In fact, the 2006 Ford Fusion is the replacement for the outgoing Taurus. The Fusion is smaller than its predecessor and borrows critically-acclaimed design cues from the 427 Concept car that made its rounds on the auto show circuit a few years ago. The Fusion inherits the 427’s distinctive three-bar grille and projector beam headlights, which give the Fusion its distinctive identity and which will filter to all Ford cars and crossovers to make each product wearing the familiar blue oval an instantly identifiable appearance.
The 2006 Ford Fusion is based on a corporate platform that originated with the Mazda 6. (Ford owns a controlling interest in the zoom-zoom Japanese automaker.) For use as Fusion underpinnings, the structure has been stiffened to deliver improved ride and handling characteristics. Ford is packaging the Fusion with your choice between two powerplants; a 2.3-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder or a 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve V6. The four-cylinder delivers 160 horsepower and 156 lb.-ft. of torque while the V6 produces 221 horsepower and 205 lb.-ft. of torque. Choosing the four-cylinder engine offers you the choice of either a standard five-speed manual transmission or the optional five-speed automatic. Sorry enthusiasts, the V6 only comes with a six-speed automatic. Every Fusion is equipped with rack-and-pinion steering and an independent suspension with 24mm stabilizer bars front and rear. The six-cylinder adds a one-millimeter thicker bar at the rear. Four-wheel-disc brakes are standard; ABS with electronic brake-force distribution is available as an option. Ford does not offer stability control on the 2006 Fusion, a huge oversight and competitive disadvantage.
Inside, Ford offers eight decor options and four distinct treatments for the instrument panel. Color choices for seating are light gray, tan or black. Instrument panel options are grained plastic, faux carbon fiber, fake wood, or black lacquer plastic. The door panels and dashboard are covered in soft-touch materials and every Fusion gets integrated cruise-control switches on the steering wheel, power door locks with remote keyless entry, power windows, and power mirrors. Optional upgrades include a height adjustable driver’s seat, a tilt and telescopic steering column, heated seats with six-way adjustment, and a six-disc in-dash CD changer that is also is MP3 capable. Creating a spacious interior was a priority for Ford, and the cargo area is big, too. The Fusion seats five comfortably and the trunk has almost 16 cubic feet of space that’s easily accessed thanks to a low liftover height. This sedan easily meets the requirements of a small family.
Ford has a lot riding on the Fusion, which is available in basic S, mid-grade SE, and top-level SEL trims. To help you decide whether the company has gone far enough to deserve a second-chance at the midsize sedan market, we borrowed a Fusion SEL equipped with a four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission, and a sticker price of $22,830 to offer our insight and perspective on whether or not Ford has struck gold with the 2006 Fusion.
Brian Chee’s 2006 Ford Fusion Driving Impressions:
Call the 2006 Fusion a Ford import, because, well, it’s based on a Mazda platform, built in Mexico and, more importantly, drives like an imported sedan. That’s high praise, considering the success Honda and Toyota have had nailing down driving character into exactly what definition they choose. With the Fusion, Ford has split the difference – the Fusion is softer than the Accord and firmer than the Camry, just like warm porridge or the right bed. Steering is precise, with a nice wheel to grip, and braking is responsive, with little play or fade when the action warmed up. From feet to fingertips, it’s a pleasant package, with a suspension that gives drivers a nudge – not a rough shake – over potholes and asphalt variations. The Fusion is sporty enough to make a driver stay awake, with a nice amount of feedback, while giving families the kind of ride that will put Junior to sleep in the back seat.
Okay. Don’t get excited – little Junior will probably wake up when you stand on it. That’s how much the four-cylinder engine howls upon throttle application. Sure, the five-speed manual shifter feels good in hand and easily cycles though the gears, but the problem comes with what’s on the other side – a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 160 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 150 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm. That seems capable enough, to be sure, and in traffic and city driving it is. The weak spots show with what seems like a torque band that compromises off-the-line performance and quick acceleration. By comparison, the Accord 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine, considered by many to be one of the top engines in the midsize sedan class, generates 160 lb.-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. And while I’m not an engineer, those extra 10 lb.-ft., a little farther down the rpm ladder, sure seem to make a difference, not mention six more horsepower arriving 450 revs sooner.
Thom Blackett’s 2006 Ford Fusion Driving Impressions:
“I’m givin’ her all she’s got, Cap’n!”
Such is the typical conversation between a four-cylinder Ford Fusion and its driver, the one trying to make a highway pass before being flattened by that tractor trailer barreling down from behind him. The engine may be smooth and sound fairly refined at full revs, but good golly this 2.3-liter four banger makes that 160-horsepower rating look mighty optimistic. There’s plenty of oomph for getting around in the city and routine traffic, and even enough for smooth entry onto the highway, but passing and gunning it for open spots in gridlock are exercises best planned ahead. Yet, get the Fusion’s smallest engine up to speed, and it’ll keep this sedan moving at a healthy pace, and the smooth five-speed manual transmission even adds a splash of fun to the whole deal. Though not as short and precise as the gearbox found in a Mitsubishi Evolution or Honda S2000, the Fusion’s tranny is just fine for a family commuter, aided by an easy-effort clutch. Braking is also acceptable, with a pedal that’s easy to modulate and no fade evident during mixed driving. Possibly the best point about 2006 Ford Fusion with a stick is the mileage – during my stint, average fuel economy hovered right about 25 mpg, despite stretching the car’s legs for more power.
Though I didn’t get a chance to test the Fusion on any twisty roads, I did have the opportunity to put plenty of miles on the car around town, on the almighty 405 freeway, and while circling the LAX arrival level for what seemed like hours (one of those big orange, blue, and tan discounted airlines was late). Through it all, the Fusion offered a smooth and controlled ride, though the steering was a bit numb and the noise and feel of potholes intruded on the cabin too much. Otherwise, Ford’s new sedan seems perfectly suited for the daily commute, provided it’s not on the Autobahn.
Christian Wardlaw’s 2006 Ford Fusion Driving Impressions:
Ford’s new Fusion might be based on the Mazda 6 platform, but the Mazda’s inherently sharp responses have been dulled for this everyman application of the foundation. Our 2006 Ford Fusion SEL’s clutch felt numb, its shifter clunky, and the steering had a leaden feel to it. I am glad to see the Mazda 6’s hair-trigger clutch gone from the Fusion, but since most people will choose the automatic transmission this observation falls on indifferent ears. Suspension tuning is exactly right, with just a smidge too much body roll – the Fusion’s underpinnings successfully filter much of the road harshness out of the cabin without muddling communication from the road surface.
Yet, the Ford is not engaging to drive, in part due to the body roll evident when pitching the car into a turn, and in part because the tires don’t seem up to the task of roughhousing. Even with the engine worked up, it’s like the Fusion is reluctantly revving whereas under the same circumstances the Mazda is begging to play. The Mazda 6 is significantly more responsive than the Fusion, with lighter handling, a stiffer ride, and a genuine fun-to-drive nature. Comparatively, the Fusion strikes me as a high-end appliance – which makes it the perfect domestic foil to the Toyota Camry. I suppose this product positioning makes sense, after all, nobody buys the Camry because it’s an engaging drive. It just doesn’t appeal to me (and neither does the Camry). Let’s hope that the future holds a Fusion ST model with the Mazdaspeed 6’s turbo engine and all-wheel-drive system.
Ron Perry’s 2006 Ford Fusion Driving Impressions:
So this is the car that is supposed to save Ford, huh? I guess I better cancel that stock purchase. I’m not saying the Fusion is a bad car, but it’s not a great car, either. The Fusion lacks soul. There isn’t anything about it that just jumps out at you or is particularly memorable. With all of the choices buyers have in this segment, getting their attention is mandatory. Whether you dazzle them with design, excite them with power or fuel economy, or even impress them with luxury features, a car has to leave the consumer enamored in order to make the sale.
When it comes to the Fusion, it seems Ford set out to impress but then scaled back every aspect to save money. The Fusion is attractive but not stunning, the four-cylinder engine is sufficient but lacks torque, and the interior is just okay. I was really hoping for a quick revving engine and sporty handling but got neither. The steering is over-assisted, creating a twitchy feel when input is added. The brakes were good and relayed the necessary feel to keep stops smooth but I have to admit I didn’t push them hard and make them work for this accolade. The Fusion just didn’t inspire me to seek out and tackle any twisties. The interior was relatively quiet for a car in this class and the car felt solid with no annoying rattles or squeaks. The ride feel of the Fusion is neither stiff nor floaty; it falls somewhere in between.
My biggest disappointment in the Ford Fusion was that after spending four days driving it, I walked away with no memorable experiences. To me, the Ford Fusion is just too vanilla.
Brian Chee’s Opinion of the 2006 Ford Fusion’s Comfort:
This is where it matters, perhaps more so than any other aspect of a vehicle’s driving experience. Slap a weak engine in an ugly design and that’s bad – but build it around a comfortable interior and those sins are quickly forgotten by multitudes of commuters. We like space. We love soft-touch surfaces and comfortable seats with plenty of hip room. We like legroom, and most of all, we want to feel as though we’re sitting inside a luxury car – even if we’re not paying luxury car prices. For the most part, Ford delivers comfort with the Fusion. Many of the elements are there: there’s above average legroom, head room, and shoulder room. All the way around, it’s a comfortable, impressively quiet cabin in which to sit and while away the hours in traffic-choked misery. The rear seat offers plenty of room and a comfortable cushion. The front seats have a solid, sturdy feel to them, though the leather in the Fusion is a bit more like pleather. That hurts when it comes to the all-important luxury feel, one measurement of quality the Fusion doesn’t quite meet. Too much hard plastic dominates, and the lack of quality construction in our tester infringed on the feeling of quality you’d like to have in a sedan built to put Ford back on the map of a sedan buyer’s psyche.
Thom Blackett’s Opinion of the 2006 Ford Fusion’s Comfort:
Most buyers of the 2006 Ford Fusion will be looking for a fitting commuter car, and given the four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual tranny in our SEL test car, chances are this is just what the road warrior with fuel economy on the mind would consider. And they’d be smart to do so, because the Fusion SEL is well-suited for such duty, with power adjustable front seats that offer plenty of cushioning, padded door and center armrests as well as window sills, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and oft-used controls that are within easy reach.
Rear seat passengers are also treated well, with generous overall room, a comfortable folding bench, and a fold-down center armrest. Getting in and out is an easy affair for front and rear passengers. The main thing missing is thicker seat bolsters, yet being a car designed for more the streets than the canyons, that’s expected and acceptable.
Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the 2006 Ford Fusion’s Comfort:
Made for Americans, the Fusion’s driver’s seat is exceptionally comfortable. It is soft yet supportive, wide, tall, with terrific thigh support. The steering wheel is nicely shaped and pleasing to grip, and the upper door panels where people rest arms and elbows are padded in soft material. Even the lower dash panel where your right leg rests is soft to the touch, rather than the hard and glossy plastic you find in almost every other midsize family sedan. Though I only drove the car around town on trips shorter than two hours, I get the feeling that I could spend all day behind the Ford Fusion’s steering wheel without complaint. People riding in the back seat might mutter a bit, but only because the seat cushion is a little low. There’s plenty of leg and foot room in the back, and the center armrest is a nice addition.
Loading cargo is easy through a strut-supported trunk lid. Pull the seat release levers located in the trunk, and the seatbacks flop open, though they don’t go completely down unless you open a rear door and push with your hand. The trunk is roomy, and features a low liftover height. But Ford forgot to include an assist handle on the interior of the lid, which means you’ll get your hands dirty closing it.
Ron Perry’s Opinion of the 2006 Ford Fusion’s Comfort:
Our test car was equipped with leather seating that was both comfortable and supportive but appeared to be upholstered in low quality materials. Multiple adjustments made finding a good seating position easy and the Fusion is also equipped with heated seats for cold mornings. Easy-to-read white-on-black gauges with silver collars are raised off the instrument panel and are the highlight of the Fusion’s interior design. A leather shift knob provides a comfortable grab for quick shifts and a chrome collar and leather shift boot complete the look. Operating the radio and climate functions is easy and both proved legible day and night. When it comes to comfort, there are really no complaints from me about the Ford Fusion.
Brian Chee’s Opinion of the 2006 Ford Fusion’s Quality:
If you’re a Ford fan, quality and the Fusion is where it hurts. A lot. Because it flat out should be better, tighter and more impressive all the way around. Like a boxer who dances and jabs for 14 rounds, you gotta watch out for that right hander in the 15th. If you miss it, you’re sure to have empty pockets and one heck of a headache in the morning.
Count Ford out on this one.
Gaps vary too much outside the car, interior trim looks hastily assembled, and materials – from fuzzy mouse fur headliner to “leather” seat surfaces – fail to measure up to the competition. There’s the piano black inserts that look, ahem, inexpensive, and digital readouts that fade in the sun.
Thom Blackett’s Opinion of the 2006 Ford Fusion’s Quality:
Ford quality – one of life’s little mysteries. Within a two-week span, we had this Fusion and a 2006 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer in the shop. Oddly enough, the $23,000 Fusion exhibited material and build quality leagues ahead of the $43,000 SUV. Unlike the Explorer’s mish-mash of cheap plastics, the Fusion featured mostly soft-touch panels, padding on the armrests and window sills, a good attempt at competent construction, and intuitive ergonomics. The piano black trim on the instrument panel and dash looked cheap and hinted at its desire to easily pop off, the lower plastics, such as those on the console, left a little to be desired, and the leather felt like it came from a dehydrated Bessy. Some of the gaps were also noticeably off. Compared to past Fords, the Fusion represents a marked improvement, but when contrasted against current competitors like the Honda Accord, this sedan still falls short.
Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the 2006 Ford Fusion’s Quality:
Judged by appearance, the Fusion’s interior appears to be constructed of quality materials, but get up close and the prominent leather pattern on the dashboard, seats, door panels, and steering wheel offend rather quickly and give the car a low-rent ambiance. I also thought that some of the Fusion’s controls lacked the heft and dampened operation associated with a quality piece of work, too.
Ford also has work to do on improving assembly. The Fusion’s interior is decently screwed together – no rattles or squeaks in our test car. In fact, the only glaring faults were the fits of the side window demister vents at the upper outboard areas of the dash and rather loose A-pillar covers. But on the outside, the Fusion’s front fascia, headlights, doors, and trunk lid featured problems with flushness of fit and consistent panel gaps. Inside and out, the Fusion’s shut lines are wider than competitors, including those from Chrysler and GM. I almost lost my pen in the gap between the trunk lid and the right rear quarter panel.
Ron Perry’s Opinion of the 2006 Ford Fusion’s Quality:
Quality is still where Ford falls behind in this competitive market. On our test car, poor panel fitment was evident inside and out. For starters, the trunk lid was skewed to the left almost an eighth of an inch, creating a large gap on one side and an uneven seam on the other. At the seam where the plastic bumper meets sheet metal on the side of the car, the sheet metal overhangs the plastic by over an eighth of an inch on the passenger side. On the driver’s side, the seam is almost spot on.
For the most part, the interior seemed to be well built but closer examination revealed horrible fitment on the lid covering the storage box atop the dash. It is things like this that are unacceptable and project a feeling of cheapness that Ford can’t afford to have. Simple fine-tuning makes all the difference and Ford needs to pay more attention to the details.
Brian Chee’s Opinion of the 2006 Ford Fusion’s Design:
It takes a little getting used to, this Fusion, with its design inspired by Ford’s 427 Concept of a few years ago. And that’s a good thing, unless you’re so hypnotized by the import magic that you forget what something looks like outside the Accord/Camry/Altima lockstep.
Ugh. It’s time for something, and the Fusion is something, something different, and different is good because it shakes things up and makes people think. From the signature headlights to the modern tail and the sweep of the hood, it’s refreshing in the simple fact that it’s not a shameless rip-off of what the Accord has become. Some may not like the Fusion, some may even think of it as a blah design with little more than those headlights to give it flair. And that’s fair – it’s not a design masterpiece. But it is a new dance to an old song, and that all by itself is worth a second look. Inside, the design is simple, with controls easy to reach and intuitively placed. It’s a well-executed interior, save for the storage bin on top of the center console – which, though useful, seems flimsy and destined for breakage. Elsewhere inside, the steering wheel has a nice, slightly soft grip, there’s cool instrumentation, and a slick gauge layout.
Thom Blackett’s Opinion of the 2006 Ford Fusion’s Design:
Ford is building some attractive rides, such as the Mustang, the F-150, and the Fusion. It may hold onto the traditional four-door family sedan shape, but the short front overhang, unique chrome slotted grille, and large headlights creeping up into the hood give the 2006 Ford Fusion a distinguishing look, something not altogether common in its segment. Other highlights include the raised hood, projecting a sense of power, and the clean triangular taillights. Bolt on some nice alloy wheels, and this becomes one sharp sedan.
Interestingly, the Fusion’s interior is comparatively bland. In the middle of the instrument panel is the simple, dated radio face that owners have seen for years, and the flat dash spells out conservative a bit too well.
Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the 2006 Ford Fusion’s Design:
I think the Ford Fusion is stylish, with a taut, tailored appearance. The chrome three-bar grille is a terrific way for Ford to make its cars instantly recognizable, and while the triangular headlamps have been a Mercury signature since the 2002 Mountaineer debuted, they work well on the Fusion. Upscale design cues abound, from the machined-finish alloy wheels to the substantial door handles. Our well-equipped SEL test car included puddle lamps, a nice feature to have in a dark parking lot. I’m not particularly enamored with the chrome surrounds for the taillights, or the way Ford has integrated the reverse light here. The rear lights end up looking too small, and the Fusion’s butt too big. Otherwise, I cannot fault the Fusion’s exterior styling.
Inside, the design looks good at a glance. The Fusion’s cabin is purposeful, and symmetry is the driving theme, but I’ve decided that I don’t like the piano-black plastic trim, which collects lint and scratches. I also dislike the green gauge lighting that Ford insists on using for nighttime control illumination. Ford should consider offering the Mustang’s variable color spectrum on the Fusion. I found the climate and stereo controls to be mounted a little too low for easy use, but the payoff here is a low cowl for excellent outward visibility. Also, I dislike the stereo’s lack of a proper tuning knob and the canted turn signal – I don’t understand why Ford feels that this new ten o’clock positioning for the turn signal stalk is a good idea, because it doesn’t fall readily to hand and I kept accidentally flashing the high beams when signaling a turn. The steering wheel is littered with satellite controls for the stereo and climate system, and the cruise switches are mounted here, too. Other switches are easy to find and use, but I’d like to have an express-up feature for the driver’s window at a minimum. Generally, the Fusion’s ergonomics are decent, but nothing to brag about.
Ron Perry’s Opinion of the 2006 Ford Fusion’s Design:
The exterior design of the Ford Fusion is plain vanilla. I know vanilla is the top selling ice cream, but is it really what people want when selecting a car? I doubt it, and back that up with Chrysler’s success in recent years with eye-popping sedan designs. Aside from the distinctive styling of the front end, the Fusion is just another sedan. The chrome three bar grille, along with the matching chrome bars below the bumper line and the distinctive shape of the headlights, give the front end of the Fusion its own identity. Move anywhere else around the car and the design falls flat, even with the subtle hints of Honda Accord in the rear design. The Fusion would also benefit from a more aggressive wheel design.
Inside, the Ford Fusion benefits from good design. Getting in and out is easy and all controls fall neatly into place. The interior feels spacious and the door panel treatment looks to be a step above what one might expect of a car in this category. The highlight of the interior design has to be the gauges. Designers used simple white lettering on a black background but surrounded them with silver trim and raised them off the flat panel maybe a half an inch. They are as pleasing to look at as they are to read.
Brian Chee’s Advice about the 2006 Ford Fusion:
Go ahead – take a ride, and decide. The Fusion is certainly a player in the sedan game, a nicely styled car that offers a decent – though whiny and slow starting – four-cylinder powertrain, a quiet and roomy cabin, and a competitive price. Where the Accord jars and pitches with its feel-the-road ride, and the Camry soothes and coddles with a ride that borders on Novocain, the Fusion finds a happy middle ground. Sadly, the transmission struggles to deliver the four-cylinder’s power consistently, and quality problems inside and outside the car may relegate the Fusion to slightly above middle of the pack when it comes to wooing customers. Initial sales results look promising, though fleet sales along with fit-and-finish issues could well catch up to the Fusion and hurt it. The bottom line is this: When you sit in a sedan and think about what you could have bought, do you think you’d be happy that you bought a Fusion?
Thom Blackett’s Advice About the 2006 Ford Fusion:
Ford’s new sedan is pleasant to look at, comfortable to ride in, and easy to drive. And it does it all for a reasonable price while returning respectable fuel economy. However, as long as a comparable Honda Accord EX sells for the same price as our as-tested SEL, I can’t see the masses flocking to put one in their driveways.
Christian Wardlaw’s Advice about the 2006 Ford Fusion:
At less than $23,000, and with dealers already discounting, the 2006 Ford Fusion’s strong points are value, comfort, and style. You get plenty of features for the money, decent gas mileage with the four-cylinder engine, a roomy interior, and stylish sheetmetal. These are exactly the characteristics that shoppers look for when choosing a middle-of-the-road midsize sedan. What’s lacking here is a strong track record for reliability. A healthy warranty – at least one that matches the coverage offered on the Mazda 6 if not the Hyundai Sonata – would provide additional peace-of-mind and drive buyers to Ford showrooms, because the Fusion is a fundamentally sound piece of work. But without cash on the hood, I would find it difficult to recommend one over competitors with proven reputations for durability. Good thing Ford dealers are dealing on the impressive new 2006 Fusion.
Ron Perry’s Advice about the 2006 Ford Fusion:
If you are a vanilla-type person, the 2006 Ford Fusion might just be the car for you. If you crave a little flavor and excitement in your life, keep shopping.
Price of Test Vehicle: $22,830 (includes $650 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 2.3-liter four-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 160 at 6,500 rpm
Engine Torque: 156 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Curb weight, lbs.: 3,101 lbs.
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 23/31 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 25.2 mpg
Length: 190.2 inches
Width: 72.2 inches
Wheelbase: 107.4 inches
Height: 57.2 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 42.3/37.0 inches
Head room (front/rear): 38.7/37.8 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 15.8 cu.-ft.
Competitors: Chevrolet Impala, Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Stratus, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Mercury Milan, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Pontiac G6, Subaru Legacy, Suzuki Verona, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Passat
Photos by Ron Perry