2008 Ford Fusion Review

2008 Ford Fusion - Euro flair.


If BMW offers a nearly mid-size 3-Series sedan with a manual transmission, why can't Ford offer such a transmission for more driving fun and economy in its mid-size Fusion sedan?

It might be expected that the family-oriented Fusion offers only a V-6 engine with an automatic transmission, but a four-cylinder and manual gearbox are standard.

Such an engine-transmission combo requires more driver involvement than the V-6 and automatic --and thus more driving fun for car-oriented folks. No wonder Europe's BMW offers a manual gearbox for its 3-Series "driving machine.''

The Fusion is a European-style car with good fit and finish. It's based on the sporty Mazda6 from Ford-controlled Mazda -- a Japanese automaker known for cars with a zoomy Euro feel. The crisp-looking Fusion arrived as a 2006 model. One of the first ones I tested had a V-6 and was mistaken by some for a BMW.

Major Fusion rivals include the Chevrolet Malibu, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima -- all heavy hitters. Also, the Hyundai Azera and Sonata and Kia Optima are becoming more serious threats to this Ford.

Fusion sales last year totaled 149,552 units, up slightly from 142,502 in 2006. Sales in January -- a slow car month -- totaled 9,183 Fusions, against 10,529 in the same year-earlier month.

All four-cylinder Fusions come with front-drive, while the V-6 versions can be had with front- or all-wheel drive.

The Fusion is offered with a potent 221-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission, which is responsive but has no manual-shift mode. However, I recently found the more economical, sophisticated 160-horsepower four-cylinder with a five-speed manual gearbox to be a surprisingly good combo.

The Mazda-sourced four-cylinder has dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, instead of the usual two, for more efficiency. The manual gearbox shifts crisply, although it works with a long-throw clutch.

Besides providing more driving kicks, the manual helps the Fusion deliver an estimated 29 mpg on highways and 20 in the city. You also can get the engine with a five-speed automatic, which provides 20 city and 28 highway, but where's the fun in that?

The V-6 with the automatic is rated at an estimated 18 mpg city and 26 on highways with front-drive and 17 and 25 with the extra-cost all-wheel drive. Both engines require only regular-grade fuel.

My test $19,785 four-cylinder manual-transmission Fusion SEL model had what every four-cylinder/manual Fusion should have: an $895 Sport Appearance Package available for the mid-range SE and top-line SEL trim levels. It contains a sport suspension, 18-inch (up from 17-inch) aluminum wheels, rear spoiler and unique exterior trim.

That package also makes the interior look especially good, with a brushed aluminum radio surround and red interior accents that looked sharp with my test car's black upholstery.

The Fusion with the manual transmission calls for more driver involvement because, for instance, a downshift from fifth gear to third gear is needed for the quickest merges into fast traffic and the best 65-75 mph passing on highways.

However, the four-cylinder has sufficient torque to accelerate smoothly from in-town speeds in fourth gear to highway cruising speeds with little or no upshifting. Fifth gear is basically a fuel-saving overdrive gear.

The power steering is fast, with a somewhat heavy feel that gives the Fusion a more secure feel on highways. The ride is supple, even with the Sport package's sport suspension and larger tires, partly because Fusions have a European-style all-independent suspension. Handling is crisp, and the brake pedal has a good feel when working the all-disc brakes.

The last I looked, Fusion list prices go from $17,770 to $24,000. Trim levels are base S, SE and SEL.

Even the S is well-equipped, with such items as air conditioning, tilt/telescopic wheel, cruise control, split/folding rear seat, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, intermittent wipers and power windows, mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry.

The SE adds a power driver's seat, fold-flat front passenger seat and in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer, with the all-wheel-drive model adding traction control. The SEL adds automatic climate control, leather-wrapped wheel, heated power mirrors and wider tires on 17-inch (up from 16-inch) wheels.

Safety items for all include anti-lock brakes and front- and curtain-side air bags. The Fusion has scored well in safety testing.

Major options are a $795 power sunroof, $895 leather upholstery for the SE/SEL, $95 traction control and new $295 rear-obstacle detection system for the SE/SEL and $295 heated front seats that require leather upholstery and an $1,895 navigation system for the SEL.

The quiet interior has good space for four to five tall adults, and all doors open wide for easy entry and exit. Large front seats provide decent side support and are set fairly high to provide better visibility. Gauges have a custom appearance and can be read quickly.

However, windshield wiper controls should be easier to use, and the same goes for the small, flush audio and climate control buttons. An oversized rearview mirror can block visibility of overhead stoplights.

Driver power window controls and the dual front console cupholders are easily reached, and there's a deep covered console bin. Front doors have storage pockets and beverage holders, and rear windows lower nearly all the way.

The large trunk has a low, wide opening, and its lid raises smoothly on hydraulic struts. Rear seatbacks flip forward to significantly add cargo space. But the hood is heavy and must be held open with a prop rod, although fluid filler areas are easily reached.

The Fusion V-6 is the swiftest model, but the four-cylinder Fusion with the manual transmission can provide family utility and more driving fun, especially with the Sport Appearance Package. Why should BMW drivers have all the fun?


PRICES: $17,770-$24,000

LIKES: Surprisingly good with thrifty four-cylinder and manual transmission. Roomy. European feel. Nice ride and handling. Fast with V-6. Available all-wheel drive.

DISLIKES: Small controls. Long clutch throw. Only a prop rod for heavy hood.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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