ESTÉREL, Quebec—Since its inception in the 2006 model year, the Ford Fusion has enjoyed a healthy rise to the top, or close to it, of the Canadian mid-size sedans sales charts. Recently, we have witnessed a resurgence of a few stale nameplates such as the Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Malibu cause the Fusion to lose some momentum, placing it in a neck-to-neck race with the Malibu for second spot behind the Camry.
Ford wants to put a halt to this dip in sales, and has given the Fusion a revitalizing refresh to add more spunk and technology in an overall conservative segment where comfort and space are seen as paramount.
And for those that wish for added performance or luxury enhancements or hybrid fuel economy savings—the Fusion offers all of that as part of its ‘Power of Choice’ philosophy.
For years, I’ve heard others talk about the Fusion’s styling being one of the best in its segment. I don’t share the same excitement as many of my colleagues and fellow consumers, but clearly Ford believes in its original 2013 exterior design enought to not change much for this 2017 refresh.
It’s a solid package that’s clean and crisp, with sporty lines running down its hood and through its body, along with a more aggressive stance and a sleek roofline. Adding to that are small tweaks to its new wider front grille, the addition of LED headlights to match its LED taillights, new wheel designs, and a chrome strip in the rear.
With those three subtle yet key changes, Ford made a bold move to not redefine one of its bread-winners, and I respect that. The whole package works, and shows the Blue Oval’s understanding of its audience. These are mainly family people that enjoy great styling features, but don’t want a car with design gimmicks that lose appeal in a few years.
Do I prefer other mid-size sedan designs? Yes. But the Fusion is growing on me with time, like a fine wine.
The interior is where most of the attention in the refresh was placed. A new rotary gear shift dial stands out, not only adding an upscale appeal to the Fusion, but enabling an increase of storage space, along with an ease of access for your cell phone close to the USB ports. Overall, storage space has increased by 40 percent, including via a larger console bin where an iPad can fit with room to spare.
If luxury is vital to your next purchase, not to worry; the Fusion offers a Platinum trim that changes the interior’s appearance. Inside the Platinum trim – offered in all the various powertrains – will be quilted leather seats, a hand-wrapped leather steering wheel, matte-finish wood trim, leather on the instrument panel, and elevated door panels and armrests.
As for comfort, the seats are all electronically-powered and relaxing. You’ll be pleased with the amount of leg room in the front and back, but headroom seems to be lacking in the front. I had to lower my seat a few times to avoid touching the roof of the car.
Trunk space is ample in the gasoline versions, but that cargo space shrinks in half for the hybrid versions to make room for the battery.
Another major change is the latest Sync 3 infotainment unit that instantly makes the 2017 Fusion a more favourable choice over its past iterations. The system is quick, intuitive and user-friendly. Ford has managed to turn one of its biggest negatives from its previous Sync versions into a major positive, placing it miles ahead of some of its competitors. Unfortunately, everything that surrounds the infotainment unit is rather mundane and gives off an inexpensive vibe, from its simplistic dash to the hard climate control buttons below.
Technology doesn’t end with Sync, as Ford has made a concerted effort to beef that department up with the addition of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Ford Pass and a standard push-button start, as well as an unobtrusive intelligent stop-start technology available beyond the base trim.
There’s also a bevy of safety technology that includes: Lane Keep Assist, Enhanced Active Park Assist with the addition of perpendicular parking, Blind Spot Information System, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Adaptive Cruise Control, Cross Traffic Assist and Adaptive Automatic High Beams.
The only thing to keep in mind is that most of these don’t come standard even in the SE and Titanium trims; they’re nice to see as available options, but most of it will come at an added cost.
The ‘Power of Choice’ brings about more engine options than toppings offered at your local hamburger joint. I understand the reason behind a conventional and plug-in hybrid, as well as a few gasoline engine offerings, but having a total of six engine options? When does choice become overwhelming?
The base Fusion gets the 178-hp 2.5-litre four-cylinder, but if you move up the trim levels there are three EcoBoost engines on offer: a 181-hp 1.5-litre, a 245-hp 2.0-litre and a 325-hp 2.7-litre V-6 Sport. For this first drive review, we will focus on the 1.5-litre, which was the only gasoline engine I drove because it’s expected to be the high-volume seller, along with the base 2.5.
The 1.5-litre comes as an option in the SE trim, but at a minimal cost of $900, or for free if you opt for the luxury package. It’s matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and can only be had in a front-wheel drive setup (all-wheel drive is available in Titanium, and is standard in Sport and Platinum).
From the get-go, the performance didn’t match its sporty demeanour. Initial acceleration was sluggish at times, with turbo lag forcing me to hammer down on the throttle in order to make a highway pass. There was one stretch that the Fusion got bogged down on on an uphill climb, with plenty of accompanying droning sounds.
On the flip side, it’s not a lost cause, as the handling made up for the lack of acceleration. Consumers who desire more power will opt anyways for the 2.0-litre or even the highly unnecessary V-6 Sport version. There was a long stretch of windy roads up from Montreal to the Laurentians that showcased the well-tuned steering with little need for correction. Ford mentioned the car’s Control Link rear suspension provides better handling control, and that was especially evident on this challenging stretch.
When you’re not trying to make it up a steep hill, the ride is smooth and quiet thanks to acoustic side glass in the front and rear, as well as the windshield. It puts you in a zen-like state when not being pushed, and that contributed to a reasonable 8.6 L/100 km fuel economy rating over 150 kilometres.
What’s even more impressive is that you can get a similar ride and feel in the Fusion Hybrid and Fusion Energi (plug-in hybrid), which come with much better observed fuel economy ratings, at 5.5 L/100 km and 3.7 L/100 km, respectively. The Energi version can surprisingly drive up to 135 km/h in electric mode, with a total possible pure electric drive of 35 kilometres. I managed a respectable 26 kms of pure EV driving, which helped contribute to that 3.7 L/100 km number.
The Fusion is a good value proposition and stacks up well with its main rivals at a starting price of $23,688; that includes key features that others don’t, including a rear view camera, 16-inch alloy wheels, and a keyless start button.
The 1.5-litre SE I was driving starts at $25,288 and rang in at $34,838 after a plethora of options. Prices can get out of hand like most vehicles, so make sure you truly need these add-ons. As a bonus tip, the moonroof for an extra $1,250 is the actual culprit for the lack of front row headroom, so if you could do without one, it would be more comfortable.
As you go up through the trim chart, the luxury Platinum starts at $41,988; while the hybrid begins at $28,888 and the plug-in at $35,088. Both of those come with a government discount, depending on the province you reside in.
The 2017 Ford Fusion has been re-tuned with refined looks, better technology and plenty of choices when it comes to powertrains. For the family that’s looking for comfort and cost savings, the 1.5-litre would be the right choice, while others can look for performance in the Sport version, luxury in the Platinum and fuel economy in the two hybrids.
Will these changes be enough to get the Fusion back on top of the Canadian sales charts? It’s much tougher nowadays with the likes of the new Malibu and Camry, but only time will tell whether the ‘Power of Choice’ is the choice of the people.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.