2013 Ford Fusion brings luxury design to family sedan

Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vice president, introduces the Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vice president, introduces the 2013 Ford Fusion during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Photo Credit: AP (2012)

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Its rare to see a hint of Maserati or a dash of Aston Martin in a family sedan.

The reason is simple: Automakers need to sell mid-size sedans by the truckload about 1,000 a day. To please that many people at once, the design needs to avoid offending buyers even more than it needs to entice them.

So its refreshing to see Fords 2013 Fusion, a good and good-looking car in a segment where form follows way behind function.

The 2013 Fusion is the second generation of the family sedan from Ford, but it doesnt share a freckle with its predecessor. The new silhouette is inspired by the wave of four-door coupes from European luxury brands. Think Audis A7 or Mercedes-Benzs CLS.

These cars lose the clear delineation between greenhouse and trunk. Instead, a rear window gently slopes toward a short trunk lid. The effect is sleek and, rare for a Ford, elegant.

The Aston Martin influence shows in the open-mouthed chrome grille, flanked by a pair of squinting headlights. The Maserati homage is in the taillights, with stretched red lenses surrounding a clear insert in a shape reminiscent of a GranTurismo.

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Inside, Ford integrates the cars many features into a clean dashboard, a refreshing change from the overwrought offerings common in todays technology-laden cars, including other Fords.

The test car came with the companys much-criticized Sync navigation and infotainment system. But Fords designers built this systems screen flush with the dashboard, giving the cockpit clean sight lines and an airy feel.

The interior has its flaws. Too much flat plastic robs its character, and the climate buttons dont work unless punched. But the seats are supportive, and passengers in all four corners have ample room.

Beyond design, the Fusion stands out for the number of engine options: a forgettable base four-cylinder that starts at $22,495, two turbocharged four-cylinders (the latter in lieu of a V-6), a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. Ford expects most buyers will choose the smaller of the EcoBoost turbocharged engines, a 1.6-liter unit that makes 178 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque on premium fuel. Buyers can get it paired with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic; either unit starts at $25,290.

If you can stand it, choose the manual even for L.A. traffic. The smooth shifter and light clutch lets you make full use of the composed engine. The Fusion could use more torque at low speeds, but the engine never feels strained once the revs start climbing.

The outdated automatic transmission, meanwhile, tends to get in the engines way with slow and jarring shifts. While many competitors are developing continuously variable transmissions, which have no fixed gears, Ford apparently spent the research and development money elsewhere on the Fusion.

The suspension hustles the car through corners without sacrificing ride quality. Road and wind noise are all but banished from the cabin. The steering communicates well with the driver, though not quite as well as the Nissan Altima.

Fuel economy on the 1.6-liter engine with an automatic transmission is rated at 23 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway. Our test car had the optional start/stop function, which bumped each of those figures up 1 mpg. During my 250 miles of testing in mixed driving, the car averaged 26 mpg.

The entire Fusion lineup won the Green Car of the Year award, given out by the Green Car Journal at the Los Angeles Auto Show. But Consumer Reports followed that news with its own tests showing that the Fusion hybrid did not live up to Fords claims of 47 mpg in both city and highway driving. (The magazines tests found 39 mpg in combined driving.)

The car also has already racked up two recalls. Ford this month recalled 16,000 Fusions for excessive engine temperatures that could lead to fire and an additional 19,000 Fusions for a defect with low-beam headlights.

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Teething problems aside, Ford has put together a solid offering that holds its own in a cutthroat segment. The Fusions few shortcomings mean the class-leading Honda Accord still offers a stronger overall package. But the Fusion certainly wins for best-dressed, and taking sartorial cues from exotic brands isnt a bad way to lure new buyers.

2013 FORD FUSION:

Powertrain: 1.6-liter, DOHC, direct-injected, inline four-cylinder turbocharged engine; six-speed automatic transmission

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Horsepower: 178 at 5,700 rpm

Torque: 184 pound-feet at 2,500 rpm

0-60: 8.0 seconds, according to Motor Trend

Curb weight: 3,421 pounds

Wheelbase: 112.2 inches

Overall length: 191.7 inches

Base price: $22,495

Price as tested: $30,680

Final thoughts: The best-dressed family sedan

Prices include destination charges.

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