Ford Counting on Fusion as New Flagship Sedan

The Ford Fusion wrote a new chapter in NASCAR when it took to the track this past February at the Daytona 500.

Ford is hoping that new chapter will translate well into more competitive sells than seen by its former flagship, the slumping Taurus. Taurus came along some 20 years ago and became the best-selling car in the U.S. in the early and mid-1990s, usually fighting it out with the Toyota Camry.

It also ushered the return of the four-door sedan into the NASCAR ranks, replacing the Thunderbird in the series in the mid-1990s. But even the boom of NASCAR couldn’t quite save the Taurus from time – and itself.

Each generation of Taurus seemed to take a step backwards in relative terms to the formidable competition in the mid-sized market. By 2004, Ford rightfully determined that the Taurus nameplate came with too much baggage, and the Fusion started to take shape with ideas – and parts – from

Ford’s European interests and Mazda. The end-result might just be the splash Ford needs to be a major player again in the mid-sized class. It’s in a lineup that now includes the Crown Victoria (yes,they’re still made), Ford 500 and Focus, and Ford wants the Fusion to be its dominant player.

Behind the wheel
Ford openly borrowed from technical successes of the Mazda6 to help create the Fusion.The name, “Fusion,” indicates a coming together of pieces or ideas to make a new whole and that’s essentially what happened with Ford’s new entry.

The Fusion is built on the company’s “CD3 architecture,” an expansion of the Mazda6’s foundation. The Fusion (190.2 inches) is slightly longer. The two also share ‘Duratec’ engines, so there are similarities between the two as far as driveability.And that’s good for Ford.

The Mazda6 is one of the best drivers in its class, period. The Fusion takes some of its best qualities – nimbleness, responsiveness and no shortage of spunk.

The tested Fusion came with a 221-horsepower V6 and a six-speed automatic transmission, which is also shared with the Mazda6. Other models, which I’ve yet to test, come with a four-cylinder and manual transmissions. Though the transmission seems a bit confused at times in its bands (how about a man-u-matic tranny for 2007?), the Fusion was a more that solid performer.

On the surface
While the Fusion shared components and a bit of its attitude with the Mazda6, it is certainly its own car. Like the smaller Ford 500, it is a departure from the sedans we’ve been accustomed to seeing from Ford. The base-level or ‘S’ model is the starting point for the Fusion and comes in at around $18,000. The SE and SEL are upgrades that top out at around $22,000.

The Fusion looked very familiar, but only because I’d seen Ford’s 427 concept car at the Chicago Auto Show back in 2003. I liked what I saw there, but appreciated it more when it was delivered sitting aggressively atop a set of Michelins at my door.

The jet-black Fusion was sleek. It was sexy in that little-black-dress sort of way. It seemed to be just the thing you’d always need. Like the Taurus when it first arrived, the Fusion’s design – in and out – is already a best-in-class. Now, it just needs to prove itself – on the road, in the showroom and on the track.

2006 Ford Fusion SEL V-6
Base price: $21,995
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6, 221 hp
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 190.2 x 72.2 x 57.2 in
Wheelbase: 107.4 in.
Curb weight: 3,280 lbs.
Fuel economy: 23 mpg city/31 mpg hwy.
Safety equipment: Four-wheel disc brakes; front
airbags; anti-lock brakes; optional side and curtain
Major standard equipment: A/C; AM/FM/CD; power
windows; cruise control; tilt and telescoping steering
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles.

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