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2006 Ford Fusion
Bob Plunkett

Introduction
It's tough to imagine that a decade ago Ford sold the best selling car in the U.S. Back in the 1990s, sales of the Ford Taurus eclipsed those of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

Then the market shifted to trucks and SUVs and it seemed like Ford abandoned the car market. Sales of the Ford Explorer skyrocketed. The Taurus slumped and was relegated to the rental car fleets. People who wanted a mid-size sedan bought Japanese cars.

Ford is now determined to regain its footing in the car market. The Ford Fusion just may be the right answer and just in the nick of time. In any case, Ford appears to have done its homework.

Based on the highly praised Mazda6 sedan, the Fusion is a rock solid entry at a decent price. It handles well, looks purposeful and delivers good value for the money. Model Lineup
The 2006 Ford Fusion was launched with front-wheel drive, but an all-wheel-drive version will be available later in calendar year 2006. The mid-size, four-door sedan comes with the choice of two engines, three transmissions, and three trim levels.

All trim levels come standard with a 2.3-liter 160-horsepower four-cylinder Duratec engine coupled to a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional ($1,095).

The Fusion S ($17,345) comes standard with air conditioning, four-wheel disc brakes, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power door locks with remote keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, AM/FM stereo with four speakers and a single CD/MP3 player.

The SE adds a six-way power driver seat, two additional speakers, redundant speed and audio controls on the steering wheel, dual illuminated mirrors in the sun visors and carbon fiber center stack applique.

The SEL adds fog lamps, 17-inch wheels, automatic temperature control, upgraded wood or piano black interior trim, premium six-disc in-dash CD/MP3 player, leather wrapped steering wheel and an analog clock.

A 3.0-liter V6 engine producing 221 horsepower coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission is available for the SE and SEL. (No manual transmission is offered with the V6.)

Leather seating is optional and a power moonroof is available.

Safety features include optional side curtain airbags for head protection in both roads, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for thorax protection for the front seats, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and traction control. Walkaround
The Ford Fusion actually has presence, amazing in a segment where most cars blend in. Some people like the aggressive, angular look, some don't.

It starts with the large headlights that rise up into the top edge of the front fender, which features a crisp fold along the top edge that runs all the way back along the edge of the roof to the trunk. Three thick chrome bars across the grille also make the car look more upmarket than its pricing might suggest. The front bumper almost disappears as there are two chrome strips below it that match the ones on the grille.

The Fusion has a wide track, which makes it stand out on the freeway when viewed from behind. A high trunk line and large triangular taillight clusters with chrome trim give the rear end a classy look, not unlike some newer Cadillacs.

Overall, the Fusion is slightly smaller than the Taurus it replaces, but it has much the same dimensions as its competitors. Although the Fusion shares the same basic floorpan as the Mazda 6 its wheelbase is two inches longer and it is an inch or so wider. Ford also says it is a stiffer bodyshell than the Mazda6, which is good. Interior
In keeping with its European influence, Ford has chosen to go with the soft touch for surface materials, which is expected in a luxury car but not in a mass-market car.

The dashboard is a straightforward design that runs horizontally across the car's width with just a binnacle above the instrument pod. It contains four small gauges that are easy to read as they are separated from each other rather than overlapping and the figures are in a large font. Decent sized control buttons for the radio and climate controls should please everyone.

The center stack is simple, but nothing to write home about. The car we drove had a dark charcoal interior so everything was finished in black. The optional two-tone interior, especially the dark stone and camel with faux wood trim looks more inviting.

A convenient storage bin on top of the dashboard features a large clamshell lid and it's big enough to hold a phone or small camera as well as maps and the like. The center console, door pockets, and front seatback pockets provide additional storage.

Rear-seat passengers will find a decent amount of leg room with nicely shaped front seatbacks that allow for plenty of foot space. Head and leg room measurements don't put the Fusion at the top of its class, but the back seat feels roomier than the numbers suggest.

The Fusion has a good-size trunk with a flat floor and low lift over. The scissor-type hinges avoid the annoyance of luggage being crushed by gooseneck hinges. All Fusion models include a 60/40 split rear seatback, which allows for a generous amount of pass-through space. Driving Impressions
The Mazda6 and Ford Focus have established themselves as class-leading cars when it comes to handling. Ford openly admits that it's taken these traits from the two cars to make sure the Fusion inherits the same attributes. Judging by our all-too-brief test drive in a V6-powered Fusion SEL we can say they have succeeded.

On the road, the Ford Fusion feels bigger than it looks, but it handled curvy mountain roads above Hollywood with ease. The rack-and-pinion steering was precise with just the right amount of weight to make the driver feel connected to the road without being twitchy.

In the past, a car that handled well often came with a stiff ride. That's certainly not the case with the Fusion. Its long wheelbase and wide track puts the four wheels at the corners for good handling and a better ride. The front suspension is a short/long arm design while the rear wheels are anchored through a multi-link setup. Improved bushings and hydraulic engine mounts keep vibration and road noise to a minimum.

The 221-horsepower V6 engine provides enough power, although the Fusion will not likely be mistaken for a sports sedan. According to Ford's own tests the Fusion can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 8 seconds, a reasonable performance though not as quick as the V6 versions of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

The six-speed automatic transmission is very smooth. Shift into Drive and it works well. However, drivers who want more control won't find it here. Shifting from D to L only locks out fifth and sixth gears. Also, there's no indicator showing the driver what gear it's in at any given moment and around town it's difficult to tell by feel.

The Fusion V6 manages 29 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA. That's quite respectable for a V6 and the four-cylinder model with the five-speed manual betters this figure by a couple of miles per gallon.

We have not yet had the opportunity to try a Fusion with a four-cylinder engine. Considering the improved performance, smoother six-speed automatic transmission and almost identical fuel consumption, the V6 model is probably the best value for most buyers. Because of this, Ford expects more than half of Fusion buyers will opt for the V6 models. Summary
The new Ford Fusion combines the best features of a great European economy car with those a sporty Japanese sedan. The Fusion offers the sporty handling of the Mazda 6 and the value and comfort of the Ford Focus. Safety features are optional, however.

New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie filed this report from Hollywood, California.

Model as tested
Ford Fusion SEL ($21,710)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Hermosillo, Mexico
Destination charge
650
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
17345
Price as tested
24935
Options as tested
Safety and Security Package (side air curtain, side impact airbags, anti-theft alarm); ABS; Traction Assist; Premium Package ($2,575) includes heated mirrors, elctrochromatic rearview mirror, compass, auto headlamps

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Ford Fusion S ($17,345); SE ($18,760); SEL ($19,845); SE V6 ($20,625); SEL V6 ($21,710)
Safety equipment (standard)
frontal airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Transmissions
6-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
automatic air conditioning, power windows, power locks, power door mirrors, six-way power driver seat, upgraded wood trim, six-disc in-dash AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo system, 17-inch alloy wheels

Engine & Transmission
Engine
3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
221 @ 6250
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
21/29
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
independent, short and long arm with coil springs, stabilizer bar
Tires
P225/50VR17
Suspension, rear
independent, multi-link with struts, stabilizer bar

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
37.8/56.5/37.0
Head/hip/leg room, rear
37.8/56.5/37.0

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
15.8
Wheelbase
107.4
Length/width/height
190.2/72.2/57.2
Turning circle
40.0
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
N/A
Track, front/rear
61.6/61.3
Ground clearance
N/A
Curb weight
3280


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