First Drive: 2017 Ford Fusion

J Mays and his design team upped the ante in the family four-door segment when their 2013 Ford Fusion took Best Design Award at the 2012 Detroit auto show. Ditching the dowdy, the new Fusion wore a sleek four-door-coupe skin and sported an Aston Martin-esque grill. In an unusual switch of the norm, this world car hit the streets in North America before venturing forth into other world markets where it would wear the Mondeo nameplate.

Ditching the dowdy, the new Fusion wore a sleek four-door-coupe skin and sported an Aston Martin-esque grill.

As would be expected, the competition has closed ranks since our pretty Ford made its debut. Truly fetching family haulers now include the Mazda6 and Chevy Malibu, and the Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord have all seen recent updates.

Nonetheless, since coming on the market in Canada, this new-gen Ford Fusion has enjoyed top-seller status. Well, at least until the end of 2015 when the Toyota Camry snuck by.

For the 2017 model year (the cars are in showrooms now), the Fusion gets some exterior and interior tweaks along with some new tech. Later in the year we’ll see a hot-rod AWD Fusion packing a 2.7L EcoBoost V6 worth 325 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. It will be called the Sport and Ford says it will smoke everything in the segment.

On this Quebec event, the assembled journalists sampled most of the offerings in the Fusion stable, and gawd knows there are a lot of them. Those shopping Fusion are spoiled for choice. There are six drivetrains, five trim levels, available AWD, and prices range from $23,688 for the base S with a 2.5L naturally aspirated four-cylinder to the Platinum Energi plug-in-hybrid at $45,088. The V6 Sport will run $42,288. All gas Fusions have a six-speed auto while the hybrid and plug-in hybrid models use a CVT (continuously variable transmission).  

Up front we see a wider grill with sharper corners and newly-available LED headlights. Recontoured LED taillights and rear fascia adorn its rump. The big change inside is the adoption of a rotary-style shift selector that frees up space on the centre console. The dual cup holder is relocated to the front, the armrest is longer and Ford tells us there is forty percent more storage space.

Available SYNC 3 with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto replaces the creaky old MyFord Touch, and it is a big improvement. The menu system is more logical, icons are bigger and it works faster. The screen now has swipe functions and pinch-to-zoom with navigation. Although you can just say “zoom out” or “zoom in”, as Ford has revamped the voice recognition to identify a myriad of new and useful commands. Like “I’m hungry”, after which a list of nearby restaurants pop up.

New for 2017 is a Platinum trim that takes the Fusion into luxury territory with leather wrapped dash, quilted cream-coloured leather trim with contrasting piping, heated/cooled seats front seats, 390-watt Sony audio, chrome mesh grill, 19-inch alloys and a host of new driver’s aids (optional on the SE and Titanium) that includes adaptive cruise with stop and go, BLIS blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, blind spot assist, lane departure assist, collision mitigation with pedestrian detection and look-ma-no-hands perpendicular and parallel parking assist.

The Platinum level is available on the Fusion 2.0L AWD, HEV (hybrid) and Energi (plug-in hybrid).

First up for us is a Fusion Hybrid Titanium at $34,998. We throw our bags in the trunk and… hmm, a fair chunk of space is eaten up by the battery pack. However, the 60/40 split back seat does allow for a narrow pass-through.

Fusion has always had good seats, and these fine leather chairs (with optional ventilation) give comfort and support in equal measure. The steering wheel is wrapped in supple leather and Ford’s colourful and clear major gauge cluster is a familiar and welcome sight. Driving position is good. If you’re into hybrid coaching, there is a display that rates your regenerative braking performance, and another leafy screen that encourages green driving by growing more foliage the more you hold up traffic.

Interior quality is generally good although no one at Audi will have restless nights, and it’s in the lower reaches of the cabin where you’ll find some cost-cutting. The door pocket are flimsy and I would tell Ford to put some padding within the recessed door pulls. Humans are tactile creatures. Cheapo hard plastic and a sharp seam against your fingers do not make for good first impressions. Minor gripe, yes, but it’s all in the details.

Both this hybrid and the plug-in Energi run with a 2.0L Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder and electric motor that combine for 188 hp. It’s not quick but surely is smooth and quiet. As far as hybrid systems go, this is a good one. Its regenerative braking is linear and it shuttles between power sources seamlessly. We saw 5.8 L/100 on an extended (and relaxing) secondary road tour through rural Quebec.

Ford offers the hybrid powertrain in all trim levels, with the base S staring at $28,888. The Energi plug-in starts at SE trim ($35,088), moving up to Titanium ($37,288) and Platinum ($45,088). The Energi offers “up to” 35 km in electric-only driving before the gas engine kicks in, after which it drives just like the Hybrid and returns the same fuel economy. It’s eligible for a $7,730 Ontario rebate that more than covers the hybrid to plug-in price spread.

Hopping into a pretty white-gold Fusion Titanium AWD ($34,488) with the 245 hp 275 lb-ft 2.0L EcoBoost proved to be a different kettle of fish. The fuel economy display showed 12.5 L/100 km for the same stretch we had just covered in the Hybrid, and with its six-speed auto this Fusion did some gear hunting over the undulating terrain. Sure, it moved out when you put your foot in it, but power delivery is affected by a touch of turbo lag and a transmission that’s trying to keep the revs down by hanging on to taller gears.

Sport mode is activated by pressing the “S” in the centre of the shift dial. This calls up a more aggressive shift map, and newly available for 2017 are paddle shifters that replace the previous (and useless) plus/minus toggle on the side of the shifter. Still, not much fun to be had with the paddles as response is lazy.

The Fusion has a solid, European feel and benefits from a well-tuned chassis that strikes a fine balance between ride comfort and body control. The accurate steering has a nice heft too. The Honda Accord and Mazda6 would be sharper driving tools out here, but this Fusion “world car” is no slouch. The addition of extra sound insulation along with acoustic glass in the front side windows bestow a seriously hushed cabin.

And now to the Fusion sweet spot. My last drive was an SE with the optional $900 1.5L EcoBoost making 181 hp, 185 lb-ft of torque – now with standard start/stop technology and active grill shutters. This car has an opening price of $26,488. The 1.5 may be slower than the 2.0 EcoBoost, but not appreciably so, and this is an EcoBoost engine that actually delivers real-world mileage close to its Canada Transport ratings (10.0 L/100 km city, 7.0 hwy, 8.7 combined). A 150 km jaunt through hill country north of Montreal along with some city driving netted an impressive 7.5 L/100 km.

The front-drive Fusion 2.0 EcoBoost official numbers are 11.2 L/100 km city, 7.6 highway and 9.6 combined. All-wheel-drive bumps those figures up to 11.8 L/100 km city, 8.1 highway and 10.1 combined.

No cars with the base 175-hp 2.5L naturally aspirated four-cylinder were present at this event. That engine shows up in the S, SE and SE Appearance Package and accounts for about thirty percent of Fusion sales. The 1.5 EcoBoost accounts for another thirty percent.

Right in line with Canada’s enthusiasm for hybrids and EVs, the Hybrid and Energi make up less then two percent of Fusion sales.

With the meaningful improvements bestowed upon the 2017 Fusion, Ford is keeping its handsome sedan in the running. Additionally, the new Platinum trim has Fusion stepping on the Lincoln MKZ’s heels, and we’ll soon see how the 325-hp 2.7L EcoBoost V6 Sport shapes up.

A nip, a tuck and some new tech for Ford’s mid-size family sedan 9/20/2016 11:30:00 AM