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2014 Ford Fusion Performance

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The Ford Fusion has for years been one of the more responsive-driving mid-size sedans on the market, but the all-new model introduced last year took it up a notch--both in terms of powertrain technology, and in behind-the-wheel driving satisfaction. In this respect, it tops the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, Chevy Malibu, Volkswagen Passat, and pretty much any others we can think of.

The base-level engine, a 178-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder, doesn't come close to performing as well as the rakish design suggests; it's adequate with the six-speed automatic, but you'll be downshifting more than you might think as the engine doesn't make its peak torque until a relatively high 4,500 rpm. If we wanted the performance of a V-6 in the 2014 Ford Fusion, we'd head straight for the 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo four, with its 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque in the top Titanium model. It's quick to rev, and the automatic's shifts click quickly via paddle controls. It's also the most vibration-free, quietest installation of this powertrain we've yet experienced, in Ford-brand vehicles and in those from other formerly related automakers.

With its turbocharged engines and taut handling, the Fusion is enthusiastic and rewarding, but not too sharp.

For 2014, last year's 1.6-liter EcoBoost turbo is gone, replaced by a 1.5-liter turbo four. We haven't driven this new combination--and we don't yet even have power or fuel economy numbers for it--but Ford promises the same performance as the 1.6 with better fuel economy. Also, it will include engine start/stop in 1.5-liter automatic version, but we'd be more tempted by the great six-speed manual gearbox--a no-cost option on much of the lineup. The manual's throws get a little long on the north-side gears, but the shift quality has a soothing, mechanical sweetness that's reassuringly familiar to anyone who grew up driving European cars.

Even in its heaviest form, at about 3,700 pounds with the all-wheel drive offered in Titanium trims, the Fusion is quite light for this class, and with well-tuned steering and a taut yet absorbent feel, it has firm, flat, reassuring cornering that's not to the detriment of ride quality, combined with a nimble, eager feeling that's missing from most mid-size sedans--except for the latest Mazda 6. Of note for 2014 is a new performance tire option with summer-only rubber.

Steering in the Fusion isn't perfect, but it's consistent in force and feel; there's not much feedback when unwinding the wheel, and the ratio could be quicker, but it feels sportier than what you're going to find in other affordable mid-size sedans, whether you go with the 17-inch 50-series treads on the SE, or on the 45-series 18-inchers on the Titanium. The base 16-inch and optional 19-inch wheels at the bottom and top of the lineup will likely be more compromised.

With its front struts and rear multi-link suspension, the Fusion is firm and composed, and never forgets that it's a family sedan first. It's not stiff for stiff's sake. There's more ride compliance here than in the Malibu, but less so than the cozy new Altima and less body roll, too.

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