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Ford's Mid-size Fusion

Written by PFM Staff

The era of the Ford Taurus is nearly over. The Taurus will be produced for all of the 2006 model year, the first part of the 2007 model year and then discontinued. During this period, the Taurus will be available for fleet sales only (not retail) and available only with the 3.0L OHV V-6, and not the more powerful 3.0L (DOHC) V-6 used in the Five Hundred.

The loss of the Taurus is a bigger deal for police fleets than for retail customers or commercial fleets. The Taurus is the backbone of the police fleet for detectives, investigators and many police administrators. In the average police fleet, one vehicle in five is such an admin car.

The Taurus has not been available as either a police package or as a special service package since 1995. However, it has been the definitive government people-mover for all this time. The exit of the Taurus is going to leave a huge gap to fill in police and government fleets.

The Taurus remains significant for two reasons. The first is fleet pricing. This was clearly the lowest cost of any admin-oriented sedan. Nothing else is as big and as cheap to buy, maintain and operate? Get ready…the days of admin cars priced in the low-teens is about over.

Second, the Taurus is available with a Flex Fuel or E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) powerplant. This is a big deal in many areas. Neither the new Five Hundred nor the new Fusion are FFV-rated. The Fusion, however, is scheduled to be offered with a Hybrid powertrain in early 2008.

Taurus Replacement

For their part, some at Ford Motor Co. think the new, mid-size Fusion is the replacement for the Taurus. Not so fast. The mid-size Fusion may indeed be a replacement for the full-size Taurus in commercial, private sector and rental fleets. However, for the vast majority of law enforcement fleets, the practical replacement for the full-size Taurus is the full-size Five Hundred. (More on exactly what defines a car as mid-size or full-size later.)

While the Fusion is certainly priced closer to the Taurus than Ford’s other sedans, the Fusion is clearly and definitely SMALLER than the Taurus. To the point, police fleet managers have two choices from Ford for a basic, nonpursuit, detective, admin, investigator and support services vehicle...the MID-size Fusion and the FULL-size Five Hundred. The Fusion is slightly lower priced, definitely smaller and not necessarily more economical than the Five Hundred.

Mid-size Interior and Trunk

The combined interior volume and trunk volume determines the EPA size classification for a vehicle, i.e., mid-size or full-size. The Fusion has 100 cubic feet of passenger space and a 15.8 cubic feet trunk for a total of 115.8 cubic feet. This places it right in the middle of the mid-size class, which has a range from 110 to 119 cubic feet. That is a long way from the large car class, which starts at 120 cubic feet.

In comparison, the Taurus has 104.7 cf of passenger space and a 17 cf trunk. The resulting 121.7 cf easily classifies it as large car, or full-size car. The Chevy Impala is 104.5 cubic feet (almost identical to Taurus) and 18.6 cubic feet (space-saver spare), respectively. Again, this 123.1 cf makes the Impala a full-size car. The Ford Five Hundred is 108 cubic feet and 21.2 cubic feet, respectively, for a genuinely large, full-size rating of 129.2 cf.

The nearly 5 cubic foot difference in interior room between a mid-size Fusion and a full-size Taurus is about the size of a golf bag...a golf bag of difference in interior space between the Fusion and the Taurus (and Impala). And three golf bags smaller than the Five Hundred.

Space-wise, think Toyota Camry, Mazda6, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. These are mid-size cars. Don’t think Taurus or Impala. Both these are full-size cars. Instead, since the Fusion is firmly in the middle of the mid-size class, think Chevy Malibu. (The Malibu is actually larger.)

The Fusion is a suitable mid-size car, comfortable enough but a bit tight. It is slightly smaller on the interior than a Taurus, a situation made worse by the mandatory center console and floor shifter. Fusion has mostly adequate front seat, head, leg, shoulder, hip room for a normal-size, plain clothes officer, i.e., no duty belt.

Not so for the rear seat. The Fusion has less leg room, but is typical for mid-size sedan. The head room, however, is much less, and arguably not adequate for many adults. Entry into the Fusion is okay. Exit out of the Fusion is okay. Again, it is what it is…a mid-size car.

Drivetrain and Suspension

The Fusion comes standard with a 160 hp, 2.3L 4-cylinder and 5-speed manual transmission. A 221 hp, 3.0L V-6 and 6-speed are optional. Emissions-wise, the 4-cylinder Fusion is rated as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) by California standards.

The Fusion is available with the same 3.0L Duratec DOHC V-6 used in the Five Hundred. The Taurus retains the 153 hp, 3.0L OHV Vulcan V-6. With identical displacement but a much better valvetrain, and variable valve timing, the DOHC engine has much more power, torque and responsiveness.

From a fleet maintenance standpoint, the Duratech V-6 is well-established, and the 6-speed auto is new, sophisticated and promising. Nothing in the drivetrain appears to be a maintenance risk in retail-like use.

The Fusion uses a longer wheelbase version of the proven Mazda6 platform. The Fusion is assembled in Hermosillo, Mexico. The Fusion has a fully independent short and long arm (SLA) front suspension, which is clearly superior to the MacPherson Strut design. It also has a fully independent multilink rear suspension, which again is superior to either the MacPherson Strut or solid axle designs.

Street Drive

We initially drove the early production Fusion under two very different conditions, a street drive and then a track drive. Since then, of course, we have put hundreds of mile on retail cars, which are now widely available. In each case, we selected the model with a 221 hp, 3.0L DOHC V-6 teamed with a 6-speed auto.

Street drive was a 12-mile loop on surface streets and public roads in and around the Las Vegas Speedway. This was an excellent opportunity to drive the car at our own pace, with no pressure, on real streets, at real speeds. The 12-mile loop included a wide cross-section of roads, from the city streets inside the massive speedway infield, to local state roads with regular traffic and traffic signals, to Interstate 15.

On an EVOC road course, you can slam on the brakes, toss the car sideways around a corner and spin the tires at launch. That is what the road course is all about...aggressive driving that tests the performance limits of the car. But that doesn’t answer the question of how the car drives under normal street driving...the way these admin-oriented cars will be driven virtually all the time. For that answer, you need city streets, state roads and interstates.

The street drive gives the driver about 30 minutes in the car. It gave time to use the Jackie Stewart “single element analysis” approach to a ride and drive...concentrate on one aspect of the car at a time.

First, focus only on interior ergonomics. Then seat comfort. Then steering responsiveness. Then acceleration. Then braking. Then cornering. Then ride comfort. Then noise, vibration and harshness.

Ride and Handling

The Fusion has a ride typical of a mid-size car and, frankly, is not as comfortable as the larger Taurus and Impala FWD sedans, and definitely not in comparison to the larger Ford and Dodge RWD sedans. During our extended street drive on the public roads around the Las Vegas Speedway, the Fusion had the same Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) as most FWD mid-size sedans.

Oddly, for a mid-size sedan, the Fusion has a wide turning radius more like a large sedan or an SUV. At 40.0 feet curb-to-curb (for the V-6 version), the Fusion will not get through side streets and alleys like a Mini Cooper. That is the same turning circle as the full-size Crown Victoria and a full 2 feet wider than the Chevy Impala.

The seats, too, are much firmer than the typical Taurus. Firm and supportive seats are great if they exactly fit the driver, and not so great if they don’t. The center console robs space from your hips and inboard knee, while the power switch pods on the door panels steal space from your outboard leg and knee.

In this regard, you know you are in a mid-size. This is not a Five Hundred and certainly not a Crown Victoria. And just perhaps, it’s not quite a Taurus. Part of the only fair seat comfort and cabin roominess is due to the mandatory center console and floor shift. That alone is a big change from most Taurus sedans in fleet use.

The visibility with the Fusion is very good. Around the A-pillar to the front quarter, past the B-pillar to the driver’s side and out the rear glass, it was all pretty open. The tilting and telescoping steering wheel, however, is an excellent feature.

Track Drive

Then we took the Fusion around the road racing course at Las Vegas Speedway. The V-6 Fusion ran very well. It had good to very good bottom end responsiveness. The Mazda6 platform was very capable, very repeatable, and very predictable. On the brakes early, on the gas early and late apex, the car was easy to drive hard. Not that acceleration is a big deal with an admin car, but we hit 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, 100 mph in 24 seconds. We did not test for the top speed.

The steering is firm and responsive. Emergency lane changes (suddenly move over one lane) and evasive maneuvers (suddenly move over one lane, then quickly move back) are downright sporty. All of this is thanks to the excellent Mazda6 chassis. The suspension is certainly precise. The ride is also sporty. In fact, the suspension is taut enough to make us wonder about spending a day on the streets in it.

The Fusion has slightly larger front brake rotors than the Mazda6. On both the EVOC course and the extended street ride, the brakes were excellent. The brakes were not taxed at all, nor did they act like it. Of course, the retail car had a bit of body roll, which is to be expected from the softer (retail) suspension. However, this was not an issue. The body roll is much less than the Taurus.

Pricing

Heads up...in the low-end trim level, where the Fusion initially appears so price competitive, it comes with a 4-cylinder engine and a MANUAL shift transmission. An automatic transmission is an extra-cost option. On the Fusion, both ABS brakes and side-impact air bags are extra-cost options. By the time you add a V-6 engine, an automatic transmission, ABS and side air bags, the Fusion loses much of its price appeal. The Fusion is not available with stability control.

On the topic of side airbags, the Fusion has a significantly different crash rating than the Five Hundred. The IIHS crash standards are (in order) Good, Acceptable, Marginal and Poor. The Fusion has Acceptable front and front offset crash results, Marginal rear crash results and without side airbags, Poor side crash results. In comparison, the Five Hundred has the top rating (Good) in all four crash tests.

The Fusion might have somewhat better fuel economy than the Five Hundred (and certainly better than the Crown Victoria) but this, too, may vary. With the 2.3L Inline Four and Auto, the Fusion has an EPA City rating of 24 mpg, while the 3.0L V-6 and Auto has an EPA city rating of 21 mpg. The Five Hundred also has an EPA city rating of 21 mpg.

Overall, the Fusion appears to be an able mid-size sedan, but only average in most ways. We actually found that to be a surprise since in the retail market, the mid-size sedan segment is so intensely competitive. For police fleet use by detectives and admin staff, the Fusion isn’t a significant improvement over the Taurus, and perhaps not even a true replacement.

The Five Hundred pleasantly surprised us…a lot. The Fusion...not so much. Fusion is a mid-size car and good for what it is. Most cops will not find this to be a great replacement for the Taurus for the tasks that LE does.

The Fusion simply does not have the interior room of the Taurus, let alone the downright spacious Five Hundred. The Fusion is nice...and small. For your detectives and administrators, instead of the Fusion, bid the Five Hundred, the true replacement for the Taurus among cops. Drive the Fusion. Drive the Five Hundred. Price them both. Then decide.


Published in Police Fleet Manager, May/Jun 2006

Rating : Not Yet Rated


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