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2006 Ford Fusion

2006 Ford Fusion New Car Review
Martha Hindes

You could just feel California in the air. Not the smog factor in this sense, but the ambience, the carefree absence of cold weather worries, the baking sun that burns through gray overcast to toast scantily-clad sunbathers on beaches or on private decks, as fair game for helicopter hovering paparazzi.

2006 Ford Fusion

We had picked up Ford's Fusion in a trendy section of Los Angeles on a warm late summer morning, near college foot traffic and within smelling distance of the ocean. This had been the perfect setting for Ford to do some testing of buffed young 20-something college types and the fledgling professionals who make up the most coveted of potential import car buyers. So Ford covered up the familiar Ford oval marque and left the vehicle standing in mid-street for passersby to explore.

It didn't take long for the curious to check it out. Who makes this? An import? What kind? "Hey, that's nice. I could drive this," was the kind of remark repeatedly overheard by company officials standing quietly at the sidelines. In an atmosphere where almost anything that wears a foreign label can outclass a domestic — sight unseen — what was served up beneath the hidden nameplate scored a significant victory. Tally one for the initial visuals.

But would time behind the wheel play out equally well? Our driving route started at the edge of the Pacific and wound around the fabled hills of Southern California. Once we escaped the inevitable sequence of red LA traffic lights, our route took us along the legendary Mulholland Drive, Pacific Coast Highway, Topanga Canyon Road. We skimmed around the periphery of multi-million dollar estates with gated entries just inches from the curbs, and overlooked vast vistas of valleys. It was an ideal driving course meant to show how adept a vehicle can be at negotiating miles of relentless switchback curves and an occasional lope along surprisingly unclogged express roads.

The answer came as Fusion took the roads in unruffled stride, responding with crisp, tactile road manners whether on smooth or cobble-stone rough pavement. Its unexpected agility was a pleasant surprise as it wound effortlessly around tight turns, corners, jammed on sudden stops and at one point during an unavoidable U turn blasted, full-powered into motion from a standstill to make room for a sedan that had jumped a light.

Fusion started life as an auto show concept ideal nearly three years earlier than its 2006 debut, wearing the fabled "427" name taken from Ford's high-powered, muscular '60s sedans.

As a production car, it wears a strong, clean appearance, with subtle shadings and a hunky sense of power some might call "swagger." A bold, bright metal tri-bar runs broadside between large, multi-element winged headlamps, echoed below at sportlamp level, for an "angry eyebrow" look. (It's the new, immediately recognizable identifier face of Ford autos.) A distinctive "belt line" sweeps backward from front fenders to define the handsome, uncluttered profile. Triangular taillamps hint of kissing cousin Volvo, for a distinctly European touch. The narrowed depth between wheel lips and tread (especially when fitted with larger, low-profile tires) lend a racier, sports car look.

This is a welcome resurgence vehicle for Ford that desperately needed to fill the midsize gap once owned by Taurus, that faded from glory when long past its prime. It's clear Ford put time and effort into ensuring the replacement would be world class. The Fusion moves into the category between the compact Focus and the recently launched full-size Ford Five Hundred, as America's Number 2 domestic auto maker seeks back customers who had strayed to other brands.

2006 Ford Fusion Interior

Fusion comes in an S four-cylinder, and SE and upmarket SEL models in both four and six cylinder versions. All trim levels get standard steering wheel cruise control, remote keyless power locks and power windows and mirrors and MP3 connection. Our test vehicle was the top-of-the-line SEL with a luxurious and supple feel inside. Fusion offers three interiors color schemes, a subtle medium stone, handsome two-tone black and charcoal combo and a monotone charcoal black. Soft cloth or leather, bright work, contrast seat stitching, satin finishes and wood or "piano black" touches, depending on model, match the ambience of a far costlier import with near-lux status. Round and functional gauges are easy to read. A sensibly-stacked center console has easily-reached controls and accessible cupholders designed to hold the heftiest drink.

Inside it's more spacious than we expected, a testament to designers who carved out more leg, shoulder, head and cargo room from midsize auto space, although the Fusion rests on Ford's slightly-stretched new CD3 architecture. Rear door access doesn't force a pretzel-bending entry.

A rigid body structure, meant for safety and control - what Ford calls "class-leading torsional rigidity" - is the base of the Fusion's fine ride, anchored by an advanced four-wheel independent suspension system. Rebound springs in the front shocks absorb roughness and smooth out any feeling of pitch when accelerating or unsettling sense of roll when cornering. Pavement that could lend a jarring feel is muted to unnoticeable.

We appreciated the extraordinary effort Ford spent on steering, resulting in tactile, intuitive handling. It's similar to earlier development of the compact Focus. Steering on the Fusion was easy and just right, not too rigid or too soft, and delivered just enough road sense to connect with what's going on below.

The front-drive Fusion comes with two engine configurations. All wheel drive - unneeded for our California soiree but a blessing in blustery North country - is to be added during its second year of life. The Duratec 30: 3.0-liter, 221-horsepower V-6 has only a standard, wide-ratio six-speed automatic transaxle. A spiked-up 160-horsepower Duratec 23: 2-3 liter Inline four, has a standard five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic. The I-4 meets California's stringent, planet friendly PZEV emissions control standards while the V-6 qualifies for the state's ultra-low ULEV standard. Early fuel economy is rated at 24 city/32 highway for the automatic and 23/31 for the manual. A hybrid version is on the drawing boards for 2008 to make it the fourth hybrid in Ford's lineup.

On the safety side, Ford has built extra strength and rigidity into the Fusion's body and safety cage with a new crash protecting roof and side structure, before adding intelligent airbags and other protective elements. The roof is more than a third stronger than U.S. roof crash standards to go into effect in three years. Torso-protecting front airbags are available. And the side curtain airbag system uses a "roll-fold" technology, designed to slide the protecting bag between head and glass if someone is leaning against a window.

Skinny wallets should love Fusion. Its low-budget entry price under $18 K (I-4) or $21-plus K (V-6) beats out segment competitors, including Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima.

Ford uses the tagline "Life in Drive" for promoting the new Fusion. We might add, "a drive of one's life," for this outstanding driver's car. We found the Fusion to be a truly affordable, lively, responsive and good looking auto with a sense of luxury and dominance that certainly can bump credentials with the best of many upscale brands, including those highly-touted European and Asian imports.

Click here to read RTM's First Impression!

For more information visit the Ford website here.

2006 Ford Fusion
Midsize sedan
Model options:

S, SE and SEL

Engine size:

Duratec 2.3-liter Inline 4
Duratec 3.0-liter V-6

I-4: 160 @ 6,500 rpm
V-6: 221 @ 6,250 rpm

I-4: 150 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm
V-6: 205 lb.-ft. @ 4,750 rpm


I-4: 6,800 rpm
V-6: 6,550 rpm

I-4: 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic
V-6: Front drive 6-speed automatic

3-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty


$17,995 base (I-4) to $21,275 base (V-6) including destination and delivery charges