First Drive: Track Time in the 327-Horsepower Ford Fusion Sport
While at Ford’s annual Further With Ford 2016 conference, we were able to glean all sorts of interesting information about the company’s sustainability, transparency, heritage, and engineering aspirations, leaving our minds laden with thoughts of an autonomous future. The world of cars is rapidly evolving, and with a self-driving launch date of 2021 looming on the distant horizon, Henry Ford’s 113-year-old namesake is once more at the forefront of a whole new automotive revolution. But until that time comes, the brand that brought you vehicles like the Shelby Mustang, Raptor pickup, and GT supercar has a few more surprises in store, with its EcoBoost line of turbocharged engines leading the discussion.
Halfway through the second day of the event, we were taken to one of Ford’s testing grounds, and after playing with a Super Duty pickup and the long awaited Focus RS, we strolled over to the Fusion booth to see what was happening there. The sedan now sports a 2.7-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 that delivers 327 horsepower and a sizable 380 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels. These are impressive stats considering that the majority of the Fusion’s competition is either boasting naturally aspirated V6 engines, or turbo four-bangers, with even fewer of them sporting all-wheel drive.
It may not have the performance pedigree of the RS, nor any of its clever drive modes, plucky manual gearbox, or hot hatch appeal, but the new Fusion Sport still has its own appeal, with 19-inch alloy wheels, mild aero upgrades, blackened grille, and quad exhaust tips as key ingredients. Unfortunately, there have been plenty of other sedans in the past that have appeared equally promising, only to wind up as mild apparitions of what was promised during the unveiling, so we remained skeptical as we approached the driver’s seat.
In order to keep things in perspective, the first half of Ford’s road course was tackled in regular drive mode, which felt surprisingly capable, if all but a hair restrained. The new Fusion is a very comfortable car due primarily to its adaptive dampers and all-wheel drive setup being on tap at all times, a fact that was felt as we traveled around the track and tested the sedan’s suspension geometry. Another thing we noticed right away was how serene the interior felt, with active noise cancellation features, a spacious cabin, and tasteful minimalistic touches like gear selector control knobs, paddle shifters, and an electronic e-brake all garnering recognition.
While we weren’t wild about the bland looking center stack and an overall lack of contrast in the cabin, everything felt well-crafted and easy to locate and operate. Visibility was not an issue, seat adjustability options were considerable, and both steering wheel proportions and aluminum sport pedal grip were on point. Corners were handled with less body roll than expected thanks to those aforementioned adaptive dampers, and acceleration times felt turbo-lag-free all the way up until we pushed the Sport button, at which point the gloves came off and the performance light turned on.
The second half of the course proved to be quite the tire squealing, brake snubbing, throttle charging, turbo-spooling, all-wheel drive adventure, ultimately leaving us back at the starting grid entirely too soon with sizable smirks on our faces. From an entry-level performance perspective, Ford has done the unexpected, by fine tuning the Fusion almost to the point of perfection. It has taken an unassuming sedan and turned it into a surprisingly agile, and very aggressive sleeper, with more power at the ready for finely tuned aftermarket applications.
Speaking of which, the Tokico dampers on this sedan have reportedly been tuned in house by Ford to deliver adjustable servings of compression and rebound, all at fractions of a second with zero signs of hesitation or inconsistency. Opening up the throttle rewarded us with a notably louder exhaust note too, as the active noise cancellation tech took a breather, transmission shift points held their place as the paddles became engaged, and both throttle and steering feedback became sharper. Every bump in performance that goes with mashing a Sport button came out to play, and even though it may not feature a drift mode or a deployable rear wing, the Fusion Sport truly felt like it was finally trying to be a contender for the mid-size sedan crown.
Ford isn’t there quite yet though, and although it certainly is off to a great start with the 2017 Fusion Sport, interior and exterior styling choices still seem somewhat one-dimensional when compared to cars like the Mazda6, Malibu, Accord, and Optima. Steering felt a hair vague at times too, even when in Sport mode, and while electric assistance was not overwhelming, road feel occasionally seemed aloof. The brakes could also stand to be beefed-up a bit, either with a different pad/rotor combination or a larger setup, as both pedal feel and fade concerns seem like a potential issue if one were to really hound on the car. Naturally, very few buyers will ever track a Fusion, but the additional peace of mind associated with better pedal feel and shorter stopping distances can’t be ignored.
But outside of those few gripes, there was very little to dislike about the 2017 Fusion Sport, and we are excited about getting behind the wheel of one in order to give it a thorough road test. At $33,475 it offers a tremendous amount of performance for the money, and being that Ford has been busy tweaking its entire drivetrain line, we are curious to see if those 17/26 MPG EPA estimates prove to be achievable with a six-speed automatic gearbox. Unfortunately, now that we know how much fun this machine actually is, we’ll likely average single-digit efficiency ratings as we continue to favor the “Boost” portion of the powerplant more than the “Eco” end.
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