Friday, February 17, 2017

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum - Road Test

Further proof that full-size sedan shoppers remain spoiled for choice.

Ask anyone in the automotive journalism industry about family sedan deathwatch and they’ll know instantly what you’re talking about. As crossovers (the immensely popular child of the SUV and minivan that can also trace its genetic roots to the station wagon) continue to break sales records in North America and abroad, the once-dominant family sedan finds itself playing second fiddle for the first time in…ever. As a result, automakers are putting more of their resources into crossovers while family sedans find themselves battling for the attention of an ever-shrinking client base.

Once content to blend in, the sedan has found itself forced to evolve rapidly in order to survive and by doing so, many have become aggressively styled while offering high-tech equipment. Toyota has claimed there will be ‘no more boring cars’ in their lineup and the new Camry appears desperate to prove itself worthy of your consideration by its looks alone. But meanwhile, in Dearborn’s stable, the second generation Ford Fusion has been one step ahead of the curve since it debuted in 2012 as a 2013 model. Carrying a front end highly reminiscent of recent Aston Martins, the Fusion has managed to not only stand out but also age gracefully, a tricky combination to accomplish. The Fusion is attractive and unique but not so radical that it will look dated before its ‘sell-by’ date. Snowbelt residents will be overjoyed that there is an all-wheel drive option; one of the few AWD family sedans available that isn’t a Subaru.

While on the east coast for business, the lady at the rental car counter rattled off a list of cars that I could get for the class size I had reserved. The Chrysler 200 had been mine once before, the Chevy Malibu didn’t interest me much and I would honestly rather have walked from Baltimore to Harrisburg than drive a Nissan Altima so the Ford Fusion it was. While walking up the row, looking for space A22, I spotted it immediately. Dressed in white pearl paint and sporting 18” chrome wheels, I knew right away that the Fusion I’d received was not some pedestrian SE or even a Titanium; it was the mack-daddy Platinum. Reveling in my good fortune, I shoveled my suitcase and laptop bag into the cavernous trunk, paired my iPhone to the SYNC system and requested the car's help in guiding me along on the hundred-mile trek north to my hotel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The Platinum trim comes handsomely equipped with LED headlights and fog lights, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, rain-sensing wipers, blind spot monitoring and a host of other technology that makes getting where you need to be just a little bit easier. It’ll even park itself, a feature sure to wow your friends but one that proves a bit clunky in the real world.

Inside, the seats and door panels are trimmed in quilted leather in a color Ford calls ‘Medium Soft Ceramic’. Let’s not fool ourselves here. It’s ivory…borderline white with cocoa brown piping that matches the dashboard. Speaking of which, the dash top on Platinum models is also leather wrapped and stitched and it looks and feels amazingly high-class. It’s a little slice of the Rolls-Royce life for a tenth of the price. Navigation, blind spot monitoring, an amazing stereo, heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel are all standard, as well. Pretty much the only option boxes you can check for a Platinum model are for inflatable rear seatbelts at $190 and three color options (Burgundy Velvet, Ruby Red or White Platinum) that add $395 for the privilege.

The Fusion’s looks have aged quite nicely and given the nip-tuck that the surgeons at Ford performed for the 2017 model, they should continue to look fresh for a good while longer. Inside, the Fusion is a lovely place to spend time and as I was doing a ton of driving for work, it was the place where I’d be seated most often. The doors open and close with a reassuring and almost Germanic ‘whump’, the seats cradle you in multi-way adjustment and even the headrests are nicely padded. Once behind the wheel, you’ll find it power adjusts for reach and rake and contains more buttons than an Xbox One controller. Instrumentation is clear and, once you let your thumbs do the walking over the five-way buttons flanking each side of the steering wheel, easy to figure out. The analog speedometer sits dead center and is flanked on either side by two high-definition LCD displays. The screen on the left can be configured to show the tachometer, fuel level and engine temperature gauges in any combination thereof and also displays trip information, distance to empty, tire pressures and engine oil life. You can also customize the Fusion to your every wish, including enabling or disabling many of the convenience features. I disabled the automatic high beams and stand by my opinion that the technology, while neat, still hasn’t hit full maturity yet. The screen on the right can display phone, navigation or entertainment information and after a few hours behind the wheel, I found myself leaving it on showing the radio so the massive Sync 3 screen could use the full extent of its real estate to display the navigation map. I have a feeling that I’ll be missing the radio info in the gauges once I get back into my 2012 Hyundai Elantra.
The rest of the interior is a meeting point of common sense and ergonomic efficiency. While there are a decent number of identically sized round buttons for the climate controls, you find that you don’t use most of them if you leave the system on automatic. Or you can bypass them entirely by using the voice commands or the screen. The radio knob is dead center in the dash, flanked by a pair of tuning and seek switches. Presets are accessed via the 8” touch screen. Down on the console there is enough space to be featured in an episode of ‘Storage Wars’, dual cup holders and a dual-tier console with a second USB port and 12V socket. The 6-speed automatic transmission is summoned by a rotary dial on the console flanked by controls for the electronic parking brake and park assist systems. As for that rotary dial, I find its placement much more ergonomic than the one in the Chrysler 200 but still would prefer a standard shift knob and not on any moral grounds. I have no issue with how the rotary dial shifter works; I just don’t like how it feels. Most people naturally rest their free hand on the shifter and in the Fusion, your right hand is perpetually bored, searching in vain for a place to sit. After a day or two I found my fingers absent-mindedly twirling around on the knurling on the knob almost to the point where I began to annoy myself.

Over the next four days, I added a whopping 1,300 miles to the Fusion’s odometer, bouncing from western and central Pennsylvania to New Jersey and back again. It’s a perfectly serviceable steed in town but on the highway, the Fusion slips into its role as a superb long-distance cruiser. While not endowed with the 200’s almost supernatural ability to track a straight line with almost no steering input, the Fusion is composed and comfortable even at speeds of over 80 mph. It’s also quiet…eerily quiet. You can thank the liberal use of sound-deadening and even double-paned (!) side windows for that. Road noise is wonderfully muted with wind noise only whispering at you around the A-pillars at speeds above 70. Expansion joints make themselves heard only distantly and potholes might as well not exist. The adaptive cruise control is as smart as they come, even beginning to accelerate slightly when you signal for an overtaking maneuver. This is so it doesn’t fall flat when you jump into the passing lane and wait for the car to figure out that the Prius that was in front of it is no longer there and that warp speed can now resume. The front seats are a little narrow and I found my wallet digging into my backside after about an hour but if I tossed that into the massive storage bin beneath the navigation screen, the issue went away. The footwells are wide and should give even the broadest occupants room to stretch out. My only other complaint is that the dead pedal’s angle is a bit too steep and to be comfortable for much more than thirty minutes or so at a go. Rear seat occupants are unlikely to complain, either with their own cup holders and 12V and 110V outlets. Leg and headroom are plentiful and I was able to catch a 90-minute nap in the Fusion’s rear seat on one of the PA Turnpike’s service plazas and come out feeling rested on the other side.

Take it off the turnpike and onto back roads and the Fusion has no qualms in reminding you that this is not its preferred environment. Although it never feels out of control, it does not pretend to enjoy twisty two-lanes, throwing its heft into corners, keeling over like an ocean liner in heavy seas and making sure you feel every ounce of its 3700 pound curb weight as if to discourage you from ever trying such silliness again. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine does provide sufficient get-up-and-go and though you’ll never be wanting for power when merging, it never causes one to utter a ‘whoa’ when the right pedal is planted. Like the suspension, it makes sure you understand that it does not approve of such behavior. Power does come on in a linear fashion and turbo lag is minimal but the engine is hesitant to rev, requiring an aggressive stab of the throttle to achieve the desired result and it revs with a groan similar to that of a high school student trying to get out of bed. Shifts are normally butter smooth but put the transmission in sport mode and it becomes almost sarcastically sharp and aggressive as if trying to say, “Oh, you want to drive sportily? Is this sporty enough for you? While you think about what you’ve done, let me break your spine with this 3-4 shift.” Although the Fusion is far from having the dynamics of a 1978 LTD, it will never be confused with an Accord or a Mazda 6. Buyers with even a modicum of interest in spirited motoring are highly advised to look elsewhere.

While the Fusion didn’t rattle or squeak, there were a few build quality concerns that I spotted. The chrome belt line trim on the doors didn’t line up, the trunk lid always looked slightly ajar even when securely latched and a plastic trim piece on the top of the dash was already curling up at the edges. Additionally, the front seat heaters and ventilators claimed to work and the indicators lit up when their respective were prodded but no warmth was ever delivered. I was quite annoyed by this considering how chilly it was while I was in Pennsylvania. The heated steering wheel did work but never really seemed to get as warm as one might expect it should. Also, it felt like it was heating very unevenly so I would end up chasing the warm spots around the wheel.

Fuel mileage was merely average but considering the temperatures ranging from the low-20s to the high-30s and the speeds at which I was usually driving, I’ll take the 28-29 MPG that the Fusion delivered. I’d imagine that with warmer temps and lower speeds, mid-30s aren’t out of the question. However those seeking superior distance for their liquefied dinosaurs should turn their eyes toward the Hybrid and ‘Energi’ plug-in hybrid models.

Little niggles and quality concerns aside, the Fusion is a superbly capable automobile provided you don’t plan on autocrossing your daily driver on the weekends. If you’re looking to keep the miles off your BRZ or don’t want to daily your MX-5, the Fusion might just be the right vehicle to fill the second stall in your garage.

What’s Hot: Still a looker in middle age, librarian-approved interior noise levels, SYNC finally works, interior trimmings look priced well above the tag on the window, tons of room, gargantuan trunk, available AWD, top-notch cruise control.

What’s Not: Vehemently opposed to the mere idea of fun, a few lapses in quality, obnoxious dead pedal angle.

What It’s All About: A well-engineered vehicle that is good at many things but sadly remains largely forgettable once you’ve gotten out.

Others Like It: Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala, Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Avalon, Volkswagen Passat

Available Trim Levels: S, SE, Titanium, Platinum
Price Range*: $22,995 - $36,660**
Vehicle Tested: Fusion Platinum; no options or accessories
Price as Tested: $36,470
Engine: 2.0 liter turbo I-4 (245 hp / 275 lb. ft. torque)
Transmissions / Drive: 6-speed automatic with manual shift paddles / front wheel drive
Wheelbase: 112.2"
Overall Length: 191.8"
Overall Width: 72.9" (excluding mirrors)
Overall Height: 58.2"
Curb Weight: 3,680 lbs.***
Fuel Capacity: 16.5 gallons (FWD), 18 gallons (AWD)
EPA Fuel Economy Rating: 21 mpg city / 31 mpg highway / 25 mpg combined
Seating Capacity: 5
Location of Final Assembly: Hermosillio, Mexico
Basic: 3 years / 36,000 miles
Powertrain: 5 years / 60,000 miles
Body Corrosion: 5 years / unlimited miles

*Prices shown reflect manufacturer's suggested retail price at the time of publication. Top end of price range is for vehicle equipped with all available factory-installed options and does not include tax, title, registration fees or any accessories. Final prices may be higher.

** Range is representative of gas-powered vehicles only. Hybrid and plug-in models will vary.

*** Applies to Platinum model as equipped