Easy to Live With: Ford’s Fusion Is the Roomie You’ve Always Wanted

FordFusion1.5LFront-Three-Quarter

By now, you’ve definitely seen Ford’s (NYSE:F) most recently updated Fusion on the roads — the new, bold styling came along with the complete product overhaul for the 2013 model year. So the new car, which many have likened as reminiscent to the styling language of Aston Martin, has been around for a while now.

Ford hasn’t been sitting idly by, content with watching its leading sedan (and among the best-selling American sedans in the country) carry its own weight. Since its introduction, the company has been busy refining its powertrains, and it now offers the Fusion in a wide variety of flavors, from a perky turbocharged option to the Energi plug-in hybrid version. In all, there are six different modes of propulsion that Fusion buyers can choose from, depending on their priorities.

At standard, the Fusion comes with Ford’s 2.5-liter Duratec inline four and a automatic six-speed transmission. There’s also a 1.5-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four cylinder, a 1.6-liter EcoBoost, a 2.0-liter EcoBoost, a hybrid, and a hybrid Energi plug-in. The model I was able to spend some time with was the 2014 1.5-liter EcoBoost, which is arguably the most fuel efficient non-hybrid version available (though that could come down to driving style). It came in the SE trim and had a couple of extra bells and whistles — but more on that later. The 2015 is now available, but it’s largely a carryover from 2014 version, with the exception of some option offerings (the 1.6-liter EcoBoost also disappears for 2015).

Performance

In case you missed it, we recently reviewed the 2014 Ford Fiesta with the 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine. I really liked the 1.0-liter EcoBoost: in car as small as the Fiesta, it’s an ideal powertrain choice for urban commuters, as it returns more power than expected as well as ideal fuel economy. The Fusion, though, is quite a bit bigger than the Fiesta and has a substantial 901 pounds (roughly) on the small hatch. Therefore, the 1.0-liter has been upgraded to 1.5, and as a result, it produces 181 horsepower — about 50 more than the 1.0-liter version.

FordFusion1.5LEcoBoost

Equipped with the six-speed auto, the Fusion’s acceleration is smooth and linear. In other words, the speed you’re traveling matches where the pedal is. If you don’t think this matters all that much, think of a car that jerks off the line with the slightest toe to the pedal; alternatively, one where you feel the pedal nearing the floor before you get some feedback. The Fusion doesn’t do that. It’s clean and effortless, and the transmission engages readily.

Off the line, it’s apparent that the 1.5-liter Fusion wasn’t meant to be the sportiest in the sedan’s lineup. If you’re looking for an enthusiastic, perky, and raring-to-go powertrain, you’ll be more inclined to the meaty 240 horsepower 2.0-liter model and its 231 pound-feet of torque. But the 1.5 — like the 1.0 — wasn’t meant to be a performance-first engine; it was meant to offer the best fuel economy possible short of employing an electric motor and batteries. And there, it excels.

Once you’re moving, the next important factor is stopping again. Like the gas pedal, the brakes are consistent and firm, didn’t grab (in my experience with the car, at least), and offered a smooth, taut braking experience from about 40 miles per hour. But most importantly, the brakes were fairly unremarkable, and that’s a good thing for a car like the Fusion, which is meant to be little more than comfortable, easy to live with, and as low maintenance as possible.

Getting up to speed doesn’t feel unusually slow. It doesn’t feel slow at all, actually, and unless you’re really ripping it on the gas pedal, the Fusion feels like most other cars on the road if you’re driving normally, despite being down in the liter department. However, once you put the pedal down — which I did, on occasion (for science, of course) — the Fusion makes a lot more noise than your velocity would suggest.

FordFusion1.5LRear-Three-Quarter

The biggest test of this would be on the freeway, when you’re trying to pass a semi that’s doing 50 up a steep grade and you’ve got three kids, a sleeping spouse, and as many suitcases stowed in the back because you’re heading to the Cape (or whereever) for all of three days. The Fusion is already a heavier car for the size of its engine, and adding several hundred pounds won’t be doing it any favors.

However, this is mitigated by the car’s road manners. It’s delightfully peaceful inside when the tachometer is under about 4,000 RPM, and it’s easy to end up traveling faster than you’d expect yourself to be. On many occasions, I noted to myself that it felt like I was traveling faster than you’d think from looking outside. But it’s cruising speeds, whether it’s 60, 70, 30, or 40, where the Fusion really excels.

The 1.5-liter EcoBoost does, under normal driving conditions, return pretty good mileage. It’s rated at 28 miles per gallon combined by the EPA, and over about 70 miles, I logged a cumulative average of 29.1 — and that included the portions where I stretched its legs out a little. For ordinary drivers, 30 miles per gallon isn’t a stretch, provided the stop-and-go traffic is kept to a relative minimum.

When it comes to handling, the Fusion is fairly predictable. The suspension is definitely more refined for comfort, so there’s some body roll when you take a corner at speed, but average drivers likely won’t notice or won’t care. The steering is crisp, and the car’s range of motion is especially commendable — the turning radius is far tighter than you’d anticipate from a car this size.

FordFusion1.5LCenter-Stack

Comforts

Inside, the Fusion is a really pleasant place to be. The controls are intuitive and nicely laid out, and it only took a couple of minutes to really get the hang of using the audio system, which was decent: not spectacular, but there’s the Sony system in the Titanium trim for the true audiophiles. My biggest complaint about the layout — and this is specific to other taller drivers — is that the hood covering the gauge cluster was made intentionally low to improve outward visibility. It does, but if you sit up higher in the car, it cuts off your view of the speedometer, the tach, and the driver’s info screen between the two.

The interior styling, overall, is quite nice. There are some pleasant curved accents throughout (reminiscent of the interior language of the Tesla Model S), and the buttons all had some good tactile feedback. Although it’s a lot to take in immediately, the button layout is pretty straightforward, including the D-pads on the steering wheel.

Overall, the Fusion SE has a fairly upscale feel to the materials; there’s still a fair amount of plastic involved, but the matte finish and tasteful use of chrome finish offer a pleasant — and not at all ostentatious — atmosphere inside. It’s comfortable and roomy, and the back seat is what you would expect: comfortable, but not overly generous. Overall, the Fusion’s cabin is ergonomically friendly, and as far as mainstream midsize sedans are concerned, it does its job exceptionally well.

FordFusion1.5L-Instrument-Cluster

Notably, one thing Ford’s engineers did was make sure the Fusion was well endowed with interior storage space. There’s plenty of room in the armrest, and what can only be described as a cave under the center stack — more than enough room for cell phones and MP3s. The door sill compartments are equally impressive.

Overall, the 1.5-liter EcoBoost Fusion is a terrific car for those who aren’t necessarily looking for a sedan with GTI-like reflexes. Its job is to be a top-notch, minimal-frill commuter sedan, and it does so in a great way. The EcoBoost returns excellent mileage and overall acts like a larger naturally aspirated engine in that it’s civilized, smooth, and definitely isn’t lacking like many small engines are.

Young folks — 20s, early 30s – would be well advised to look at the Fusion as a potential candidate if the extra space is a concern. The Fusion isn’t noticeably expensive or cheap; the model I drove retailed for just more than $25,000 after a couple of options (like a backup sensor, the EcoBoost option), which puts it on the same field as the competition. With the Fusion, though, you definitely feel like you’re getting the right amount of car for the price.

Special thanks to the staff at Heritage Ford in South Burlington, Vermont, for making this report possible.

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