Redesign for 2013 makes a good Fusion even better

North Americans enjoy a vehicle lineup that has made quantum improvements in recent years.

With its wide stance and sleek profile

I remember some years ago asking a Ford rep why we couldn’t have the European Focus, which was light years better than the frumpy model sold here.

His answer: Ours was “built for North American tastes.”

Huh?

Are we no more than the hillbilly colonial cousins, unable to appreciate the nuances of sophisticated Euro style, ride and handling?

Heck, they were even driving better Fords in Australia—a former penal colony.

But that was pre-recession, and now North Americans also enjoy a vehicle lineup that has made quantum improvements in recent years, propelling Ford to top spot in terms of Canadian market share.

This ‘One Ford’ philosophy that is unifying the design process and has been bringing award-winning global products to our shores, has delivered yet one more vehicle, recently tested in challenging terrain, in and around the greater Los Angeles area.

I’ve always considered the current-generation Fusion to be a solid contender in the mid-size segment, and one I didn’t think needed a complete makeover.

But that was until I had a closer look at the 2013.

In this completely redesigned model, built on an all-new global chassis, the company has not only knocked it out of the park in terms of styling, but they’ve created a well-priced, well-crafted sedan that should challenge the best in its class.

The 2013 Fusion follows on the heels of world cars like the 2011 Fiesta and 2012 Focus, and will be sold as the Mondeo outside of North America.

Here, it will be available with a wide range of four-cylinder engines that include a normally-aspirated 2.5-litre (175 hp, 175 lb/ft of torque), a 1.6-litre turbocharged EcoBoost (178 hp, 184 lb/ft), 2.0-litre EcoBoost (240 hp/270 lb/ft) and a hybrid that pairs a 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle inline four with an electric motor and weight-saving lithium batteries.

There’s even the Fusion Energi—a plug-in hybrid—that will be available early next year.

My focus here is the 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre EcoBoost models that, despite the Fusion’s heft (between 1,512 and 1,670 kg), are lively performers.

Indeed, Ford’s 2.0-litre EcoBoost is right in line with much of its V6 competition, and although it gives up a few horses when compared with Hyundai’s 2.0-litre turbo, it is nearly identical in torque and fuel economy, rated at 9.2/5.9 litres/100 km with FWD.

During one leg of the drive route, I scored the top-trim Titanium AWD, which comes only with the 2.0-litre EcoBoost. As expected, there was some turbo lag, but this engine spooled up quickly and delivered strong acceleration, and decent punch when you want to pull out and pass.

I  also noticed plenty of road feel—perhaps more than I’d expect in anything other than a European sports sedan. But this is how the Fusion felt on the twisty canyon roads outside Santa Monica that included the famed Mulholland Drive.

Riding on 19-inch wheels, and a taut independent setup (Mac struts with stabilizer up front and multilink with stabilizer in rear), the Fusion Titanium loved to corner, and with AWD, wasn’t plagued by torque steer.

It’s unfortunate you can’t order the 2.0-litre Fusion here with the six-speed manual, as the six-speed auto was smooth, but didn’t take full advantage of all that power on tap.

My transmission of choice is only available with the 1.6-litre EcoBoost. Despite its smaller displacement and lesser numbers, this engine is still peppy. With the advantage of a clutch, you can spool it up quickly, and although it’s no rocket off the line, you’ll have no trouble passing at speed.

Even when the 1.6 is working hard, it’s not buzzy, and the noise levels are surprisingly low at full throttle. Much of this can be credited to an abundance of sound deadening materials.

But that’s not to say you feel isolated from the road. The SE FWD I drove with this engine was nicely damped, with well-controlled body motions—but still more compliant than the Titanium. The drive route included plenty of challenging roads where this lower-trim Fusion handled the curves with excellent composure and no noticeable lean.

The Fusion’s heft and its use of high-strength steel make for a rigid body that feels and sounds as substantial as some high-priced Euro sedans. It’s doors close with a solid ‘thunk’ and its hushed interior isn’t bothered by squeaks or rattles.

Inside, there’s an abundance of soft-touch materials, with nicely-finished edges and upholstery that wouldn’t look out of place in a premium automobile. Panel gaps are extremely tight.

Even the base model (MSRP $22,499) is well outfitted with a decent list of features like air conditioning, power windows, keyless entry, tilt/telescopic steering, and a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with steering wheel controls and SYNC voice-activated connectivity.

And there’s a ton of available driver technologies, such as the second-generation MyFord Touch with SYNC infotainment system, navigation, rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring (with cross traffic alert), lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, active park assist and the fuel-saving stop/start feature.

The latter, which comes in at a reasonable $150, is only available with the 1.6-litre engine with autobox. It shuts off the engine when stopped, and seamlessly restarts when you release the brake. Ford claims it will cut fuel consumption and emissions by about 3.5 percent.

I won’t add much on the styling, but to say that Fusion’s new, sleeker profile, sweeping character lines, thin roof pillars, slit projector headlamps and wide grille with horizontal chrome strakes, suggest poise and athleticism.

It’s a look that is more premium than its predecessor and, in my mind, one of the most handsome in its segment.

In the 2013 Fusion, Ford has raised the bar yet again.

Ford Fusion 2013

Body Style: mid-size sedan

Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive

Engines: DOHC 16-valve 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder (175 hp, 175 lb/ft of torque), DOHC 16-valve 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (178 hp, 184 lb/ft), DOHC 16-valve 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (240 hp/270 lb/ft)

Cargo: 453 litres

Fuel Economy: FWD 2.5-litre auto 9.2/5.8 L/100 km (city/hwy); FWD 1.6-litre manual 8.0/5.3 L/100 km; FWD 1.6-litre auto 8.7/5.5 L/100 km; FWD 2.0-litre auto 9.2/5.9 L/100 km; AWD 2.0-litre auto 9.5/6.3 L/100 km; Hybrid 2.0-litre CVT 4.0/4.1 L/100 km

Price: Fusion S FWD (2.5-litre iVCT Engine) $22,499; Fusion SE FWD (2.5-litre iVCT Engine) $24,499; Fusion SE AWD (2.0-litre EcoBoost Engine) $28,799; Fusion Titanium AWD (2.0-litre EcoBoost Engine) $33,999; Fusion Hybrid (2.0L I4 Atkinson Engine) $29,999

Website: www.ford.ca

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