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My week with the 2014 Ford Fusion

February 7, 2014 by Olivier Blanchard - 10 Comments

Before I even start, let me put your minds at ease. I haven’t been paid by Ford or any agency to write this review. I received no payment or gifts of any kind. What happened was Ford let me borrow a Ford Fusion for a week, no strings attached, to convince me that I could actually like a car that wasn’t a sporty little import. (I drive a Hyundai Veloster and have been known to be partial to BMW and VW, which I suspect annoys my Ford friends to no end.) My guess is that it was more about blowing my preconceived notions out of the water than scoring some “influencer marketing” bonus points. When I asked them if they wanted me to write something about my experiences with the car, the answer was basically no. They just wanted me to drive the car. So to recap, other than the use of the car for a week (basically an extended test drive), there is no material connection between Ford and myself in relation to this review. I am writing this because I want to, and Ford didn’t put me up to it.

Okay. Let’s start with where I was when I agreed to the test drive: I didn’t think I was going to be impressed with the Fusion. Here is why:

1) I have not traditionally been a Ford fan boy. I like the company, I admire what it’s been doing these last few years, I even have friends who work there, but aside from the Mustang, the Edge and the Fiesta, their cars aren’t usually on the list when I am looking to make a new purchase.

2) I’m not a sedan guy. When I think of Ford sedans, my brain immediately conjures the old Crown Vic or the Taurus, and the driver stereotypes that particular image evokes for me are a) cops, b) salesmen, and c) retired couples. With hats. Taking super slow Sunday drives. So right off the bat, this was bound to be a difficult sell because I didn’t see myself as the target demo for this car.

As it turns out, a week with the Fusion would completely change my mind, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

First Impressions: 

From the side (how I first saw it in my driveway): Long. More doors than I am used to. A sedan but definitely hotter than the old Crown Vic. Modern, nice curves… but still kind of… I don’t know… conservative.

From the front: Super nice. Aggressive. The grill reminds me a lot of the Aston Martin. Even the headlights are pretty hot. The Fusion’s designers really did a great job with that.

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Interior: really nice, very clean, nice leather… nothing wrong with it but it didn’t feel particularly inspired. It could have been any car. What I mean is, it didn’t speak to the Ford brand or the identity of the Fusion or me as a driver. As nice as it was, it felt generic and sort of the result of a “color-inside-the-lines” exercise. That was sort of disappointing… but only a little. Not a show-stopper. Just something for the Fusion’s design team to maybe work on. Cars that do well tend to have a personality and the habitat’s design should convey that in some way.

The minimalism of the center console was also a little disappointing. It’s like it was missing something. Texture? Accents? Wood? Chrome? My perception of it changed after a day or two but it felt almost too clean and featureless for this car at first, especially the bottom part.

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But then, I drove it:

The first “aha!” moment I had with the Fusion was when I pushed the start button. You know how when you start a car, usually it will shake or jump a little bit? You will feel or hear the engine turn over? Even if it’s just a slight vibration, you’ll feel it in the steering wheel or the pedals. Not with the Fusion. I didn’t feel a thing. The only thing that told me that the car had actually started was a message on the dashboard telling me the car was ready to drive. I thought it might have been a mistake at first, but it wasn’t. So… +1 on pulling that little hat trick. It’s impressive.

Speaking of how smooth the start is, let me tell you something: I thought that I had driven smooth cars before. Now… it’s been a couple of years since I have been behind the wheel of a luxury sedan so this may not come as a surprise to some of you, but the road handling of the Fusion blew my mind. Driving on the highways felt like driving on a cloud. It was the smoothest ride I’ve ever experienced. And as much as I love my little Veloster, going back to it after a week in the Fusion was a rude awakening: the Fusion had so completely erased road vibration, pavement cracks and pot holes that going back to a normal car was kind of a shock. So… that’s something else that the Fusion really impressed me with.

Other stuff I really loved:

The seats: They’re amazing. They’re more comfortable than my couch. It felt like I was sitting in a fully loaded executive jet.

The dashboard: Everything is where you need it to be. It’s super well designed, very clear and visible, not distracting in any way, and the use of space is outstanding.

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The driver control interfaces: That center console thing I complained about earlier because it was too minimalist? I changed my mind. The touch screen interface is genius. Super simple, easy to navigate, and the climate control screen is amazing. The temps kept fluctuating the week of the test drive, so I got to use that screen a lot. It’s one of the things I came to miss the most when the car moved on to its next adventure. Aside from that, everything was within reach and really easy to find. It’s obvious that the Fusion’s design team spent a lot of time designing the interior so that everything is sort of intuitively placed. You never really have to look for anything or reach for anything. Your eyes and hands sort of naturally find what you need, and that’s no small feat.

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The climate control cornucopia: Separate climate control for the driver and the passenger? Genius. I’m usually too warm. My wife is usually too cold. In our other cars, it’s a constant battle. In the Fusion, we had world peace. That alone is worth the price of admission. Also worthy of note: the heated seats. 3 levels of heating, butt and back… perfection. Tip: if you hurt your lower back and need a heating pad, go sit in a fusion for twenty minutes. Just stellar.

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The acceleration: I expected the car to be a little weak since it’s a hybrid and it’s kind of big. Nope. I mean… it’s no V8. It isn’t supposed to be a race car. If you want to crush the start at a red light, go with the Mustang. But for a sedan, it was solid. The acceleration was smooth. It didn’t feel weak at all. And once you get on the highway? It just goes. Passing cars? No problem. Super smooth ride with just the right amount of power.

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The sound system: Perfect.

Speaking of sounds, one of the things you notice about driving it (if you turn off the sound system) is that the habitat is whisper-quiet. (Except for when you gun the engine.) It’s like driving inside a noise-cancelling zone, and that’s a pretty nice touch.

The back seat area: Roomy, comfortable, nothing but compliments from my passengers.

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The fuel efficiency: Amazing for a car that size. I think we averaged something like 45mpg for the whole week. For the same exact roads, the Veloster averages about 36mpg and it probably weighs half as much as the Fusion. The Fusion’s energy efficiency really is spectacular.

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Are you starting to see where this is going? The more I drove the Fusion, the more I started falling in love with it. I didn’t want to, I certainly didn’t expect to, but I did.

The driver-assist tech kind of blew my mind a little bit.

The Fusion turned out to be loaded with smart technologies. I’ll pass over the SiriusXM, the driver interfaces and the dashboard’s design. We could talk about it all for a while. I want to focus on four features that really blew my mind:

1. Parking assist: I grew up in Paris. I still do a lot of driving (and parking) in Europe. I consider myself an expert in the ninja art of parallel parking. When I heard about the Parking Assist feature, I figured it was going to produce a kind of a slow, robotic parking job that required a lot of space. 3ft in front, 3ft in back. That sort of thing. Nope. Imagine my surprise when I tried it for the first time and the car executed the most perfect parallel parking job I have ever (and I mean ever) seen. My son was in the passenger seat and we looked at each other all buggy-eyed. My jaw was on my lap. He just said “did that really just happen?” It’s the sort of thing you have to experience yourself to really believe it, but let me just tell you that the speed and precision of this thing were out of this world. We came so close to the car we were next to that I thought we were going to hit it. It was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve ever had in a car. (No jokes. I’m trying to keep this PG.)

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2. The Fusion can be put into a sort of lane assist mode. I don’t know what it’s called, but basically the car tells you if you’re drifting into another lane. There’s a visual cue on the dashboard and the steering wheel will also vibrate as if you were going off the road if you get past a certain point. Why is this important? Two reasons: a) if you’re messing with the radio or your phone and have a moment of inattention, the car is going to tell you that you’re drifting out of your lane. b) If you are falling asleep at the wheel, the car basically wakes you up. That feature alone (which is as easy to turn on and off as cruise control) is a life-saver.

3. When a car is in your blind spot, a little yellow light comes on inside your side view mirror to let you know. This feature basically ensures that you will never cause an accident by changing lanes at the wrong moment. Simple but genius.

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4. If you are coming up too fast on a car that’s ahead of you but moving slower, red lights and an alarm sound will alert you. It isn’t loud or bright enough to freak you out. It just warns you at the right time and in a really effective way that you need to hit the breaks a little and adjust your speed. Again, super simple but pretty awesome and very handy.

Those four things alone make you realize how close we are to having self-driving cars. The tech is there.

Update: I finally looked this stuff up and here’s a cool rundown of all the stuff the Fusion does for you.

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The fusion comes with all the plug-in interfaces you need.

Sync is Powered by Microsoft.

Sync is Powered by Microsoft.

I have no idea what this camera does but it looks pretty cool.

I have no idea what this camera does but it looks pretty cool.

Were there things I didn’t like?

Nothing major. I’ve already mentioned that the interior could benefit from a little personality and that the center console was a little bland, and these are pretty minor things. I really had to try hard to find things I didn’t like about the Fusion, but in the end, I managed to find two.

1. Trunk space: Look, it’s a hybrid. There’s a huge cell or battery or whatever it’s called, and the only place you can put that is the trunk. The result: it sort of eats up your trunk space. Is it a major problem? It depends on what you want to use the car for. You may not be able to go on a long road trip vacation with the whole family because everyone’s suitcases may not fit back there. If you have a small child and need to carry around a big stroller, you might find the trunk a little limited when you go shopping. If you’re a product rep and you need trunk space to carry samples, you might not have enough room for them. Last but not least, you can’t really fit a body back there (let alone a pile of shovels), so if you’re a Vegas hit man, this may not be the best car for your 3 am desert drives with Vito and Tony.

For everyone else and day-to-day driving to work, going to the store for groceries and taking the kids to soccer practice, you’ll be fine. Most people don’t really need a cavernous trunk. This one is on par with a compact’s trunk space. What you gain in fuel efficiency is well worth it, but there it is.

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Hiding in the trunk: a flat kit and the car's power cord.

Hiding in the trunk: a flat kit and the car’s power cord.

2. This thing: (Sorry about the dust. This was after a week of driving all over the place.)

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What you’re looking at is a great place to put your phone, sunglasses, keys, etc.  It’s the right size, it’s in the right spot, and the surface material is great because it grips whatever you put there. The problem is that the silver crossbars on either side of it and the shifter (when the car is in Park) block access to it. The space between them is really narrow. If you have tiny hands, you can sort of eel your way into it and retrieve your phone without necessarily spraining your wrist. If your hands are the size of small pizzas though, you may find it a little inconvenient.

But… that’s it. Those are the only things that weren’t perfect about this car.

The verdict:

I really didn’t expect to fall in love with the Fusion but… I kind of did. I didn’t drive my Veloster for the entire week I had the Fusion. Didn’t want to. The last couple of days before it was scheduled to go back to Charlotte, I remember being kind of bummed about it. I was sorry to see it go. It really is a great car. Well designed, comfortable, quiet, absurdly great gas mileage, a stellar electronics package… it really surprised me. I think it’s the kind of car that isn’t going to wow you when you test-drive it for ten minutes around the dealership (and that’s really too bad), but the more you drive it, the more you learn to appreciate it. 24 hours with the Fusion and you’ll be sold. (48 hours if you’re really difficult.) Well done, Ford. Out of 5 possible Chicos, I am going to give it a score of 4.5:

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