The art of creating a balanced “sleeper” is a lot tougher than one might think. Automakers have been trying to make covert, high performance ass kickers for decades with mixed success, and regardless of whether drivers use them to their full potential or not, the hidden joys of having an automotive wolf in sheep’s clothing can’t be overlooked.
But not every sport or rally version of a car returns the kind of high-octane results enthusiasts demand and deserve. Many “performance packs” are little more than a mixed bag of sharp aero bits, an alternative set of alloys, stiffer suspension springs, colorfully stitched bucket seats, and a shiny exhaust tip sticking out the ass end.
Take the unassuming Ford Fusion Sport for instance: For years, it has offered car buyers an appearance package that looked slightly more aggressive than the regular model, which meant it was far from being obnoxiously over the top like other “sport” models on the market at the time. Unfortunately, from a performance perspective, it was not very sporty at all, an oversight that Ford has amended with its latest revision. The Fusion Sport has evolved into a twin-turbo, all-wheel drive, continuously-damping sleeper sedan that in certain ways can give the all mighty Focus RS a run for its money around the track. This car is one of the nicest surprises we’ve ever encountered in the automotive arena this year, and we believe it stands the chance of becoming one of the most logical alternatives to the average luxury sport sedan.
Unless you know what to look for, chances are the Fusion Sport will roll by unnoticed, just another commuter sedan, patiently ferrying its master down the interstate. Ford’s decision to keep this car as unassuming as possible is a bit of a double-sided sword. On the bright side, it will likely avoid any unwanted attention from the authorities, and not having a set of super low profile tires or an aero kit that sits an inch off the ground makes daily driving a lot more enjoyable. But speeding tickets, cracked bumpers, and pothole headaches aside, the Fusion Sport doesn’t make you turn to putty when you look at it either.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Quad-exhaust and black styling touches look spiffy alongside the 19-inch alloy wheels.
+ Having a notably horizontal approach to under-sill lines has served this chassis well, and will hopefully be retained in future models.
+ It’s not often that we commend an automobile for its paint job, but damn does this vehicle look stunning in Burgundy Velvet Red when the sun strikes it full force.
– There’s room to be sportier with a Mustang-derived exhaust design, some other wheel options, the spoiler being flush with the decklid, and a mild lip kit that contrasts with the paint scheme without compromising its sleeper status.
The meat and potatoes of this sedan is primarily tied into its drivetrain, because with not one but two turbos spooling off the 2.7-liter V6, and a clever all-wheel drive setup sharpening the Fusion’s claws, driving performance is a factor that can’t be ignored. Sourced from the F-150, this engine is both fluid and efficient, with little sign of lag to be experienced. Having engaged the EcoBoost engine on two different test tracks as well as in daily driving conditions, we can attest that this powertrain has to be one of the most engaging options we have ever come across in a sedan.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ All 325 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque are linear and overlap nicely in order to bring you up to speed swiftly and safely.
+ The Fusion is plenty lithe in regular driving mode, but mash the sport button and all manner of magical performance gains appear.
+ Average results for conservative cruising consumption rakes in a respectable 27-28 miles per gallon on the highway.
– The untapped potential within this engine is enormous, and Ford has chosen to favor things like a courteous exhaust note over performance flow.
Much like its exterior, the cabin of the Sport is an unassuming, somewhat cubicle-like version of the regular Fusion. It has some nice luxury amenities, the seats are quite comfortable, control layouts are easy to locate and use, and there’s a cool driver display and center command knob for performance tweaks on the fly. Everything feels well assembled and made to fit, but it’s a bit of a stretch to refer to this cabin as sporty, especially with a center stack that seems to derive its color choices and styling cues from a DOS computer from 1995.
Interior pros and cons
+ Storage perks include a generously sized trunk, large center console and door cubbies, and some sizable cupholders.
+ Ample rear cabin space for grown-ups, sharp LED mood lights, plush seating, and a snazzy gauge cluster make for an inviting interior.
+ Appreciated driver touches include a nicely stitched heated steering wheel, sport pedals, piano black drive selector, electronic e-brake, and a serene cabin.
– The center stack may be well made, but when compared to something like the Mazda6 or Malibu, it looks dated and emotionless.
– Ford limits you to one interior color scheme with this car, a charcoal gray that is nice but not memorable, and a healthy amount of fake carbon fiber trim.
Tech and safety
The Fusion wins big time with its tech upgrades over regular models, especially with things like its slick driver info display, active safety systems, and touchscreen SYNC system that crushes older versions. It may not be the sleekest tech setup on the market today, but it is all-encompassing, earning the Fusion strong points in our week-long test.
Tech pros and cons
+ SYNC 3 offers a far swifter and more sensible touchscreen setup than older models, making it easy to use and informative.
+ Our Fusion came with a duo of tech packages, together giving us a sensor sweep that hits many key safety features like pedestrian detection, automatic braking, adaptive cruise, and Ford’s winning parking assist program.
+ The driver display with all of its menus and contrasting graphics is a like a beauty mark.
– Honda’s new Garmin touchscreen units respond quicker, and are more richly illustrated.
Balance is the name of the game with this sedan, because while it may have plenty of grunt and smart traction systems to keep it all in check, it’s the way in which it tackles mundane driving chores that makes the Fusion Sport so spot on. Controlled and comfortable, the re-calibrated steering and suspension system sit somewhere between direct and adaptable when in normal driving mode, while the twin-turbo V6 offers enough throttle snap and fuel savings to make time in the passing lane stress-free.
But it’s within the confines of sport mode that this car really comes to life, and while it exists in a different realm than the nosebleed-inducing Focus RS in many regards, the results you will witness are nothing short of superb. Outside of a dash of brake fade and some traction slippage issues (which were mainly due to the surprisingly skinny wheels and tires) we had trouble finding something out of place or noncommittal on this car in either regular or sport driving mode.
This machine feels far more focused and ferocious than anything one would expect from a Fusion, and its duo of turbochargers and tricky ECU allow the boost to build effortlessly. It may not look or sound angry, but driven with gusto, this sleeper sedan is guaranteed to give even the most die hard Mustang fanatic reason to smile.
Wrap up and review
This is the first time since its debut that the Ford Fusion has become a car that we can confidently say kicks ass. Long known as a nicely-shaped, practical daily driver with an invested interest in safety and sensibility, the latest Sport version has ditched its ho-hum heritage and prefers to pound pints of premium alongside its Focus RS cousin.
While it could benefit from a more aggressive aero package, a choice of alloys, larger brakes, and some internal updates, the direction Ford’s engineers are taking this model is certainly the right one. Performance tweaks like these are exactly the kind of thing we like to see on a car rocking a sport badge, and as far as the Fusion is concerned, it doesn’t just meet expectations, but surpasses them with flying colors.
But with its unsportsmanlike exterior, strangely designed center stack, and softly spoken exhaust note, we can’t help but wonder at the thought of what a refreshed version will offer in addition. This car also is a bit on the expensive side once you slap on a package or two, meaning it will quickly encroach upon $40,000 if you aren’t careful. That’s Jaguar XE territory.
Nevertheless, some people will not mind the slightly steep price tag, and with this much go-fast engineering backing things up, who can blame them? Ford has done the right thing by making a sport model actually live up to its name, instead of turning it into a rebadged marketing gimmick with different wheels and blackened plastic accents. Now all it has to do is test the waters. The Fusion Sport has nowhere to go but up.