14
Sep
09

Motor Mouth: New Ford Fusion wins admiring attention

In the parking lot of Salem Cooperative Bank on Saturday morning, as I approached the 2010 Ford Fusion I test-drove last week, a gentleman engagingly asked me what I thought about the car. He assumed I owned it, and he was curious because he liked the new Fusion himself. He drove a Saab, and his wife owned a Toyota. But he had noticed the restyled and updated Fusion sedan that Ford brought out early this year.

He liked the artfully creased, solidly sculpted body. Fusion wears a new nose this year, set off by a big, jutting chin, rakish headlamps and a wide, gleaming grille formed by three fat louvers – a design that’s become a noteworthy Ford signature. Ann Regan, dealer principal at family-owned Regan Ford in Haverhill, tells me that the redesigned nose of the 2010 Fusion has helped attract people to the car. I witnessed that fact in the parking lot on Saturday.

Fusion is a medium-sized, five-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive sedan that starts at $19,995 and runs to $27,995 for a hybrid-drive version that earns an exemplary fuel-economy rating of 41 mile-per-gallon in city driving, 36 mpg on the highway.

My friendly interrogator at the Salem, N.H., bank wanted to know how quietly and smoothly the Fusion rode. Was it adequately powered, he wondered. He asked if it was comfortable, and if I liked the interior.

I drove a generously equipped Fusion SEL, which is the dressiest of the five variations available, including the hybrid. My test model came with a four-cylinder engine that puts out 175 horsepower and returns a fuel-economy rating of 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway. You can also buy Fusion with all-wheel drive and a choice of V6 engines: a 3.0-liter V6 that gets 18/25 mpg with all-wheel drive, and a more powerful, 3.5-liter V6 in the Fusion Sport that rates 17/24 mpg.

Even with the smallest of Fusion’s three conventionally utilized gasoline engines (the Fusion Hybrid also uses a gas engine, but in combination with electric drive), my evaluation model seemed well powered and smoothly responsive. The news cheered my new friend.

I also gave positive reports about the other attributes on the bank patron’s list. But more than my favorable responses, the best news for Ford is that the gentleman cared enough to accost me and ask about the car. It demonstrated that drivers are noticing the dashing new model. Getting noticed is crucial for mid-size sedans, because the automotive segment is so hotly contested. Getting noticed can also be difficult, because the segment contains some popular and successful models, with the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord first among them.

From what I experienced in a seven-day evaluation, the Fusion deserves a line on the shopping lists of people looking at the best in mid-size sedans.

So I’m happy that Ford succeeded in catching people’s eye with a handsome design that coaxes them to look more closely at the car.

“If customers don’t get excited about the exterior, they’ll never come look at all the great features we have, or even come into the showroom,” Ford design manager Solomon Song summarized in a press release.

But in Haverhill, Ann Regan pointed out that the hybrid version has become another good conversation starter for the car.

“Someone came in just this morning and said, I can’t believe that Ford has a vehicle that gets 41 miles per gallon,” Regan noted last week. “It’s been an eye-opener, and it’s been very rewarding.”

Regan explained that hybrid-drive cars don’t suit every driver. But the high-mileage version helps sell other Fusion versions, she said.

“Waking people up and letting them know that there’s a 41 mile-per-gallon vehicle sold by Ford opens the door,” Regan said. “When they see the car, it opens the door a little bit more.” Experiencing the Fusion in test drives, evaluating features and characteristics of the new model, often cinches a sale, said the dealer.

“Then they just have to decide on the engine they want,” whether four- or six-cylinder, or hybrid, Regan said.

Another boost comes from technical features available in the car, she noted.

In addition to Ford’s Sync network that connects the vehicle with external information and entertainment sources like MP3 music players and cellular communicators, the model I drove featured the company’s Blind Spot Information System (BLIS). It flashes clearly discernible alerts when surrounding vehicles pass into the obscured areas around the rear quarters. I’m not usually wowed by new technical wonders, but I found Fusion’s Blis reassuring and legitimately helpful during an after-dark commute on Interstate 93.

Regan stated that the Ford Motor Co. overall — beyond just the Fusion — is acquiring a reputation as a technology leader. The company is also winning high scores in vehicle dependability and reliability ratings. Such developments are helping to drive more people to hers and other Ford dealerships, she said.

I’ll add patriotism as another strong motive. In the last year, Ford has shown itself to be a tough, well principled American company willing to struggle to uphold our national values. As a result, of the three global car makers with corporate headquarters in America, only Ford remains independent from government ownership. For the many Americans who value liberty, independence and self-reliance, I’ll repeat an encouragement I’ve written before: bravo, Ford. And bravo to people like the citizen I met on Saturday, who pay attention.

Jeffrey Zygmont has written about automobiles since 1982. Based in Salem, N.H., he writes books and articles about innovation, technology and culture. He can be contacted through the Web site www.jeffreyzygmont.com

source: Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

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