2013 Ford Fusion

Feature loaded, fuel efficient, easy on the eye

The good news for Ford is that its all-new 2013 Fusion mid-size sedan is a strong contender for 2013 North American Car of the Year (NACTOY), which is determined a jury of 50 veteran North American auto journalists and will be announced on January 14 at the Detroit North American International Auto Show. The bad news? So are four of Fusion's toughest rivals, the equally-new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. We know because we've driven and reviewed the other three, and we serve on that NACTOY jury.

All four compete in the same size and price neighborhood, all four are excellent overall with significantly improved fuel economy, and each boasts desirable new features that the others don't have. Can this new 2013 Ford Fusion find ways to stand apart from the others, as well as the new-for-2012 Toyota Camry and VW Passat and other tough competitors?

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Power Of Choice

Yes, it can. For starters, it is the first and only entry to offer a choice of three gasoline engines: a normally-aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder and two (1.6-liter and 2.0-liter) direct-injected, turbocharged EcoBoost fours -- along with hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions. Beyond that, it has movie-star looks, highly-functional features -- some exclusive -- and fuel efficiency sufficient to impress with whichever powertrains buyers choose.

You can choose your new Fusion with a base 2.5-liter four; the more fun (and more fuel efficient) 1.6-liter EcoBoost (EB) four; the higher-performance 2.0-liter EB four; Ford's extra-fuel-efficient (yet eager-to-run and pleasant to drive) gas/electric hybrid propulsion system; or a bigger-battery "Energi" plug-in hybrid that will run for double-digit miles (at urban/suburban speeds) on electric power only. The gas engines drive through standard 6-speed automatic transmissions (the 1.6L EB also offers a 6-speed manual), the hybrids through an electric continuously variable transaxle (eCVT), and all-wheel drive is available with the 2.0-liter EB engine. Ford calls this unique powertrain selection "The Power of Choice."

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The 2013 Fusion's base 175-hp 2.5-liter four is EPA rated at 22 mpg city, 34 highway and 26 combined, while the 184-horse 1.6-liter EB four -- with an automatic stop/start feature that saves fuel by shutting down the engine when the car is stopped, then restarting it when the brake pedal is released -- is good for 23/36/28 with the 6-speed automatic. The most fuel-efficient non-hybrid Fusion (at least on paper) is the 1.6-liter, 6-speed manual EB four at 25/37/29. The front-drive 270-hp 2.0-liter EB four (with a paddle-shifted 6-speed automatic) delivers 22/33/26 mpg and a still-respectable 22/31/25 with available all-wheel-drive.

The hybrid's best-in-class EPA ratings are 47 mpg city, 47 highway and 47 combined, which beats the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid by four mpg city, eight highway and six combined. The Energi plug-in is predicted to deliver more than 100 MPGe (electric vehicle mpg equivalency), eight MPGe better than the Chevrolet Volt and 13 better than the Toyota Prius plug-in. Both marry a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder gas engine to an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery.

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Styling is subjective, but the 2013 Fusion may be the best-looking Ford sedan in... maybe forever. Its handsome new face is a near-steal from the beautiful, expensive British sports cars from Aston Martin, which (perhaps not coincidentally) Ford owned for a number of years. Its sleek profile sets it apart from the "three-box" (hood/cabin/trunk) designs common to midsize sedans. Its sweeping character lines and thin roof pillars suggest an athletic, fun-to-drive personality, and its functional design elements (headlamps, LED taillamps, polished exhaust tips) communicate what Ford calls "enhanced technological capability."

Inside, this new Fusion offers a modern, driver-oriented environment with tight fits, quality materials, soft-touch surfaces, comfortable seats, easy to see and use controls and no exposed edges. It's a big improvement over the previous Fusion and way better ergonomically than the size-smaller Focus. Rear-cabin legroom is less than some in this class, but the trunk is substantial in the gas-powered cars, tighter in the hybrids due to the battery.

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This all-new Fusion offers a great selection of available driver-assistance and convenience features, many based on sensors, cameras and radar that enable the car to see and respond before you do. It can help maintain proper lane position, adjust your speed to traffic conditions, identify and guide you into suitable parking spaces, and provide a second set of eyes when backing out of a parking space with obstructed visibility.

A Lane Keeping System uses a small, forward-facing camera behind the inside mirror that monitors lane lines to help keep the car on course. It will vibrate your steering wheel if you begin to drift out of your lane, apply steering pressure to help bring the car back into proper position and alert you if it detects drowsiness or erratic driving.

Adaptive Cruise Control uses radar to look down the road, slow the car for slower traffic and provide brake support if it detects a potential crash. Active Park Assist uses sensors to identify a suitable parallel parking space and steer the car into it, while you just operate the accelerator and brake pedals. And a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with cross-traffic alert uses sensors in the rear fenders to detect traffic in your blind spot and provide audible and visual warnings.

Also available are the latest versions of Ford's SYNC entertainment/communications system, which enables voice-activated communication through your cell phone and interaction with the car's audio system, and MyFord Touch, which lets you manage vehicle systems through voice control, a large touch screen or conventional buttons.

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Driving impressions

We have been fans of the outgoing Fusion's driving dynamics, and we found this new one even better. Thanks partially to a stiffer structure and its carefully-tuned MacPherson-strut front/multilink rear suspension and responsive electric power-assisted steering (EPAS), it's both a smooth-riding chariot and a tight-handling driver's car. Its cabin is plusher and quieter, and the hybrid models use active noise control (through the audio system) to reduce road noise while enhancing (pleasing) powertrain sounds.

Bottom Line

We logged significant mostly-freeway miles, in a $31K 2013 Fusion Hybrid, logged 35.6 mpg and liked it much more than most hybrids. Ford's oft-criticized MyFordTouch system is much improved and (except for too-small touch pads) does most things well and more quickly than before. We also enjoyed quality time in a $26K manual-shift 1.6-liter EB Fusion SE, found it pleasingly powerful and surprisingly nimble and appreciated its well-designed (non-touch) audio and climate controls. That one delivered 28.4 mpg in mostly freeway driving.

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