2013 Ford Fusion redefines the family sedan

The 1994 Toyota Camry was the best family sedan ever made. In the decade leading up to the ’94 Camry, family four-doors improved steadily, but it wasToyota that created a car that did everything a sedan should do: It was attractive and fun to drive. Since the pinnacle was reached 18 years ago, the only move for the family sedan market was to either fine tune or distill that formula. No one could improve upon it; cutting costs meant less excitement factor; souping up the innards meant higher operating costs. Thus, we had the status quo—until now.

The 2013 Ford Fusion arrives as a breath of fresh air, with significant ramifications for the entire family sedan market. It is the first truly different car to enter the family fourdoor segment in more than a decade. From appearance to ride quality to technology under the hood, the Fusion has raised the bar for what it means to be a family sedan.

Ford is throwing a great deal of advertising weight behind this car, but it may not be necessary. The best marketing for the Fusion is done by its own exterior appearance. Ford still has a 12.1 percent stake in Aston Martin, and one wonders if they cherry-picked a few designers from Warwickshire—the exterior design is that good. The massive grille, flanked by menacing, almost serpent-like headlights, conspires to deliver one of the most head-turning designs this year. For handling, the American carmaker targeted the Audi A3 and A4’s ride quality. More on that later.

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While the exterior is bold and beautiful, the interior is far more straightforward and practical. In a daily-driven car there is little motivation to create a look that would be more at home in the Guggenheim.The S, which starts at $21,700, and the SE, which starts at $23,700, feature tactile buttons for most of the switchgear. The range-topping Titanium model starts at $30,200 and features MyFordTouch, which considerably changes the user experience from that of the S and SE models.

MyFordTouch is a suite of technologies that starts with the center console touchscreen monitor, but also extends to the way you interact with the dashboard and basic radio and climate controls. A pair of digital screens flanks the speedometer, and is controlled by directional pads on the steering wheel. Information provided to the driver can be customized, and features like the stereo and phone can be controlled from here.

The main controls for climate and audio are now on a touch-capacitive panel in the center console. Touch-capacitive controls are something akin to a newer microwave’s control panel. There are no physical, movable buttons, but rather flat, very sensitive buttons. There are a few areas in every car that should never be meddled with. Audio and climate controls are among them, and for that, the Fusion suffers. Several automakers are turning to touch-capacitive controls, and it seems frivolous and impractical to replace perfectly functional buttons with this system. This touch-capacitive gambit is likely a fad that will dissolve when enough negative feedback is generated.

The Fusion’s acceleration and handling will receive no such derision from new car owners. A trio of capable and fuel-efficient inline-4 cylinder engines has replaced the previous engine lineup. The base S model comes with a 175-horsepower 2.5-liter unit, while the mid-range SE comes standard with a 178-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged mill. Available on the SE and standard on the Titanium is a 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo I4, making an impressive 240 horsepower. The top performer for fuel economy is the 1.6-liter from the SE, equipped with the 6-speed manual. That combination achieves 25 miles per gallon city, 37 miles per gallon highway. OurTitanium all-wheel drive model returned 22 city and 31 highway, though we averaged just a little better than the 25 combined MPGs advertised.

The 270 pound feet of torque developed from the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine in our test model made for an exciting ride. In commute- style driving, the car is quiet and the ride is smooth, but when you want to toss it through a tight curve in the road, the Fusion is extremely composed. The steering is tight and responsive, adjectives seldom associated with a family sedan.Where other perennial all stars in this segment deliver numb, uninspired handling, the Fusion shines as it carves up New England back roads. The connection Ford tries to make with the Audi A4 started to take shape in spirited driving. Even the ’94 Camry couldn’t hang with the Fusion in that regard.

The genius of the new Fusion is that it offers something for everyone. Some part of the lineup covers fuel economy, other parts cover performance and luxury, while the entire lineup enjoys technology like Ford’s SYNC voice-command system. The lasting impression of the Fusion is one of a family sedan that does all the things that a family sedan does, but it doesn’t go about it in the same monotonous way.

Many automakers advertise their family sedans with variations of the catch phrase, “proving the sedan doesn’t have to be boring.” The Ford Fusion is the first car in a long time that actually lives up to such billing.

Two decades from now, one may read a review of a future family sedan that drives using a wireless connection to your brain stem, and it will use the Fusion as the longterm standard by which other family sedans are compared. Hopefully touch-capacitive controls will have been figured out by then.