If looks alone could sell midsize sedans, the redesigned 2013 Ford Fusion would have the market cornered. Flaunting a grille inspired by former Ford subsidiary Aston Martin and headlights that evoke the high-performance Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the new Fusion is a tuxedo among T-shirts, a head turner the likes of which this segment has never seen.

But fortunately for folks in our line of work, it takes more than just a pretty face to move metal. Information-age car shoppers are savvier than ever before, and they want to know about the entire vehicle, not just how readily it rubberizes the necks of passersby. Accordingly, Ford invited us to sunny Santa Monica, California to sample three of the four 2013 Fusion variants: 1.6-liter turbo, 2.0-liter turbo and high-mpg Hybrid. We considered it our solemn duty to drop by the beachside event and experience the new Fusion firsthand.

Sporty Ambiance

Hop into any Fusion and it will grab you. Almost literally. Ensconced between the firm lateral bolsters of either front seat, you might find yourself wondering, as we did, whether they procured the design from Porsche. We love it, but will shoppers accustomed to flat-seated family cars agree? Only a test drive can determine for sure.

The steering wheel is another element that's Porsche-like, believe it or not. From its thin rim to its just-right compact diameter, this is a sports-car tiller, not a generic rental-grade piece like some rivals offer. Shift paddles at your fingertips with the 2.0-liter turbo only add to the effect. Even before you start driving, the Fusion feels like it's going to be fun.

Driving Excitement

Let loose on the famously crooked canyon roads above Malibu, the Fusion proved pretty fabulous for a family hauler. The precise, responsive steering is one of the best electric-assist systems we've felt yet, fully delivering on the promise of that ambitious steering wheel. Through the corners, the Fusion remains composed and alert, changing direction with the poise of a sport sedan. This is especially noteworthy because the 2013 Fusion has grown significantly, tacking on a whopping 4.8 inches in wheelbase length and 1.2 inches overall.

Ah, but what about normal driving? You know, the kind that most Fusions will do most of the time? Well, for one thing, it's quiet--very quiet. Ford had Altimas and Camrys on hand for comparison, and our subjective impression was that the Fusion was notably quieter than the Nissan, though we'd need a decibel meter to grade it versus the Toyota. As for the ride, it's adequately compliant, but the Fusion doesn't cosset like a Camry. Fun-to-drive was clearly a top priority here.

Under the hood, the 2013 Ford Fusion offers four choices. The base model comes with a carryover 2.5-liter inline-4 that was not featured at the event, but the other three were in play: a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4, a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 and the Hybrid with its combination of gas and electric power.

Quick impressions: the 1.6 is refined with satisfying midrange pull, but it only makes 178 horsepower, so its performance remains about average. Better than average is the 1.6's fuel economy, which can touch 37 mpg by Ford's estimates. The 240-hp 2.0 is stronger, but not hugely so, and its fuel economy drops a few ticks, so we're not entirely sold on the premium Ford's charging. As for the Hybrid, it delivers wholly respectable acceleration along with surprisingly snappy throttle response--far snappier than that of the Camry Hybrid. Not bad for an incredible 47 combined mpg.

Inner Beauty?

If the Fusion's exterior is a home run, we'd call the interior a solid double. On the bright side, the old Fusion's generic dashboard contours and sea of identical-looking buttons have been permanently removed. The new dashboard flows down and toward the driver like a luxury coupe's, and the available MyFord Touch infotainment system (more on that below) herald the Fusion's suddenly cutting-edge character.

Materials quality is hit or miss, however, held back by cheap-feeling plastics on lower panels and some rough edges around areas like the door-mounted map pockets. Granted, most rivals are guilty of these sins as well, but we were hoping that the Fusion's insides would be as exceptional as its outsides. We do appreciate the available classy woodgrain trim, as well as the supple materials that cover the tops of the doors and dash.

Trick Technology

Most of the 2013 Fusion's technology isn't new per se, but MyFord Touch is new to the Fusion lineup. This is Ford's updated version of the touchscreen-based system following widespread criticism, and it's unquestionably better, with faster response times and a more intuitive control structure. The virtual buttons are still on the small side, but the power of the system can't be denied. Well-publicized glitches notwithstanding, we think this is a must-have for technophiles if your wallet can take the hit.

We're less impressed these days by the SYNC voice-recognition system, whose well-aged digitized female concierge is as comically stilted as ever. But in general, the Fusion is a technological powerhouse by family-sedan standards, offering premium features like lane-departure assist (to keep you in your own lane), auto start/stop on 1.6-liter models for extra mpg, and even adaptive cruise control.

Bottom Line

The outgoing 2012 Fusion was already one of the best-selling sedans in the country, but critics like us weren't very impressed. Fast forward one model year, and we're struggling to think of a midize sedan that we'd rather have than the 2013 Fusion. You might come for this car's killer styling, but you'll find yourself staying for practically everything else.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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