EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 31, 2013

New Ford Fusion looks like a winner

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — Selling a medium-sized automobile is one of the most important, but also one of the most difficult tasks that auto companies face today.

The job is important because the mid-size sedan is the bread-and-butter segment of the auto business. Populated by successful top-sellers like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the market for mid-size sedans is where car makers win reputations, secure loyal followers and, importantly, make big money.

But the task is tough precisely because successful top-sellers like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry – plus eye-catching newcomers like the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima – make this all-important market so competitive. It’s hard to sell a mid-size sedan because the car industry gives drivers so many good models to compare.

Ford’s solution when it remade its four-door, five-passenger Fusion sedan for 2013 was to approach the challenge like a beauty pageant. First make the car stunningly attractive, so when it’s on stage all eyes turn to see it. Next, give it stand-out talent, so when people look closer, they see that there’s brains beneath all that beauty.

The strategy just might win the diamond tiara for the new Ford Fusion.

“A lot of people come in because they see it on the road and like the looks of it,” said Michael Barry, sales consultant at Regan Ford in Haverhill. Others see it pictured in advertisements or discussed on the Internet, he said.

“The style draws people to the vehicle. There is tons of interest,” Barry stated. “It almost sells itself without a test drive.”

But with a test drive, the car can quickly overcome any lingering doubts. Barry sees shoppers sense assurance, seriousness and purpose in the vehicle.

“They feel that it has a lot of beef to it. They feel the way it merges onto the highway,” he illustrated.

Shoppers appreciate the choice of three engines in the new Fusion, said Berry. They especially like the fuel economy that each engine option delivers, he added.

The base model of the 2013 Fusion comes with a four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission that yield an EPA fuel-economy rating of 22 miles per gallon in city driving, and 34 mpg on the highway. The two optional engines above the base level decrease in size, but they match or exceed the larger engine in both power and fuel efficiency. That’s because the higher-priced engines are Ford EcoBoost motors, which use turbochargers to complement other advanced engine technologies that maximize both power and efficiency.

A 1.6-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine available in Fusion produces 178 horsepower – three more than the base engine – while delivering a fuel-economy rating of 23 mpg city, 36 mpg highway. It does even better when paired with a five-speed manual transmission, reaching 25 mpg city, 37 mpg highway.

The third choice, a 2.0-liter EcoBoost, gains considerably more muscle, rising to 240 horsepower. Yet it still pulls in a fuel-use rating of 22 mpg city, 33 mpg highway in a front-drive Fusion.

An all-wheel-drive version of Fusion uses the more powerful, 2.0-liter EcoBoost. The addition of four-wheel traction cuts highway fuel mileage by two mpg, while the city mileage rating remains unchanged at 22 mpg. All-wheel drive is available only the top-level, Titanium version of Fusion, boosting its list price to $32,995.

At Regan Ford customers choose mostly front-drive versions of Fusion, Barry reported. The car comes with electronic stability control and traction control, which provide an added measure of security in poor road conditions. That makes four-wheel traction less essential, he said. Other standard safety features in the sedan include eight air bags and advanced antilock brakes. Extra-cost options include blind-spot monitoring, lane-drift detection, adaptive cruise control and a back-up camera.

A base-level Fusion lists at $22,695, but more than half the buyers at Regan Ford opt for an EcoBoost engine, which brings drivers into a higher trim level that includes more features than the base model.

Ford also sells a high-mileage, hybrid version of the Fusion that pairs electric drive and gasoline power to stretch maximum mileage from fuel. The Fusion Hybrid starts at $27,995 and earns a fuel-economy rating of 47 mpg in both city and highway driving. A plug-in hybrid version, called the Fusion Energi, can take a battery recharge from a wall plug, boosting gas mileage even more. It starts at a list price of $39,695.

The hybrids sell to people whose driving patterns can make the most of the dual, gas/electric motor systems, said Barry. But for most consumers, the fuel economy of the gasoline powered Fusions is attractive enough, he noted.

During a seven-day evaluation, I enjoyed driving the new Fusion for its looks alone, which brought me a feeling of distinction. The car has a jazzy assertiveness, with a wide, blunt snout that is topped by high strakes running front to back on the fender tops and hood, giving Fusion a sense of serious forward motion. Deep side creases cutting the flanks accentuate the dynamic appearance.

Mid-size sedans today are the perennial family car. As a group, they represent the most popular class of car in America. Because they must appeal to so many drivers with such a wide variety needs, wants and tastes, their shape and styling have traditionally slanted toward blandness. The Korea-based car company Hyundai broke that tendency in a big way when it introduced the current generation of its dramatically styled Sonata sedan early in 2010 as a 2011 model. Now the 2013 Ford Fusion ups the stakes even more, with a contemporary, striking design that is demonstrating how family sedan drivers favor good looks.

“We’re seeing new customers. We’re seeing people who have never owned a Ford before, but they fall in love with it and they buy it,” said Barry of Regan Ford. “We’re getting customers who are coming out of Camrys and coming out of Accords and they’re going into the Fusion.”

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and nonfiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2013 Ford Fusion Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive mid-size sedan Price range: $22,695 to $32,995 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/60,000 roadside assistance Base engine: 2.5-liter I4 Power: 175 horsepower at 6,000 rpm; 175 lb.-ft. torque at 4,500 rpm Base transmission: 6-speed automatic Fuel economy: 22 mpg city; 34 mpg highway Wheelbase: 112 inches Length: 192 inches Width: 73 inches Height: 58 inches Weight: 3,615 pounds Fuel capacity: 16.5 gallons Turning circle: 37.7 feet