- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

Ford re-emerges as a contender in the midsize sedan market with this year’s introduction of the Fusion. Ford hopes this new four-door will emulate the original Taurus’s success by adding something to the marketplace that Honda, Toyota and even Hyundai cannot match.

The first step to capturing customers, however, is pricing the vehicle properly. Accordingly, Ford offers five trim models to cover the segment.

The base S model starts at $17,795 and includes standard goodies such as power windows/locks/mirrors, a CD/MP3 player, a tilting/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control with steering-wheel controls and a 60/40 split rear bench seat. Power is derived from a 2.3-liter inline-four rated at 160 horsepower and 156 foot-pounds of torque. When mated with the standard five-speed manual, this powertrain propels Fusion to an estimated 23 city and 31 highway miles per gallon. Additionally, a five-speed automatic transmission is available.

For another $755, the inline-four-powered SE adds six-way power adjustment to the driver’s seat, map pockets on the back of the front seats, Message Center with a trip computer and six-speaker audio system (instead of four). At the top end of the four-cylinder lineup, the $19,635 SEL includes automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with speed and audio controls, fog lamps and low-profile P225/50R17 tires on cast-aluminum 17-inch wheels. Wheels on S and SE models are 16-inchers inside P205/60R16 tires.

Ford also offers two V-6-powered Fusions in the upper trim levels. The $21,275 V-6 SE model, in addition to being equipped with the inline-four SE’s options, also includes a 3.0-liter Duratec V-6 tuned to 221 horsepower and 205 foot-pounds of torque. Only one transmission, a highly flexible six-speed automatic, backs V-6 models. Dual exhaust is standard and Traction Control is available.

The $22,360 V-6 SEL model includes the four-cylinder’s SEL features and gets bright exhaust tips to boot. Ford estimates the 3.0-liter V-6 mated to the six-speed automatic will average 21 city and 29 highway mpg.

Ford offers the industry-expected array of safety features in the Fusion, although few arrive as standard equipment.

Dual-stage front air bags with Occupant Classification arrive on all models, but seat-mounted front side-impact units and curtains for both rows are only available as options. A special feature of the curtains is their “roll-fold” ability that keeps them against the glass as they deploy, if the passenger has his or her head against the window. Essentially, these units remain effective even if the occupants are out of their standard positions. Other features of Ford’s Personal Safety Canopy include seat belt load-limiters and pretensioners.

All Fusions arrive in front-wheel drive (FWD) format, although an all-wheel drive (AWD) setup should become available later in 2006. Fully independent suspension, rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes balance, direct and stop all Fusions. ABS is available as an option.

For 2008, Ford will offer a hybrid-powered Fusion, the fifth gas-electric vehicle in the Ford lineup. With Honda and Toyota well into the hybrid game, Ford’s use of the technology may be the essential attribute for regaining a competitive stance.

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