The 2011 Ford Fusion's performance choices come in a few flavors: frugal, coarse, fine or green.
The Fusion enters the family-car battle with a standard 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission. This base drivetrain has a fine feel, but adding the six-speed automatic to the package actually improves fuel economy--and this year, gets more responsive with the addition of a manual-mode button on the gear lever. In older Fusions, the selector left direct gear choice at the hands of the transmission, not in the hands of the driver. For our drivers, a set of shift paddles and true manual mode is the logical next step.
Opting up to the 3.0-liter V-6 gives you 240 horsepower and flex-fuel capability, but less refined noises and responses than you'll find in the Fusion Sport's 263-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. This six improves acceleration quite a bit, and the standard six-speed automatic does a fine job of staying with your driving demands, not lagging behind. Fuel economy suffers, of course, with city economy dropping to 17 mpg, if you also add on the optional all-wheel-drive system.
The Fusion Hybrid combines the best fuel economy of the Fusion lineup with quick acceleration. The Hybrid teams a 156-horsepower four-cylinder with an electric motor running at the equivalent of 40 horsepower, for a total of 196 hp. It achieves Ford's best EPA rating with a 41-mpg figure for city driving, and has an EV-only model that allows the sedan to run off battery power alone up to 47 mph. It also has seamless hybrid driving feel, with little of the overly electronic, jerky feel that can overwhelm acceleration and braking.
All Fusions have electric steering, and it's among their best attributes. It can help improve fuel economy, too, but in this sedan, electric steering has given the Fusion part of its personality. It's a little hefty, quick to turn in and responsive around the steering-wheel clock, all of which imparts a nimble feel. The Fusion's ride quality is also nicely sorted out, with a little firmness taking the sting out of bumps, but less body roll than you'd find in some sporty cars.
The four-cylinder model can be entertaining all on its own, but a Fusion Sport with the bigger, better V-6 is an interesting option. It gets its own tauter suspension tuning, and its V-6 also has the manual gear selection button. It's extremely well tied-down in a way you'd never feel in the Toyota Camry.