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Win a Fusion!
Ford of Canada is holding a contest where you can win a new 2006 Fusion SE I4 (four-cylinder, manual). There's a fun electronic jigsaw puzzle on the contest website to put together first (or you can skip it if you wish). The contest, which is open from July 7 until Dec. 30, 2005, can be found at www.createareaction.ca.




2006 Ford Fusion Road Test
PREVIEW
Fusion Reaction


By Bill Roebuck

2006 Ford FusionWe managed to get behind the steering wheel of a pre-production Ford Fusion in mid-July, and after that brief introduction, we came away impressed. The 2006 Fusion, which won't be available in showrooms until October 2005, is Ford's newest mid-size sedan. It is designed to compete with the likes of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, among others.

The model is the first production effort Ford's newest design chief, Peter Horbury, whose job it is to remake the brand's image. He came from Volvo, where he turned the boxy look of Volvos into the smart-looking models they are today.

Expect to see the Fusion's look on other models, as Ford calls it the "new face of Ford sedans."

His concept was to bring to market a vehicle that offered good fuel economy, advanced safety features, clean emissions and roomy interior space, at an attractive price. From my brief experience, I can tell you that Ford has delivered on the safety, spaciousness and price points. The rest will have to wait until production models are available for further testing.

The design of the Fusion was inspired by the Ford 427 concept, a model that was popular with crowds at recent auto shows, Rob Marner, the Fusion brand manager for Ford, told me. Personally, I wish they'd kept more detail from the front-end design of the 427, which I particularly liked -- especially the headlamp treatment.

The Fusion does maintain the three-bar horizontal grille shown on the 427, if not the front lights, which are now multi-element projector-beam units. The new headlamps are quite an interesting design. "It's a combination of squares and circles," Marner said. "We call them squircles."

2006 Ford FusionThis is Ford's first fully digital car, meaning it was completely designed, engineered and tested for manufacture in a digital environment. The technology also allowed Ford to bring the model to market more quickly than by using traditional vehicle development programs.

The Fusion, which is to be built in Mexico, is the first vehicle from Ford's new CD3 architecture, which will eventually be the basis for up to 10 unique vehicles in North America. The model's platform is derived from the popular Mazda6 sedan (Mazda is now a division of Ford), although it is 30 mm wider and 55 mm longer (an inch wider and two inches longer).

The exterior has clean lines, with a stance that leans forward and down. Creases running along the hood make the front of the car look long, somewhat Jaguar-like. The wheels are far out to the sides of the vehicle, and the rear tucks in at the bottom to give the car a wider appearance.

Inside, there is lots of space, although I would have liked another inch of seat extension. The seating position is fairly high, though I thought it was hard to see the road over the tall fenders at the front when looking to the side, as you would do when cornering.

2006 Ford FusionRear seating positions were comfortable and headroom and legroom is quite good for average size adults. In a packaging exercise, Ford says its designers even donned size 14 shoes to confirm that someone with that foot size could enter and exit without brushing the B-pillar scuff plate or the back of the front seat. The designers pushed the rear door as far back toward the C-pillar as possible to accomplish this.

My 6-ft 3-in. tall son (who wears size 15 shoes) climbed in the back seat with no problem, though he did complain about the headroom (our tester was equipped with a sunroof that reduces headroom by about an inch -- I think he would have fitted fine without it).

The 60/40 split rear seatbacks are spring-assisted so they flip down as soon as they are released with levers in the trunk. They don't go completely flat, but at least you don't have to remove the rear headrests to lower them.

There is a typical grouping of storage spaces and cupholders up front, including a covered storage box on top of the instrument panel and a two-level console storage/armrest unit. The glovebox is enormous.

The trunk, which has a flat load floor, low liftover height, and compact decklid hinges that don't penetrate the cargo area, has a capacity of 447 litres (15.8 cu ft).

Ergonomically, all the controls and gauges were easy to access.

Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are standard on Canadian models, and the rotors are ventilated for better brake cooling. They are also designed to create less brake dust than other brakes.

Ford's Standard Personal Safety System is standard. The system uses smart sensors to deploy the dual-stage driver and front-passenger airbags. A front passenger sensing system detects of there's someone in the passenger seat and their basic size, and turns the airbag on or off as appropriate. First and second-row side curtain airbags are optional.

To meet stringent new side-impact crash tests, the Fusion's B-pillars are made by welding two blanks of steel end-to-end, resulting in a stronger top of the vehicle and more flexible bottom. This facilitates energy absorption during a crash below the level of the occupants. The strong steel structure at the torso level and above helps prevent intrusion into the passenger compartment.

Standard features include a tilt-and-telescoping steering column with audio controls, a power driver's seat and heated side mirrors.

Power comes from either a 160-hp, 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine or a 221-hp, 3.0-litre V6. The four comes with either a five-speed manual or automatic transmission, while the V6 gets a six-speed automatic. Both engines feature all-aluminum construction, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, intake Variable Cam Timing (i-VCT) and electronic throttle control.

The suspension is fully independent on all wheels. A double wishbone suspension in front works with a multi-link independent suspension in the rear to provide stability and reduce understeer.

2006 Ford Fusion, Brian Vought, chief engineer.Because the Fusions were pre-production models, I can't report on my driving impressions until September. At this time we can only report what Ford told us. "A satisfying ride and rewarding handling begin with a stiff chassis," says Ford, thanks to a torsional rigidity that is 12.7% higher than on the base architecture (the Mazda6). "The Fusion's steering is responsive and agile," says Brian Vought, Fusion's chief engineer.

The forthcoming Fusion will come in two versions in Canada, the SE and SEL, with either four- or six-cylinder engines. A base Fusion SE will start at under $23,000, and Rob Marner said it will cost less than $30,000 for a well-equipped SEL model.

Future derivatives will include an all-wheel drive model in 2007 and later, a hybrid model.

From our brief experience, it seems the Fusion will be a worthy contender against its Japanese rivals in the mid-size segment. Too bad we have to wait till the fall to find out for sure.

© Bill Roebuck, CarTest.ca.

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