Review: 2013 Ford Fusion SE 6-Speed Manual
“I wanna live like the common people, I wanna do what ever common people do.” – Pulp
I’m jaded for life by the kinds of cars I get to drive. Not a month goes by that I don’t test a new, wholly unpractical car and think to myself, “Man, I wish I had [some extraordinarily huge amount of money] because I’d buy that car right now.”
Most people don’t have that privilege. Most people buy a car that gets them from home to work, to pick up the kids, and the grocery store. Most people care more about the color of the car than what engine it comes with (case in point: my girlfriend, who recently bought a used Subaru Outback, didn’t care whether it was the 4 or 6-cylinder model as long as it was silver and had leather).
When it comes to new cars, luxury for money sells, technology sells, and style sells, but nothing sells better than perception. Case and point #2, my friend Devon, the most typical California blonde you will ever meet, has been driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee since high school. I’m helping her buy a new car, and she wants a “grown up car.” For her, “grown-up” means German. Never mind that most of the “wealthy” parents of kids I went to school with drove Jeep Grand Cherokees. The perception here is that, (and this is true for many young people today) German cars are just better than American or Japanese cars.
Hit the jump to see if the new Ford Fusion can change that perception.
Fortunately, I am in the position where I must be objective on a car-by-car basis, and not on a brand-by-brand basis. I have stated many times that every car company builds good cars, and every car company builds bad cars, with the exception of boutique exotic manufacturers like Koenigsegg and Pagani.
Ze Germans build many fine vehicles, especially when you look at the top of their pricing pyramids. BMW’s M cars, far from their original 1980’s ethos as they may be, are wonderful to both live with and drive on the race track. Mercedes’ AMG division builds the worlds best luxury muscle machines. And Audi’s RS models provide performance that traditionally surpasses what their numbers will suggest, while offering some of the best interiors in the business, at any price.
The same cannot be said for the base models of these cars, which, frankly, rely much more on brand image than actual substance. A base, zero-option FWD Audi A4, for example starts at $32,000, and for that you get a decent car, but very few features or actual luxury. It’s the badge-loyalists special, the car for the twenty-something who wants a “grown-up car” without any of the features real grownups would consider luxurious.
Which brings me to the 2013 Ford Fusion. You may recognize the old fusion from the picture taped to the desk at the Hertz counter, or maybe if you shaved this morning and took a look at your Gillette Fusion razor, which utilizes the sedan’s grille to remove yesterday’s stubble.
The new Fusion, thankfully, brings a new look to the table. Well, not new exactly, as you may recognize the front end as being an integral part of Aston Martin’s styling for most of the last decade. When the Fusion first came out I called it “The most shameless ripoff in automotive history,” but fortunately, parking it next to a new Rapide in Beverly Hills revealed that the two cars aren’t actually as similar as they seem.
As Kat Williams once said about the then-new Chrysler 300, “It look just like a Phantom, until a Phantom pull up.” Same goes for the Fusion. From the side it resembles a slightly larger Hyundai Sonata, and from the rear, a more upscale Focus. (We do find it hilarious that on Ford’s Media site there are over 300 photos of the Fusion and only one taken from behind). Overall, it’s an attractive, mostly conservative car that, judging from the responses from valet attendants throughout the past week, seems to appeal to people.
The clear highlight of the Fusion is its interior. Our test model, an SE (or, middle) trim level, comes with high-quality leather everywhere your hands and butts need to be, padded, high-quality foam dash, door uppers, and console, and upscale feeling secondary materials all around. The front power seats have excellent legroom and headroom even for taller drivers, and have power adjustable lumbar support. Lateral bolstering is above average for the segment and even in the canyons, held me in place quite well. The Fusion makes great use of all the available space, and at 6’3”, it’s always impressive when I can sit “behind myself,” which in this car, is surprisingly comfortable. The trunk is massive and transporting five people and their stuff is an easy task.
I’ve personally never seen a car that, for $28,000, comes with so many toys. There are three LCD screens, two 4” ones flanking the central speedometer in the gauge cluster and a much larger 10” one using MyFordTouch for Navigation, Climate, Radio, and Phone functions, as well as the backup camera with steering angle-sensitive “giide” lines. The gauge cluster screen on the left displays a tachometer, trip information, fuel economy in several different graphs, vehicle settings, and warning lights, while the right screen is configurable to show any of the four options which can also be shown on the main screen. This is a great feature, as the main screen can be displaying, for instance, the Navigation Map while the cluster screen shows Phone or Radio information.
Thankfully, MyFordTouch has gradually improved, and though I’m still not sold on the button-less controls, at least the system worked without any major bugs or glitches. I was four-for-five inputting navigation destinations through SYNC’s voice commands, the phone interface is just about the best I’ve used, and the radio (which features two USB inputs, Coaxial inputs, Bluetooth connectivity, and Sirius, while not concert-quality like Audi’s $6,500 Bang and Olufsen setup, sounds clear and offers many adjustments. One complaint about the radio is actually not with the touch screen, but the physical knobs to control tuning stations and volume. In my Raptor, the faster you turn the knob, the faster you can scroll through channels. Each “click” responds directly to one up or one down. In the Fusion, the faster you spin the knobs, the slower it actually tunes. So to go from, say AltNation, channel 36, to Opie And Anthony, channel 202, will literally take 3 minutes of constant scrolling unless you use the direct tune feature or voice commands.
Now, while I’m used to very fast cars, there’s something comforting about an average-power, average handling, yet comfortable and stress-free sedan for a week that I really enjoyed. Our tested was equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission, which, if I’m honest, is more of a “journalist special,” than anything Ford actually plans on selling in volume. And you can tell right away that the Fusion is really optimized for the automatic anyway. The brake pedal is large, like an automatic’s, and the tachometer is digital, going away if you want to change the left LCD screen to any of the fuel economy or settings screens. The pedals aren’t as well spaced for heel-toe driving as they could be, but again, this isn’t a sports car anyway. It’s easy to drive, with a light clutch, accurate shift throws, and good gearing. Shifting without the clutch is incredibly easy and the Fusion responds well to it.
The 1.6L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine doesn’t seem like it would be enough power to move around a car as big as the Fusion, but when you consider the 178 horsepower and 184 lb/ft of torque only have to move around 3,500 lbs, it actually is. The Fusion is certainly not fast by any measure, but it’s quick enough for economy-focused city and highway driving, and can cruise in the triple digits when asked. It’s fun to wind out, and makes a pleasant sound as the turbo spools, most of which is kept outside the cabin when the windows are raised.
The Fusion’s real talent is ride quality. It’s as smooth as the last Lexus ES I drove, and over broken pavement the chassis remains rigid without punishing the passengers. I got out of a 6-hour drive one day feeling just as good as when I got in the car. The ride quality translates to good handling when the road is less than perfect, like some of the Malibu Canyons, where I went to see if the Fusion had any sporting character to it.
When pushed, the Fusion responds about as well as you could expect from a family sedan. It’s more fun than a Camry, and the steering feel is above average. The economy-focused tires howl like a banshee long before they lose any actual grip, but when the grip goes away, be comfortable in knowing you’ll be going off the road forwards, not sideways; it’s all understeer for this one. Though I didn’t push the brakes to their absolute limit for fear of understeering off a cliff, they didn’t fade as much as I’d expected after a day in the canyons, but were stinking up the cabin something fierce after a hard run down Latigo Canyon road, a ten-mile technical, downhill section that has set quite a few sets of brakes on fire.
But who am I kidding here? No one is buying a Fusion to go canyon carving. For that, you’re better off spending your $28,000 on a Focus ST and calling it a day. The Fusion is a family car, a commuter car, a stylish, practical alternative to the beigemobiles of the world. And for that. It’s fantastic. Over a week’s driving I averaged 28.8 miles per gallon, including my day in the canyons, and genuinely enjoyed the luxury and technology the Fusion offers for a reasonable price. There is no question that a loaded-up Fusion for just shy of $30,000 is a much nicer car than a stripped out German badge-on-wheels. If people can get over the fact that Ford will also sell a zillion base-model Fusions to Hertz and realize that despite fleet sales, the Fusion is a great daily driver with more tech for the money than you’ll find anywhere else, the world may just become slightly less shallow.
Ford provided the car, insurance, and a tank of gas for this review.