DALLAS, Tex. -- Driving down Oak Lawn Avenue through a trendy commercial district of Dallas with its multi-lane congestion and multiple stoplights impeding our forward progress, linear movement seems like only an incidental concern while encased in the velvet comforts of Fusion, Ford's fine mid-size luxury sedan.
Its ride quality feels so smooth, the comforts stack so deep and the quiet factor resonates so keenly that steering and braking and other physical acts of automotive propulsion diminish as simply so many rote distractions.
But that's the Ford car magic working on Fusion, which in Ford's current lineup of sedans sandwiches in size between a smaller Focus series and the larger Taurus.
Riding on a front-wheel-drive (FWD) platform which traces in root form to a mid-size Mazda sedan, Fusion for 2008 wears expressive sheetmetal outside and comes with a passenger compartment large enough to carry five comfortably.
Body styling borrows cues from Ford's 427 concept car, particularly at the rounded nose with Fusion's bold three-bar grille and the oversized and multi-element projector-beam headlamps.
The body shows bulging fenders over large wheels in muscular pose with a sweeping face and raked windshield which imply swift movement even when parked.
A crisp character line etched into the leading edge of each flank fender stretches rearward above wheel arches and rises gradually to the tail deck. And a high beltline pitched parallel to the character line gains a chrome trim piece along the bottom edge of cabin windows.
It's a tall package too, due to the bowed roof.
Doors run deep to make cabin entry and exit easy and seats are elevated so passengers sit in a higher position than in other sedans of comparable size. Inside, Fusion seems generous in scale with notable space for heads and legs.
The layout is familiar -- two bucket seats in front flanking a multi-level console and a sculptured bench for three in back with seatbacks divided and foldable. However, the design of the cabin is uncluttered and clean, and the materials and craftsmanship seem to be a cut above competitor models in this price and size class.
Essentially, the cabin for Fusion was designed around the body sizes of intended occupants, with more than adequate room allowed for long legs and broad shoulders. It's this attention to personal space that makes the car feel like a larger vehicle than the linear dimensions categorize it, and this perceived spaciousness means you don't mind spending time strapped inside the cabin.
Fusion presents three different interior environments depending on the trim level -- Charcoal Black, Medium Light Stone and Charcoal Black, or Dark Stone and Camel. The instrument panel comes in grained plastic, an applique simulating carbon fiber, or premium wood veneer.
Instruments in the panel consist of easy-to-read round analog gauges ringed in satin-finished bezels and faced in black with white lettering and vivid red needles. Fod lists three tiers of trim for Fusion with a price-leader base model S plus mainstream SE and top-level SEL.
The FWD orientation is standard but Ford adds optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction with a V6 engine upgrade. Standard equipment on the base Fusion ranges from 16-inch steel wheels and P205/60R16 all-season tires to power controls for windows and door locks plus air conditioning, a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, and a stereo audio package with AM/FM/CD/MP3 deck and four speakers.
Top trim Fusion SEL brings foglamps in the front fascia, 17-inch aluminum wheels capped by P225/50VR17 tires, electronic automatic climate controls in the cabin, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and six-disc CD/MP3 stereo. Fusion SEL options include heat elements in front buckets and leather upholstery, while a new Sport Appearance Package applies unique red seat inserts, a black-chrome grille up front, 18-inch machined-aluminum wheels, sport suspension tuning and a decklid spoiler.
And Ford Sync, the voice-activated controller for mastery over in-vehicle phones, media players and USB storage devices, is on the list of options for Fusion. Sync essentially works as an extension of a car's media player. Issues of personal safety are addressed with strong structural elements and energy-absorbing crush zones front and rear plus a variety of safety systems aboard.
All versions contain dual-stage frontal air bags for front riders with smart sensors in place to track the severity of a frontal crash along with the driver's seat position in proximity to the steering wheel and whether seat belts are being used. Side-impact air bags for front seats and curtain-style air bags for front and back rows are standard issue.
Gear promoting active safety includes a rack and pinion steering mechanism and standard four-wheel disc brakes tied to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD), a traction control system (TCS) and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). Ford builds two aluminum engines for Fusion -- a 2.3-liter four-cylinder plant in the entry-issue Fusion S or an optional dual-cam 3.0-liter V6 for Fusion SE and the SEL.
The base Duratec 23 in-line-four plant, rigged with intake variable cam timing (i-VCT) and electronic throttle control (ETC), produces 160 hp at 6250 rpm and torque tipping to 156 lb-ft at 4250 rpm. It links to the standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional five-speed automatic.
The Duratec 30 V6, also equipped with i-VCT and ETC, rises to 221 hp at 6250 rpm with 205 lb-ft of torque generated at 4800 rpm. With the V6, Ford adds a wide-ratio six-speed automatic transaxle to bolster performance and fuel economy scores.
The AWD device for Fusion, available with the V6 powertrain, is a sophisticated electronically-controlled system developed by Haldex, a Swedish pioneer in AWD mechanisms. It's always engaged and automatically splits the engine's torque between front and rear wheels to keep tires sticking securely to pavement, wet or dry.
Ford slants MSRP figures for Fusion at an unexpected low level beginning at $18,135 for Fusion S FWD.
Description: Mid-size luxury sedan
Model options: Fusion FWD, Fusion AWD
Trim options: Fusion S, Fusion SE, Fusion SEL
Wheelbase: 107.4 inches
Overall length: 190.2 inches
Engine size: DOHC 2.3-L I4, DOHC 3.0-L V6
Transmissions/speeds: I4: Manual/5, Auto/5, V6: Auto/6
Rear/front drive: FWD, AWD/Haldex
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Braking: Power 4-disc, ABS/EBD/TCS/TPMS
Air bags: 2 (front), 2 (side), 4 (side curtain)
EPA mileage est.: city/hwy. I4 FWD: 20/28 mpg, V6 FWD: 18/26 mpg, V6 AWD: 17/25 mpg
MSRP: $ 18,135: Fusion S FWD, $ 19,060: Fusion SE FWD, $ 23,660: Fusion SE V6 FWD, $ 20,150: Fusion SEL FWD, $ 24,750: Fusion SEL V6 FWD