2006 Ford Fusion Page 1

2005 Detroit Auto Show Index by TCC Team (1/8/2005)


The introduction this week of the Ford Fusion marks the end of the monolithic four-door sedan, at least in Ford’s estimation. While the Japanese competition — read Accord and Camry — continue to ply about 400,000 copies of their mid-size four-doors on the American market, Ford is taking a different tack.

The new Fusion is just one of a set of vehicles that Ford believes will take over the reins from its fading Taurus/Sable sedans and wagons. The Volvo-based Five Hundred, introduced in 2004, will tackle the large-car, older-buyer demographic also covered by the Toyota Avalon. And Ford’s new crossover Freestyle will absorb shoppers too image-conscious and cargo-laden to resolve themselves into another sedan.

But it’s the Fusion’s mission that could take the most interesting battle to the Japanese brands. Based loosely on component sets sourced from the Mazda6 parts bin, the Fusion aims to give buyers an American-faced alternative to the Accord and Camry — in conventional engines and powertrains as well as advanced technologies such as all-wheel drive and hybrid power.

One thing’s for sure: the Fusion suffers none of the global equivocation so evident in the Five Hundred’s prow. The Fusion’s front end is all-American and patterned after the critically praised 427 concept. The three-bar grille is a direct link to that concept, as are the multi-element squared-off headlamps. They’re also quite domestic-looking and distinct from the Mazda6, an important feature if Ford is to succeed in its quest to make all three versions of this new CD3 architecture (Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Lincoln Zephyr) stand apart from their distant Mazda cousin.

Inside, Ford promises the Fusion’s interior will boast competitive interior spaces with the class leaders. And the interior looks to be one of Ford’s most sophisticated yet in the segment, with a two-tone leather interior optional and gobs of optional equipment figured in, such as a tilt-telescope steering wheel and a six-disc, in-dash CD changer with MP3 playback.

Tuned for performance

Two powertrains will stake out territory in the Fusion’s engine bay. The base 2.3-liter four cranks out 160 hp, and mates to either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic gearbox. The V-6 option is worth 210 hp, and it can be coupled to a six-speed automatic.

Either powertrain gets bolted into a chassis that Ford claims has better rigidity than the donor Mazda6. Like the 6, the suspension is independent at all four corners, and the brakes at all corners are discs (anti-lock is optional).

One chief difference with the 6 is the Fusion’s larger dimensions. For the CD3 variant of the architecture, Ford has stretched the floorpan 1.2 inches wider and 2.2 inches longer, countering criticism that the Mazda6 is a skosh too small to truly take on the likes of the Accord and Camry. Longer door openings and an emphasis on rear-seat entry and exit have made for a marked improvement in backseat space, Ford says.

Trunk space is improved as well. The rear seats are split 60/40 to allow access between the trunk and the cabin.

To be built at Ford’s Hermosillo, Mexico, plant, the Fusion is part of what promises to be a vast family of vehicles. The company says up to ten vehicles will be spawned from the Mazda6 platform, including that vehicle and the three CD3 sedans mentioned earlier, for a total of 800,000 vehicles per year based on similar component sets. But there will be even more distinction than from Mazda6 to Ford Fusion among the variants; Lincoln’s Zephyr, for example, gets a marvelous leather-and-wood interior (see TCC on Monday for more details) while the Fusion will add a hybrid-powered version as early as the 2007 model year.

The Fusion goes on sale in the fall of 2005, with an all-wheel-drive option coming a year later. Ford has not announced pricing, but it can reasonably be expected to slot between the Focus and Five Hundred at a base price of between $15,000 and $17,500 for four-cylinder models.