As a general rule, when given the choice of rental car, I will pick a model that I’ve not driven before. Assiduous readers, blessed with a good memory, will doubtless recall that on that basis, the Ford Fusion has already been covered, twice before, in fact and so may wonder why it is being presented again. There are a number of reasons. For a start, for the third evening running, Hertz at the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport were extremely short on cars, so there was actually not that much choice, but the real reason is that the two Fusion models I sampled a couple of years ago were before the mid-cycle refresh, and had different engines. The first had the old-school 2.5 litre 4 cylinder unit, and it was the weak point in an otherwise impressive car. The second was the Hybrid, and I was more enamoured of that one, noting that the only penalty seemed to be a reduction in cargo capacity in the boot, but the upside was better economy and overall it was actually nicer to drive, At the time I postulated that I had perhaps still not found the optimum model in the range. Since that time, Ford have applied a mild facelift to the car, with new styling details front and rear, as well as new equipment, and a juggling of available trim levels, all further reasons why it felt right to have another Fusion experience. Hertz have quite a few Fusion models on fleet at present, and most of them are the Hybrid version, but they also have some Titanium trim AWD cars, and it is one of those which I secured for this test, knowing the Titanium trim brings with it the highly-rated Ecoboost engine. I had a day to discover whether this is indeed the pick of an impressive range.
There are two different capacity Ecoboost engines available in the Fusion, a 181 bhp 1.5 litre and a 2.0 litre. Titanium trim brings you the larger of these as a standard feature. It generates 245 bhp, which also means that you are getting considerably more power than the standard “full size” which is around the 180 – 200 bhp depending on marque. It makes a big difference. A huge difference, in fact, as this is an excellent engine. Whilst it lacks the raspy exhaust note that would really get the enthusiast all excited, it certainly brings the Fusion to life. There is plenty of power available, and every time you flex your right foot, you can feel that surge ready to start for as long as pressure is applied to the accelerator pedal. The engine is very smooth, and very refined, and noise levels are extremely well suppressed, so even if you rev it hard, your ears won’t feel assaulted in the way they would have done with the older 2.5 unit. The gearbox is a 6 speed automatic, and it proved to be one of the smoothest that I have come across for a while. You really were completely unaware of any gearchanges. There is a Sport mode available. Road and wind noise are also very well suppressed, so at speed on the freeway, where I did a significant percentage of the test miles, the Fusion is a very relaxed cruiser. It turned out to be quite an economical one, too. 8.33 US gallons were consumed over a test distance of 247 miles, which works out at 29.65 mpg US or 35.42 mpg Imperial, pretty decent figures for a large family saloon, and ones which show no significant penalty compared to the older and less potent 2.5 litre unit.
This being a Ford, you might reasonably expect it to be rather better than average to drive compared to its competitors. And it is. Maybe not quite to the standards that you would have experienced in a Mondeo a couple of generations back, as I found out with my last experience of this generation Fusion, but still pretty good. The steering has a bit of bite to it. but not enough to make anyone complain that it is too heavy. It is not quite as feelsome as the very best, but still better than any of its rivals. The test car had the optional AWD system, denoted physically only by a small badge on the tailgate. I have to say that for the way I drove the car, you really would not be aware that all four wheels were driven rather than just the front ones. I can see two reasons why you would want it. Certainly if you lived in some of the Snow States, it would be useful in winter months, and maybe you would find if you were really to drive the car hard on twisty roads that this would tame any tendency to torque steer or any unruly handling, but Ford’s engineers have done a pretty fine job in ensuring that even the front wheel drive goes round corners and sticks well to the road. There is no body lean, so you really could tackle the bends with some enthusiasm in this car. Sadly, my test route for the day largely consisted of straight roads. That meant the ride was more important on the day than the handling. And here again, the Fusion does not disappoint. Titanium models come on 235/40 R18 wheels, and a distinctive alloy design which makes them easy to spot over the lesser trims, but such is the competence of the suspension tuning that this is a comfortable car at any speed, with no feeling of harshness or undue softness, both of which are attributes that you find in some rivals (not usually both in the same car!). The brakes were fine, of course, with good weighting, and I am sure that if really called on to stop the car on the proverbial sixpence, they could. There is an electronic handbrake in the centre console. Both door mirrors sport the insert in the top outer corner with a different field of view which does a really excellent job at eliminating blind spots. The rear screen is quite steeply raked, so judging the back end would be hard without the standard rear-view camera, and there are parking sensors to warn when you do get very close, so parking up was not that hard. Although the Fusion is now a big car, it does not feel intimidatingly so when manoeuvring, thankfully.
As well as the more powerful engine, the extra cost of a Titanium trim goes on an upgraded interior, with nicer trim and more standard equipment. The leather seats are the most obvious thing you see when you open the door, but there are plenty of other refinements, and mostly they contribute to a nice cabin ambience. The one black mark I would give Ford is for the steering wheel. It is leather-wrapped, but this has to be the best impression of a plastic moulding I’ve come across for a long time, and was quite a disappointment. Otherwise, as I have previously observed, Ford have been far more restrained with the trim detailing than in some of their recent products, and the result is something which genuinely looks “upscale”. There’s no nasty fake wood or – even worse – shiny metal inlays – just some dark matt black ones with judicious use of matt aluminium highlights. Most of the plastics used are soft to the touch, with a nice texture to them. The overall dash design is neat too. The instruments are all electronic, and the central speedo has the characteristic turquoise pointer on it. To either side are display areas which are customisable by using the selection buttons on the left and right hand steering wheel spokes. For the left, you can choose to have a digital speed repeater, or a rev counter, with either a fuel gauge or that and water temperature, with another set of menus showing trip computer data, and another set some vehicle setting data. The area on the right shows audio unit selection, and you can cycle between pre-sets using the wheel buttons here which many prove easier than doing it on the central infotainment screen. Column stalks operate the indicators and wipers, whilst the light switch is on the dash to the left of the wheel. This was all very much as I had experienced before with the Fusion. It was in the middle of the dash where things looked different. This dominated by a large display screen, with a touch interface, in what is called the MySync 3 system, and this is used for audio functions, navigation, climate control and some vehicle settings. It is set at an angle, so easy enough to reach and the graphics are crisp, but the usability is not great. Some of the functions were very slow to load and unless you knew the XM Satellite channel number or the wavelength of the frequency that you wished to tune to, cycling through a list was very cumbersome. Fortunately, Ford have seen fit not dispense with all the knobs and buttons, so beneath the unit are ones to operate the dual zone climate control and some of those associated with operating the audio system. Whilst it leads to a cleaner look to the dashboard, they’ve still not got the usability quite right. One other feature that is not quite right is the gear selector. This is a cylindrical knob, but it is fixed in position, as opposed to being one that rise with the ignition, Jaguar style. Although the principle is good, it is not quite tall enough, so it is a bit awkward to get hold of. It matches the appearance of the central knob for the infotainment system, and it looks like form was allowed to lead function here.
It was only when I approached the Fusion in the dark, that I spotted that it has the keyless entry system with a numeric pad on the B pillar. In bright sunshine, this is completely invisible, which is a rather neater solution than the series of buttons you used to see on Lincoln and Mercury cars a few years ago. Seat adjustment for both driver and passenger is all electric with buttons on the side of the seat, and there is a two position memory setting to store your preferred if you want. When you turn the ignition off, the driver’s seat moves backwards to give you a bigger area between the seat and wheel to ease entry and access. Turn the ignition on and it returns to wherever you last set it to be. The column telescopes in/out as well as up/down, so I was quickly able to get the right driving position. The seats were leather trimmed, and there are heaters (not that you would need them on a day when the temperature was in three figures!). A glass sunroof, included in Titanium trim further adds light to an airy cabin, made more so with the light colour of the leather trim.
Rear seat passengers get a good deal, too. Well, two of them do. Whilst there is ample width across the car for three, the centre console unit protrudes a long way back, and so a middle occupant would have to straddle this, which many not be that comfortable. This unit does have two air vents on it and a power outlet. The roofline slopes gently rearwards, but even so, my head cleared the roof by a couple of inches. Even with the front seats set well back, there is ample legroom. A drop down central armrest has a pair of cupholders in its upper surface. Occupants here also get door bins and map pockets in the back of the front seats for their odds and ends.
The boot is capacious, slightly bigger than any of its direct competitors. However, unlike the Mondeo equivalent, which is a hatchback, this one is a saloon and so it has a conventional boot lid, and it is simply not very big. So the problem will be getting things in and out rather than the absolute capacity. It is a nice regular shape with a flat floor. There is a space saver underneath and you could tuck odds and ends around this. The rear seat backrests do fold forward, split asymmetrically, for extra capacity. Inside the cabin, there is ample space for odds and ends. There’s a glovebox with a shelf in to create two levels, a cubby under the central armrest with a removable tray in the top, bins on the doors and a large cubby area in front of the gearlever. Unlike the previous Fusion models I had tested, where I remarked on how difficult this was to access, the combination of the revised console and the cylindrical gearlever mean that this is easy to get to, and it has lots of space in it, extending well forward.
The 2018 Ford Fusion comes in five trims: S, SE, Titanium, Sport, and Platinum. The old 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive are standard in the S and SE. The SE trim has an available 1.5-litre or 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and the Titanium and Platinum models come standard with the 2.0-litre Ecoboost engine. The Fusion Sport comes with a 2.7-litre turbocharged V6 engine. You can get all-wheel drive with the SE, Titanium, and Platinum trims. AWD is standard in the Sport. Also available is the Fusion Hybrid and the plug-in hybrid Fusion Energi. The base Ford Fusion S starts at $22,215, which is a low entry price, but that is because the spec is relatively modest. It includes a six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, a four-way manually adjustable passenger seat, push-button start, Ford MyKey, a rearview camera, a four-speaker stereo system, and the voice-activated SYNC interface. The few optional features include fog lamps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a spoiler. Most buyers will probably think that they get more value from a Fusion SE. This has a starting price of $23,490 and adds a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a six-way power-adjustable passenger seat, a six-speaker audio system, satellite radio, and a 4.2-inch instrument cluster display. All-wheel drive and two different turbocharged EcoBoost engines are available, along with a variety of option packages. One package includes the 1.5-litre turbocharged engine, leather seats, heated front seats, proximity key entry, and remote start. Another group includes driver assistance technologies like automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a heated steering wheel, and a 110-volt power outlet. You can also get the SYNC 3 touch-screen infotainment system along with an 11-speaker premium audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control, and rear parking sensors. Other options include a moonroof, adaptive cruise control, and an automatic parking assist function. Additional standard features in the Fusion Titanium ($30,490) include a 10-way power-adjustable passenger seat, heated front sport seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 12-speaker Sony premium sound system, HD Radio, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, proximity key entry, remote start, rear parking sensors, and the SYNC 3 infotainment system. Optional features include voice-activated navigation, ventilated front seats, a moonroof, automatic parking assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a heated steering wheel. The performance-oriented Fusion Sport starts at $33,845 and comes standard with a 325 bhp 2.7-litre turbocharged V6 engine and all-wheel drive. Features and options are mostly the same as the Fusion Titanium. With a starting price of $36,990, the Ford Fusion Platinum comes loaded with most previously listed features and options. These include premium leather seats, heated and ventilated front seats, a moonroof, voice-activated navigation, rain-sensing windshield wipers, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, automatic parking assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and a pre-collision system with forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, and automatic emergency braking.
I started this test wondering if I had found the optimum version of the Fusion, and I am pretty sure that I have. This was an excellent car, with only a couple of very minor niggles, with the cheap-feeling steering wheel being the one you would have to get used to on a daily basis. I suspect that this may be the last time I get to drive a Fusion, though, as in a very bold move indeed, Ford have announced that in the US they will cease to offer regular sedan and hatch models, putting all their effort into crossovers, pickups and the Mustang. Although the market has moved a long way in this direction, cars like the Fusion are still big sellers, and to think that all buyers will move to something crossover shaped is probably a combination of optimistic or naive. With the exception of Honda’s Accord – almost completely unknown in rental fleets – and the latest Camry, I’ve now driven all the full-sized saloons available to US market buyers, and there is no doubt in my mind that the Fusion – with the Ecoboost engine – even though it is now one of the older designs in the field, is the one to pick.