By Jim Bray
It drives like a hybrid - with a whiny CVT transmission and more leisurely acceleration than some might like - but at heart Ford's 2017 Fusion hybrid is a very nice car. And if you don't want a hybrid, they make enough other models to satisfy nearly everyone.
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Those "other models" include a plug in hybrid and a Fusion Sport that sounds really fun and interesting (more on that in a future column) - and there's also a Platinum trim level now that tosses about every creature comfort and technological gewgaw you could think of into the mix.
But this column is about my week in the Fusion hybrid, in its Titanium trim level. And if you take it out of eco mode and ignore the CVT's whine, you might find it a very nice choice in the mid-size sedan niche.
I forgot to take it out of eco mode for the first few days I drove it and I was ready to call it a gutless wonder; once I got it back to its normal settings, however, it became much more interesting. And I achieved about 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres fuel consumption which, considering I drove it as if it were a Porsche Cayman, is pretty remarkable. Heck, its consumption wasn't much lower than in the smaller and newly uglified Toyota Prius I drove a few months ago (5.4 l/100 km), and the Fusion is a nicer car.
Fusion hybrids start at $34,988 according to Ford's Canadian website and Ford of Canada's sample included about $7,000 worth of options, putting it over 40 grand when all was said and done. For comparison, the highest trim level of Toyota Camry hybrid (a more fair comparison than the Prius) tops out, according to Toyota's Canadian website, at just over 42 grand, so the prices are competitive.
The options Ford included on the test unit included a nice sunroof, garage door opener, premium floor mats, active park assist, a block heater, heated/cooled seats, adaptive cruise control, a navigation system and the $1950 "Driver Assist Package" that includes a lane keeping system and blind spot detection. That package also includes a heated steering wheel, power outlet mounted handily right under the centre stack, auto high beams and rain-sensing wipers.
The lane keeping system can be shut off via buttons on the end of the signal light stalk, which caused me to activate it by mistake a couple of times, and the parking assist feature not only will parallel park the car for you, it'll also "perpendicular" park, which means it backs into a parking lot slot for you, a very nifty idea.
Maybe the next generation will be a nifty idea that actually works as it should. I tried it three times and only got parked once - and it was embarrassingly crooked and took longer than I could have done it myself. The first time I tried it, it backed up, then forward, then back, then forward (you only use the gas/brake and gear selector and the car does the rest) and then back again before I shut it off and moved on to a real parking space: if I'd left it to its druthers it would have backed me right into a minivan!
This experience was similar to one I had earlier this year when a Range Rover tried to back me into one of those metal shopping cart corrals in a Wal-Mart parking lot - though I put that experience down to the Range Rover being upset it was in a Wal-Mart parking lot in the first place.
So it still pays to know how to park.
Anyway, the Fusion hybrid gets whatever power it has from a two litre Atkinson-cycle inline four cylinder engine that has its oomph augmented by a high-voltage electric motor (this is shared with the plug-in hybrid Fusion). Power gets to the front wheels via that continuously variable transmission and, like most, its elastic band feel sucks the joy out of the drive, but at least it's quieter than some (or Ford has put in more sound insulation).
If you ignore the hybrid stuff you're left with a 2017 Fusion, which is a nice upgrade from the 2016 and earlier models. It isn't a whole clean sheet renewal, but it's pretty nice.
Some of that niceness comes from little things, such as the cool new LED "signature lighting" up front and the proximity sensing door locks that let you lock/unlock the car from any of the four doors (most vehicles only let you use the front doors). The Fusion hybrid also has one touch up/down on all four windows and seat memory for the driver.
You also get Ford's new Sync 3 system, which is a big step up on the old Sync. This one is easier to figure out and use, and the voice recognition works well, too. Alas, the audio system is a typically Ford Sony unit, so it's okay but could be improved. And it might be: Ford has announced it's making a new, B&O Play system available starting next year, so hopefully that'll take care of that weak link.
And it isn't to say the Sony really sucks. It's just not as good as other mainstream audio systems on the market.
The hybrid wore 18 inch machined faced aluminum "painted pocket" wheels with P225/50R17 BSW tires, which are standard on that model. The wheels are attractive, though busy.
Inside, Ford has designed and crafted a comfortable and well laid out cabin with dual zone HVAC, dual configurable LCD's on the instrument panel (though the cascading menu system to control them leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to ease of use) and Ford's nifty new rotary gear selector, which gets rid of the big lever but doesn't really open up a lot of real estate on the console (though it does make it easier to reach the handy storage/connectivity area below the centre stack). It's cool, though I'd have liked to see paddle shifters included as well, even if the damn CVT transmission doesn't really shift.
Still, hybrid and CVT angst notwithstanding, the Fusion is a nice mid-sized sedan to drive. It handles well and the suspension isn't so soft it'll lull you to sleep. I can't wait to try the all-wheel drive Sport model, which is supposed to happen within the next few weeks.
One thing you should remember if you're opting for the hybrid is that it gives up a lot of its usually-generous trunk space in order to fit the batteries. Oh, it's still not an unreasonable size, but instead of having a flat floor the battery section creates a kind of shelf that might affect stowing larger objects.
Fusions compete with the likes Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Mazda6, VW Passat, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Maximaetc. I haven't driven all of these competitors, and not all of them offer hybrids, but the Fusion should compete with them very well. It's a good car, well thought out and executed, and it should serve its owners well.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
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