2008 Ford Fusion Review

Finally, a car to review…

By Igor Holas with Melissa J. Sanchez

06.04.2008


We tested the 2008 Ford Fusion SES, and put it through a thorough test. However, thanks to Memorial Day weekend, the Fusion spent a lot of time on the interstate and on straight rural roads of Northern Ohio, and much less time on the streets on Philadelphia. This was undoubtedly an ill fit for the Fusion, as it is happier in the city, suburbs and curvy roads.

The long interstate trip revealed many of the Fusion’s weaknesses, but the car still proved to be a comfortable and efficient car in most situations, and reveled in taking on curves. However, it suffered from a few significant missteps in the interior, and its highway poise is negatively affected by lack of engine and road-noise isolation.


The car
The Fusion was our first car after a series of SUVs and was also about $12,000 cheaper than anything else we have tested to date. With such a significant price difference, we had to adjust our expectations. There were only four cylinders under the hood, manual transmission by our right knee, the whole car weighed less than 3200 lbs, and cost a measly $23,000; there is simply no comparison with the mostly V6, over 4,000 pound, and over $30,000 SUVs we have driven to date.

The Fusion is a contender in the mid-size segment, but, in most reviews gets pushed aside by newer, more sophisticated competitors, such as the 2007 Toyota Camry or 2008 Chevrolet Malibu. Despite the new competition, the Fusion continues to be an attractive car in the marketplace. Driving in Northern Ohio proved just how popular the Fusion has become – it is simply omnipresent on the roads around Cleveland, much like the Camry and Accord dominate the roads of Northeast USA.

Pricing
As I mentioned, the Fusion is quite cheap compared to the SUVs we have tested previously. The Fusion we tested was the top of the line SEL trim level with the base four-cylinder engine and manual transmission, and Sport Appearance Package. For an SEL car, the car was well optioned, but not fully loaded. The base price on the I-4 SEL model is $19,785 and this low price includes auto headlamps and fog lights, power driver seat, upgraded interior, radio with CD-changer, MP3 playback and SYNC, auto-dimming mirror, full array of airbags, and ABS. Our tester car added Sport Appearance package ($895), heated front seats ($295), ambient lighting ($295), Sirius satellite radio ($195), and leather seats ($895). The Sport Appearance package includes nice 18” wheels, sport-tuned suspension, good-looking brushed aluminum accents on the dash, red interior accents and a lip spoiler with LED third brake light. The total price, including destination came to $23,085

Compared to its competition, the Fusion is a bargain. It is $3,000 cheaper than the Malibu, $3,500 cheaper than the Altima, $4,000 cheaper than the Camry, and $5,000 cheaper than the Accord. It is so cheap, it is actually $1,500 cheaper than the Mazda3, $2,000 cheaper than the Civic, and $3,300 cheaper than the Corolla. As I said above – the Fusion is a bargain. As always price comparisons are feature-adjusted using True Delta’s online tools.


Exterior Styling
Ford did a great job designing the Fusion. The car has clean sleek lines that make it look long and sporty, and its giant chrome grille and vertical headlamps make it unique among its competitors. The body could be sculpted more, and the rear is a little bland, but Melissa and I find it handsome and fresh among similarly-looking competition. Compared to its competition, the styling stands out, but the Fusion’s wheelbase is about three inches shorter than most other mid-size sedans, and it makes for a cheaper-looking profile, and a less stable ride at higher speeds.

Our tester was dressed in black paint, which is quite flattering to the Fusion’s lines, and further enhanced by the Sport Package. The Package not only adds very attractive 18” wheels, but also darkens the grille for a more distinctive look. The difference in appearance was subtle, but noticeable, and very effective in making the car look even sportier. The final addition of the sport package was a lip spoiler with LED third brake light rounding up a very stylish and athletic-looking sedan.

Driving the Fusion
The moment you drive the Fusion one thing becomes apparent; it is a driver’s car that loves turning, loves accelerating and braking. Within minutes of driving the car, I felt right at home; I drive a Mazda3 with the same engine and the same transmission, and the added weight and size of the Fusion did little to dilute the sharp personality of the compact Mazda. Both cars share excellent road feel, controlled body roll, perfectly weighted steering and slick transmission.

Unfortunately another thing the Fusion shares with its smaller Mazda cousin is an overly stiff suspension, resulting in choppy ride, excessive road noise, and overly-short gearing of the transmission. Our tester car was equipped with the sport-tuned suspension, so obviously handling was more important than ride, and while the Fusion’s longer wheelbase did enhance at-speed stability, many road imperfections still managed to jar the car. The road noise and engine noise were also excessive, especially for this class, and was quite tiring on the long ride.

Finally, the Fusion uses Mazda’s transmission with its sport-focused short gearing. While this gearing helps the car feel very energetic and sporty, and lets you stay in fifth anywhere above 30 miles per hour, it forces the engine to buzz at 3,000 rpm at highway speeds. Of course, thanks to the lack of sound isolation this buzz easily made it into the cabin. Otherwise, we were happy to drive the car, we quickly felt right at home, shifting, clutching, and steering; the handling and fun factors were extraordinary; especially for a car this size.

Overall, on the interstate with average speed of 69 mph we averaged 29mpg one way, and 30.4 the other. On the rural roads of Ohio we achieved 28mpg, and in relaxed cruising on Philadelphia highways, we managed 35mpg. Finally, during Melissa’s commuting, she averaged 18.5mpg. These are respectable numbers right on par with our Mazda3; however, many of the Fusion’s competition have significantly higher mileage ratings, and we are confident they would achieve better results in the real world. Finally, Fusion’s large 17.5 gallon gas tank let us drive 500-miles between fill-ups.

Interior
The interior had many strong points, but it also had several significant omissions that spoiled the overall impression. (Don’t we sound like a broken record?). The overall dash design is simple, but straightforward, and easy to use. Unlike the Edge and the Escape, virtually the entire dash is covered in soft-touch plastic, including the edge of the center stack where your knee rests. There were four grab handles on the ceiling above their respective seats, and there was no silly compartment system in the arm rest – just a pure, simple, and practical two-tier compartment.


The SEL equipment level trims the dash with good-quality accent pieces across the dash, and over the center stack. Usually, these are glossy “Piano” black, but with the Sport Appearance Package they had attractive silver metallic look. The other changes brought about by the package are seats with red contrast stitching, and with solid red inserts. The red accents were aggressive and will probably attract many buyers, but we find the traditional black leather with tan contrast stitching classier looking. The manual transmission shifter is also cheap feeling with “leather” knob and “plasticky” feeling boot making it obvious that the manual transmission is second in terms of status in this car.

The front cabin sports a nice assortment of storage compartments with top-dash bin, the aforementioned two-tier arm rest, decent-sized glove box, sizeable compartment under center stack, and door pockets. We had to pack the car with essentials for the long trip and never ran out of space. The driving position is perfect, and the tilt-telescoping wheel is perfectly sized. Our tester was also equipped with Ford’s seven color “ambient” lighting – a set of LED’s scattered around the interior that are to break up the darkness of the interior at night. The system is not as subtle as the Murano’s, and did not seem as well integrated. However, the selectable colors were nice, and they did their job of breaking up the darkness; as a bonus, the bottom tier of the arm-rest is now lighted.

The biggest misstep in the front cabin is the stereo system. This was the first Ford we have tested without the navigation system, instead equipped with Ford’s obnoxiously ubiquitous and now-obsolete “brick” head unit. This unit was nice back in 2005, but since then Ford has added a great number of features without adding buttons and navigating through the many menus (especially the SYNC) was painful and annoying, and simply infuriating. Of course this is exacerbated by the ancient LED “toothpick” display. Ford’s SYNC system once again proved to be a perfect companion, and worked great in our uses. A new feature we tried this time around was using it as a Bluetooth speaker system: streaming music from cell phone to the car without any wires. It all worked great, sounding clear, cutting out when a call came in, and even offered next/previous track control; too bad the car could not remember from one ignition to another that the SYNC source I wanted to use was not USB, but Bluetooth.


Other, more minor items of notice include the curiously small map pockets in the doors, which span only half the doors; and the overhead sunglass holder which could not hold either my nor Melissa’s glasses. Also the passenger airbag cover felt very flimsy, and as with the Edge, Ford forgot about the “Cancel” button in its cruise control. Despite these small missteps and despite the hindrance of the obsolete head unit, and despite the lacking soundproofing, there was very little wrong with the front cabin, and we were happy to be in it, and enjoyed the trip.

The back seats provide clear insight of the benefits of the longer wheelbase. Compared to my Mazda3, there was a plethora of space, and the added arm rest (not present on my 2004 Mazda3, but since added) helps make sitting in the rear not feel like a penalty. I spent six hours back there, and found the cushion, and seatback perfectly set up, the cushioning supportive, yet comfortable, and the legroom and foot room very satisfying. The one factor spoiling this comfort is the “integrated head restraints.” Instead of installing actual head rests in the back, Ford (and unfortunately many of its competitors) simply extended the seat back’s padding up about two inches for a semblance of head rests. They are too short, and too soft to do any part of their jobs, and are simply useless forcing me to slide down, or rest my head on the door frame. There is also no pocket in the door panels (another curious omission), but the backs of the front seats have map pockets, which do compensate. Overall, I was happy with the space and accommodations in the back seats, especially for my 5’11” frame with extra padding; however the nonexistent headrests made riding in the back a chore.


Another area that impressed by its space was the trunk. We knew that it was big; one of the largest in the segment, and much bigger than our Mazda3; but we never realized the extent of this statement until we began actually packing it. Things that would take up most of the Mazda3’s trunk left more than half of the Fusion’s trunk available. By virtue of its impractical sedan configuration, the opening was relatively small, but we never had trouble getting anything in. The space is also nicely shaped with completely flat floor, and unlike so many competitors such as Camry, Altima, or Accord, the car does not use the intrusive “goose neck” hinges. Folding the rear seats was as easy on pulling on a lever in the trunk, but do not look for a similar mechanism in the actual cabin – there is none – the pulleys in the trunk are the only way to fold the seat backs. In our SEL tester, the front passenger seat also folded flat, so as long as your item is flat enough to clear the trunk ceiling, it can be quite long.

Conclusion
So the Fusion is not perfect; it lacks soundproofing, a better-geared transmission, a more modern head unit designed for the many features included, and actual rear head rests. However, we found it better executed and more satisfying than the Edge or the Escape with better materials, better assembly, and an overall solid feel.

We were surprised just how well the car handled, and while the sport suspension was a little choppy, it was still very stable in most situations. We were left desiring more, but for the savings compared to its competition, much can be overlooked. Luckily, the Fusion is finally getting a freshening, and significant improvements this winter with all new interior, updated exterior, new engines and transmissions, much more refined ride, and finally real rear head rests. With these improvements, the Fusion promises to improve its standing in the segment and escape the position of second fiddle. The 2008 model is fine, and it is cheap; however if you are looking for a car that feels “grown up”, other competitors or the Ford Taurus might be a better fit to your desires. If you can wait for the 2010 model coming out this January, the Fusion should be a much better car.

IMAGE GALLERY: For more images of the Ford Fusion click HERE

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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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4 Comments

  1. I think my Fusion is a blast to drive (V6) but I do wish the interior was a little better.

  2. I know what you intend when you say Mazda 3 “cousin”, but the 6 (which I have) is the true sibling in this tight-knit Dearborn family.

    Funny that some of your comments (like glasses not fitting in the holder) also apply to the 6… Ford and Mazda must do their shopping at the same store.

    One reason why I automatically did not consider the Fusion when I got my 6 was Ford’s insistence than I, the driver, can not select my own gears, even with an automatic. PRDL? WTF? Mazda not only lets me choose my own gears, it gives me a tiptronic-style selector.

    I also think my almost chrome-free Mazda 6 looks better than the Fusion it spawned.

  3. For me, the red dash lighting on the Masda6 is an imdediate show stopper. Sounds like the only real problem with the Fusion is the tripple ugly three bar grill.

    The review makes the Fusion sound a lot like my old ’96 Contour Sport, which was an absolutely fabulous car, but too “European” for most Americans at the time. I think the Fusion is a little bigger in the rear though.

    As for the cruse control, Ford has never had a “cancel” button. The buttons have always been on/off on one side of the wheel and set/resume/coast on the other side.

    Off is completely useless though. I don’t think I have ever used the Off button; if you use the off button, that turns the cruse off, so the resume button does not work. To temporarilly disengage the cruse you either tap the brake or the clutch. To slow down without activating your brake lights you use the coast button.

  4. That’s funny, I had a Contour SVT and I feel the same way about my Fusion.

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