With 2017 Fusion Sport, Ford pushes further toward Audi

  • 17-Sep-2016 05:23 EDT
Fusion sport front.jpg

The 2017 Fusion Sport marks several "firsts" for Ford and the midsize-sedan segment.


Nobody’s ever had much trouble liking the slinky look and agreeable driving dynamics of Ford’s Fusion midsize sedan since the second-generation model was launched for the 2013 model year. But three years into its lifespan, a refresh is due—and in addition to a not-so-you’d-notice front-styling revision and some unexpectedly high-quality interior upgrades, the 2017 Fusion lineup adds a convincingly-executed Sport model to slant this family car distinctly to the sport-sedan part of the spectrum.

Todd Soderquist, global chief program engineer for the Fusion and Mondeo, told Automotive Engineering that because Ford’s new-ish twin-turbocharged 2.7-L V6 was developed concurrently with the second-generation Fusion, the midsize sedan was designed from the start to accept the Ecoboost V6, even though the car was launched with a 4-cylinder-only engine lineup. Thus the heart of the new Fusion Sport, the 2.7-liter—here generating an SAE-certified 325 hp (242 kW) and a chesty 380 lb·ft (515 N·m)—was three years ago ready for this duty.

At last, a V6 for the Fusion

The Ecoboost V6 represents a blustery 80-hp (107 kW) and 105 lb·ft (142 N·m) boost over the Fusion’s next most-powerful engine, the turbocharged 2.0-L 4-cylinder. The power upgrade is significant, but curiously in this era of engine downsizing, part of the Fusion Sport’s reason for being is old-school cylinder count: Ford reckoned the Fusion was losing out to at least two of its chief competitors, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, which still (almost inexplicably, we think) offer V6 power.

There’s another, bigger-picture reason it’s a good time for the Fusion lineup to get a shot in the arm: midsize family sedans, the time-honored cornerstone of the passenger-vehicle market, are fast losing ground to crossover vehicles. In August this year, sales of midsize sedans hit a five-year low, according to trade journal Automotive News.

This 2.7-L is somewhat special in the already tech-rich feature set of all Ecoboost engines in that it features Ford’s first use of a compacted-graphite iron (CGI) cylinder block for a gasoline engine (see http://articles.sae.org/13388/ for more detail). Manufactured in Lima, OH, the engine’s CGI construction blends the durability attributes of grey iron with weight-savings similar to (or potentially better than) aluminum. Already used for the F-150 pickup and the Edge Sport crossover, for the Fusion Sport the V6’s torque peak is slightly higher even than the F-150 pickup’s rating. There also are several SAE technical papers relating to the Ecoboost 2.7-L; one starting place is here.

The addition of the grunty V6 unquestionably adds a new dimension to the Fusion, delivering brash acceleration from a standstill, even if the collaboration between the V6 and an uprated version of Ford’s 6-speed automatic transmission doesn’t seem entirely copacetic. Car & Driver’s experienced speculation indicates the the Fusion Sport will cut about a 5.3-s 0-to-60 mph run, a figure that requires no excuses in sport-sedan company. Thanks to a "sport" button centered in the new rotary-dial shifter, the engine-transmission interface can be made more urgent and the engine’s aural output is enhanced to a slightly too loud and almost uncomfortably artificial howl.

Pin the throttle in a tight backroad bend and the V6 has the Fusion Sport bolting with authority—just when you’re sure that blistering torque will send a front wheel fluttering, the standard all-wheel drive swallows the excess and channels it where it won’t be wasted. This combo alone makes the Fusion Sport well worth its $34,350 starting price, in the author's view, even if with all this thrust hardware it seems the car should be able to do better than its mediocre 21-mpg combined fuel-economy rating. In this metric, the Fusion Sport’s plumpish 3982-lb (1806-kg) curb weight—450 lb-plus (204-kg) more than a front-drive, 4-cylinder Fusion—surely is no advantage.

First adaptive damping for family sedan

What may be as impressive as the Fusion Sport’s propulsion-per-dollar ratio is its continuously controlled damping (CCD) suspension—the adaptive dampers the company uses in several Lincoln models, the system’s first-ever standard-equipment appearance in a U.S.-market Ford-branded vehicle.

The CCD dampers, made by Tokico but algorithmed by Ford specifically for the Fusion Sport, receive input from a dozen high-resolution sensors and are said to react in 30-50 ms to adjust damping rates. The Fusion Sport is the first car in its class to offer electronically-controlled adaptive damping and it’s an upgrade we predict competitors—particularly those with sporting pretensions—are likely to adopt: CCD’s impact on the Fusion Sport is stupendous.

The system slurps up the most distressing road-surfaces with disdain; hard-driving on twisting and poorly maintained backroads, the kind of challenge that can leave even sport-oriented vehicles wallowing for grip and suspension fluidity, is handled brilliantly by CCD. We can’t think of many Germany sport sedans that have better body control or could feel any more pinned to the road than the Fusion Sport. It’s a highwater mark for the Fusion’s already solid CD4 platform.

The secondary joy of CCD is that the system doesn’t seem to require selecting the car’s “sport” driving mode—sharper steering, throttle and transmission response and overall stiffer damping calibration—to get most of the benefits. We found the base tuning’s automatic responses adequate to handle fairly aggressive cornering while still delivering superb comfort. Ride quality, in fact, seems little compromised even when sport mode is selected.

The Fusion Sport’s chassis upgrades also run to stiffer rollbar and spring rates. There are special 19-inch alloy wheels and the front brake rotors are larger (by some unspecified amount) than the 11.8-in front discs of the standard Fusion. The increase or its related calibration isn’t enough, as probably the Fusion Sport’s only chassis shortcoming is limp braking.

Better vision for better interior

Like CCD, you can’t help but notice the Fusion Sport’s signature interior feature, a change from a center-console shift lever to a rotary dial. It's also on the center console but offset to the driver. The dial does palpably open the center-console area, and the standard shift paddles handle the transmission-control functionality lost with the shift lever.

Less apparent than the new shifter is an upgrade of certain interior trim pieces—including a surprisingly rich, soft-touch upper covering the bulk of the upper dash—and slimmed A-pillars that noticeably improve sightlines. And the new “Miko” microsuede (think Alcantara by a different name) mixes with leather for the seats to lend a sporty and premium appearance, as well as some degree of grip during spirited driving. All 2017 Fusions benefit from the rotary shifter, improved interior trim and slimmer A-pillars.

Several available electronic-feature upgrades for all 2017 Fusions include adaptive cruise control with collision-avoidance braking and genuine stop-n-go functionality in traffic, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, as well as automatic parking capability that adds auto-parking for standard parking spots in addition to parallel parking.

The new Sync 3 driver-interface system is optional and incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

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