Fusion to challenge mid-sized leaders
LOS ANGELES -- With the 2013 Fusion, Ford Motor Co. makes a serious bid not only to unseat the perennial leaders in the mid-sized volume sedan segment, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, but to stave off upstarts such as the Hyundai Sonata.
With the redesigned Fusion, Ford hopes to appeal to customers on emotional and practical levels. Ford is counting on the Fusion's sleek design to lure customers into the showroom, where they'll see the array of powertrains and technological amenities the car offers.
The Fusion is the culmination of CEO Alan Mulally's global One Ford plan, which consolidates the bulk of Ford's global lineup on five platforms. Ford believes the resulting economies of scale will enable it to hold down costs and offer customers more features for their money.
The basics: Ford's strategy, called "power of choice," is to outflank its competitors with more powertrain options, all geared to the company's high fuel economy mantra. There are three gasoline-powered versions of the Fusion -- 1.6- and 2.0-liter EcoBoost and 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines -- along with a gasoline-electric hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. Four of the versions are being shipped to dealers now. The Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid arrives early next year. There's no V-6.
Beyond powertrains, the Fusion offers a wide range of technologies, including some found mainly in luxury sedans: active park assist, blind-spot information system, adaptive cruise control and fuel-saving stop-start.
All this is wrapped in a sleek body that drew comparisons to luxury makes such as Aston Martin at the car's January debut at the Detroit auto show.
Ford began shipping the Fusion to dealerships in mid-September from its Hermosillo, Mexico, factory. Ford will add more production at the Flat Rock, Mich., plant in the second half of 2013.
The Fusion comes in S, SE, SE Hybrid and Titanium trim levels.
Notable features: For 2013, Ford is replacing the nickel-metal hydride batteries in the Fusion Hybrid with lighter, more powerful lithium ion batteries. That has helped increase the hybrid's top speed in electric-only mode from 47 mph to 62 mph and fuel economy from 39 mpg combined to 47 mpg combined.
The hybrid isn't the only Fusion fuel economy story. For the first time, Ford is offering a $295 stop-start option on SE models with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost. Ford estimates the feature, which electronically shuts down the engine when the vehicle is stopped in traffic and restarts it when the driver's foot lifts off the brake pedal, will save customers about $1,100 in fuel costs over five years of driving.
Other technology options include a $995 driver-assist package that includes a blind-spot information system with cross-traffic alert, a lane-keeping system, automatic high-beam headlights and rain-sensing wipers; a $795 Sync-based, voice-activated navigation system; and an $895 moonroof. The top-of-the-line all-wheel-drive Titanium model starts at $32,995, including shipping, but adding options can push the price above $38,000.
What Ford says: "Our vision for Fusion was clear: Deliver the very best of what One Ford stands for. We brought our global teams together around a blank slate with the charge to develop a mid-sized car with groundbreaking design and jaw-dropping fuel economy -- one that featured technologies to help make our customers better and safer drivers. This car is the result," says Raj Nair, group vice president of global product development.
Shortcomings and compromises: Ford says it has improved its MyFord Touch infotainment system in the Fusion, but a co-driver and I at a media ride-and-drive here still found the controversial system frustrating to use. Reaching for the volume dial on the radio, we ever-so-lightly brushed the Max AC button several times by accident, bringing sudden blasts of air inside the car.
In Europe, where the Fusion is sold as the Mondeo, shoppers can choose from three body styles: sedan, five-door hatchback and station wagon. Americans get only the sedan.
The market: Competition in the mid-sized sedan market has never been hotter. The segment has turned into a fuel economy battleground. Nissan can claim 38 mpg highway for the Altima, 1 mpg better than the 1.6-liter EcoBoost-powered Fusion. But the Fusion Hybrid recorded identical 47 mpg EPA ratings for city, highway and combined, giving the Fusion bragging rights against rival hybrids.
The skinny: The 2013 Fusion is a very ambitious car. It combines the airtight quality feel of a Japanese car with the sporty, driver-centered orientation of a European luxury sedan.
You can reach Bradford Wernle at firstname.lastname@example.org.