If the 2006 Ford Fusion doesn't sell, then it's clear that Americans are no longer interested in American cars. Of course, Ford could botch the launch with a series of recalls, and consumers haven't got much incentive to consider a car that lacks both an established track record for durability and value retention like the Honda Accord, or a long warranty with free scheduled maintenance such as the Mitsubishi Galant. But based upon our first look, touch, and sniff of the new Fusion, this is the most compelling midsize sedan out of Detroit in a long time.
Ford's Fusion is the first car out of the chute to ride on the company's new midsize "CD" platform. Based on a modified Mazda 6 foundation and powertrains, the Fusion's underpinnings will also provide the basis for a slew of new FoMoCo products such as the 2006 Mercury Milan, 2006 Lincoln Zephyr, and 2007 Lincoln Aviator. Given that the Mazda 6 is one of the most entertaining sedans on the market, the Fusion should prove fun to drive.
Fun to look at is another strong Ford Fusion characteristic. Taking its cues from the Ford 427 concept vehicle of 2003, the 2006 Fusion embodies Ford's new corporate look; the most obvious element is the three-bar grille that will be added to all blue-oval-badged sedans within a couple of years. Headlights wrap up into the hood, tapering to a sharp angle similar to the Mercury Mountaineer. Tidy flanks, an elegantly arched roofline, handsome 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome accents, and upscale triangular taillights give the Fusion a clean, cohesive look.
Inside, symmetry rules. Stylistically, the theme follows the larger Ford Five Hundred sedan, with organized controls, flush surfaces, close panel fits, and simple design. The Fusion possesses a clean, refreshing interior loaded with soft-touch surfaces and materials that, for the most part, exude quality. Ford offers distinctive "themed" cabin treatments, including one inspired by the Ford 427 show car that blends charcoal-black leather upholstery with oatmeal-colored stitching and piano black interior trim.
Ford will offer four- and six-cylinder versions of the Fusion when it goes on sale, with a new hybrid model planned for 2008. The aluminum, four-cylinder engine displaces 2.3 liters and makes 160 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 150 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm while meeting partial zero-emission vehicle standards in California. The aluminum, 3.0-liter V6 generates 210 horsepower. A six-speed automatic is standard with the V6, while the four-cylinder Fusion gets either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic to send power to the front wheels. In 2007, all-wheel-drive will become optional. Four-wheel-disc brakes and independent suspension at each corner are standard on the Fusion, but ABS is an option.
Unquestionably, the 2006 Ford Fusion is a compelling midsize sedan. But without a reputation for reliability, without a longer warranty, without free scheduled maintenance, we think it's going to be hard for Ford to sell this car against Accords, Altimas, and Camrys without incentives.
Better warranty coverage, a price that undercuts segment leaders, and a flawless launch would help guarantee that the 2006 Ford Fusion is a success. It's extremely stylish, is probably quite fun to drive, and should be a great place to spend time behind the wheel.
--By Christian J. Wardlaw