buttons. The other immediately noticeable change is the shifter, which has gone from a traditional console mounted lever to a rotating knob, reminiscent of the one in modern Jaguars and oft-maligned in recent Chryslers. The knob itself does not drastically change the driving experience and I do not really understand people's resistance to it, but then again, I also like manual transmissions so perhaps I am not the best person to judge. Aside from these changes, the car feels almost exactly the same as the one I drove shortly after the Fusion was released. Material quality is still a half-step below some of the competition, but the overall effect is convincingly comfortable, if not exactly upscale.

Touching the start button elicits life from the EcoBoost engine. Dialed in to provide adequate torque at low speeds while conspiring with the 6-speed automatic to squeeze every last mpg out of the average sized fuel tank, the boosted mill proves an only mildly reluctant dance partner in suburban commuting. Leaving the car in its normal mode brings prompt, but not immediate throttle response and the transmission likes to act deliberately, so it takes a moment to ponder downshift requests before executing. Twist the dial into sport and the throttle is slightly more willing while the transmission acts slightly less inconvenienced and offers up gear changes moderately more promptly. This is not a car tuned for serious back roads driving, but offers good comfort if your only battling is freeway congestion.

The middle-of-the-road tuning carries over into the suspension and steering as well. The electronic power assist provides lots of boost at low speeds and seems to dial it back in a pretty linear fashion as speeds pick up, but at no point does this car ever offer up anything resembling steering feel. It is always fairly artificial feeling, but should satisfy those who need to divide their attention between driving and threatening junior's allowance for his back seat shenanigans. The springs and dampers complement this well by offering up enough body roll to remind the driver that this is not a performance car, but being stiff enough and well sorted enough that the ride is a good compromise between comfort and control. I suppose the best word to describe all of this is composed, which is to say that it never gets out of sorts, but is also boring as hell.

Of course, Ford has an ace up its sleeve: Sync 3. Yes, for a change, Ford's infotainment system is not only not a negative, it actually adds to the overall ownership experience. As a touchscreen driven system, this is one of the most responsive ones that I have used in recent memory. It is certainly far quicker to respond than the older Sync system in our Ford Focus EV, and on par with, if not slightly more responsive than the system in our Accord. And because this is the most updated unit available, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are built right in. When I see this, it makes me smile because it means that some automakers are realizing that they suck enormous donkey balls at developing infotainment systems and should just turn things over to the professionals. Plugging my OnePlus One into the Fusion's infotainment resulted in prompt pairing of my phone and the car and immediate access to all of my on-phone media. My only issue was that the Sync 3's Android Auto integration is occasionally buggy, resulting in the need to unplug and re-plug the phone into the car.

After a couple hundred miles behind the wheel, I have to admit that as a suburban appliance, the Fusion deserves to be considered as a proper alternative to the Toyota Camry. It offers all of the comforts and ease of use backed by a company desperate to prove that its decision not to take bailout money was a good idea. It is a frugal and well-sorted alternative to the Camry or Altima, but if you are looking for something more than just a device to share your daily slog to the office, consider the Honda Accord or Mazda 6 instead. But as basic transportation and family hauling duties, the Fusion offers everything a family of four is looking for in a car and at an attractive price point too. If you must buy American, this is the definite winner among the US Big Three's mid-size offerings.

But there is still a lot of room for improvement to make the Fusion a truly great sedan. Hopefully Ford is smart enough to recognize the potential and will give this car the proper redesign it truly deserves.