The Ford Fusion has been a force among mid-sized sedans, and its center-focused grille and coupe-like styling have been aped by many a competitor.
If the others are smart, then they’ll also reverse-engineer the Fusion with its smallest engine, because it works surprisingly well.
One and a half liters – that’s this Fusion’s engine displacement. Not so long ago, engines this small were the domain of Chevettes and Tercels. Even in the last decade, the key figure with mid-sized sedans was the power of their available V6 engines, usually displacing three liters or more. Journalist press fleets was packed with sixes, and fours were rare.
But now we’re in an age that values efficiency, and tiny engines in larger cars are here to stay. There is no more Fusion V6, and the biggest engine tops out at two liters. For 2015, the 1.6-liter is gone, with the 1.5-liter serving as the Fusion’s non-hybrid mileage champ; it’s available only on the mid-level SE and adds $805 to the bottom line as well as two mpg to the base 2.5-liter Duratec’s 26 mpg overall. Add the $295 Start-Stop, and overall mpg hits 29 mpg.
Not bad for a non-hybrid, but of course the Fusion offers a Hybrid (add about $1,500 for 42 mpg) and Energi (add about $10K for 88 mpge) if that’s what you want.
I’m not the one to ask about real-world mileage performance; San Francisco’s hills turn even the thriftiest cars into guzzlers, and this Fusion’s trip computer barely cleared 12 mpg. Goes to show that the smallest of engines still aren’t a miracle cure for everything. But I was very impressed with this Fusion’s strong response, so much so that I popped the hood to make sure the engine on the sticker matched what had been installed.
Partly I was looped by the memory of the disaster of a Dodge Dart I tested last year – that Dart’s 1.4-liter turbo was infuriatingly unresponsive from rest. That engine had very little torque, and the turbo took its time lighting up. As a result, the Dart just sort of oozed into intersections until the turbo finally kicked in, and that Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior became maddening, especially with Jekyll so out to lunch.
This Fusion was different. I checked to make sure they hadn’t slipped me a Duratec because the response was so immediate and balanced and not at all like the Dart’s obviously re-purposed tiny-car engine; the 1.5-liter is a natural fit for the Fusion, and it feels like it was made for it. Also, the six-speed transmission shifted with clarity and directness, which was a welcome relief from the recent Subaru Legacy and its slushy CVT unit.
With the Fusion’s performance basics settled, we can then quibble over the occasional power gaps, which surfaced when trammeling through traffic and needing very specific amounts of scoot to prevent colliding with the iPhone-gazing Uber and Lyft drivers around you. Otherwise, the 1.5-liter got up to speed and climbed hills and passed other cars with confidence and ease.
The Fusion has some useful changes for 2015, including a standard rear backup camera, which should have been standard from the start on every Fusion. The tested 2014 had the $295 Reverse Sensing System, which sounds off with audible BOOP BOOP BOOPs that get closer together as you approach the car behind.
That’s a good first step, but it’s not enough. The Fusion’s rear visibility is poor, with a high rear seatback and a dramatically sloped rear glass. Here’s the view over your shoulder…
…and here’s what you see when you get out to check. There’s just no sense of scale from behind the wheel. If the Fusion you’re considering doesn’t have a backup camera, consider having one installed.
While we’re kvetching about the Fusion’s rear quarters, the silly stub of a trunk lid bears mention. It would be awesome if the Fusion’s raked glass lifted up along with the trunk lid to form a giant hatchback, but a big rear door would add weight while slicing into rear headroom. So we’re stuck with a trunk that you file things into rather than being able to plop stuff in, and it’s a loooong reach to the rear seatbacks when the apples work loose from your groceries and roll up and get caught there.
Ford’s SYNC provided its usual tests of patience. It’s gotten to the point where I wince whenever I see the logo.
It’s always something with SYNC, and this time it was phone pairing; it just wouldn’t do it, either with my Android or typically fail-safe BlackBerry. I gave it a few tries over the first couple of days, but SYNC wouldn’t pair with either.
I gave it one more shot as the Fusion was being picked up, and ah, I got the BlackBerry to pair after I made it discoverable. Looks like it’s a one-way street for SYNC – it has to be the one to find an open connection, not the other way around. Lesson learned.
But it feels like I have to learn something every time with SYNC, whereas the aforementioned Subaru Legacy’s Starlink didn’t make me fool with the settings on either phone; it seemed to both reach out and accept connections, and the pairing happened seamlessly. The plea to Ford is to make SYNC something that works in tune with everybody’s logic, not just its own.
On the other hand, someone should throw Ford a ticker-tape parade for designing headrests that conform to the demanding safety standard but don’t tap your head every time you hit a bump. They sit at a comfortable distance away and can be adjusted forward in clicks if you like. Good job.
That’s the feeling with the Fusion; Ford did a good job. Besides the nettles we found, the car itself is sorted out in ways that show careful thought.
Sometimes the Fusion’s curvy styling works against it, and sometimes you want to scream at SYNC. But mostly, the Fusion pleases, and the small engine’s performance bodes well for a V6-less future.
2014 Ford Fusion SE
Base Price: $24,760 (including delivery)
Price as Tested: $27,590
Equipment Group 202A – includes SE Luxury Package and Heated Front Seats: $2,350
Engine Start-Stop: $295
Reverse Sensing System: $295
Rear Inflatable Seatbelts: $190
Surprisingly strong engine
Small trunk opening