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SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- James Bond wouldn't look out of place in the new Ford Fusion.
That may have something to do with the car's trapezoidal front grille design and exceptionally sleek body contour, which cheats the wind with a 0.27 coefficient of drag and triggers memories of Bond's golden era in which he thwarted world domination at the wheel of an iconic Aston Martin.
In many ways, the 2013 Fusion has become similarly iconic now that it's based upon a global platform that's equally at home in Europe as it in North America.
Although it may not have the Aston's cachet, the new Fusion will undoubtedly draw mass appeal. In order to meet the needs and expectations of those masses, Ford is deliberately offering a broad range of powertrains and trim levels in the all-new Fusion under the banner 'Power of Choice.'
Essentially, this means the 2013 Fusion can be outfitted to emphasize economy, luxury, performance, or a distillation thereof with a commensurate range in pricing from roughly $22,000 to $34,000, less options.
The base unit in the lineup is the Fusion S, a front-wheel-drive affair that relies upon an improved version of last year's 2.5-litre four-banger. Next up is the SE, followed by the chart-topping Titanium edition.
Both of these higher trim levels can be equipped with all-wheel drive.
The SE offers a choice between a 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine and its big brother, a 2.0-litre EcoBoost; both power plants are turbocharged, four-cylinder mills. The Titanium trim level is limited to the 2.0-litre EcoBoost paired with an automatic transmission and AWD.
No longer is there a V-6 option in the Fusion lab. Just when you think you've got the 'Power of Choice' figured out, Ford hits you with a Hybrid Fusion that is reputed to attain better economy than Toyota's Camry Hybrid. According to Ford, the new Fusion Hybrid is a 47/47/47 car; meaning it achieves 47 mpg in the city, on the highway and in mixed-driving scenarios. (The metric equivalent? 5/5/5).
An impressive claim for sure, but there wasn't an opportunity to put the declaration to the test during our introduction to the 2013 Fusion lineup in sunny California recently. Most of the driving time in the canyons took place in a Fusion SE powered by the 1.6-litre EcoBoost mill affixed to a six-speed manual gearbox. (It should be noted that the ability to 'row your own' gears is limited to the SE trim-level paired with the 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine.)
After settling into the notably spacious Fusion cabin and completing the necessary fit adjustments, my drive-mate and I were off, though somewhat mired in Santa Monica traffic for the first few klicks.
As we left the surf dudes and burrito shacks behind for the hyper-heated hills, I knew Ford had nailed the design of the new Fusion but wondered if I would be driving an underpowered fleet vehicle wearing a sharply tailored suit. After all, the former Fusion suffered from a less-than-enthusiastic base engine and never had a manual stick option.
But, within moments of mobility, I revelled in how unexpectedly quiet, refined and punchy my SE tester was. Its polished 1.6-litre EcoBoost was turning out no less than 178 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque, the latter of which arrived just off idle at 2,500 r.p.m.
The abundance of low-end pull paired nicely with the six-speed stick's tall gearing, eliminating the need for downshifts in conjuring up grunt to deftly overcome the hills surrounding L.A.'s basin, whereas the Fusion was far more stirring than shaken.
The SE with its smaller EcoBoost mill and manual stick was a highly satisfying vehicle, with outstanding operational refinement and secure handling characteristics. So, the sub-$30,000 Fusion was more consistent with my perception of a premium-level ride than the Fusion of yore, but is moving up to the Titanium worth the extra $10K or so?
In a word: no, not for me. I found greatest contentment in the SE. Jumping into the fully kitted AWD Fusion Titanium -- powered by the 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine producing 240 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft. of torque -- didn't bring me greater pleasure, despite its full array of comfort and convenience features and its extra under-hood attitude.
The Titanium rides upon a slightly firmer suspension, which led to a less absorbent ride and possibly more road noise. Curiously, slightly more wind noise was also detected in this vehicle over the SE. Nonetheless, these are cars that significantly raise the bar in the mid-size segment.
The vast spread in Fusion pricing is representative of the aforementioned Power of Choice. While the base unit is a decently equipped car, the array of driver aids available at the SE and Titanium trim levels is not unlike those found in the premium automotive segment.
The list includes such notables as Active Park Assist, Blind Spot Information, Lane-keeping System, Active Cruise Control and collision warning with brake support. Also available is Auto Start-Stop. This fuel-conserving system has been priced at just $150, encouraging buyers to adopt the technology.
At present, Auto Start-Stop is only available with the 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine paired with an automatic transmission. A plug-in Fusion Hybrid is on the books for next year, further expanding the Power of Choice inventory.
In many ways, the new Fusion is a remarkable mid-size sedan that will gain international prominence due to its pan-global status. For Canadians, it offers outstanding value through an extensive array of outfitting, otherwise known as the Power of Choice.
For Bond, it offers slightly less cachet than an Aston Martin, but far more real-world suitability. And even Bond, James Bond, has to appreciate that.
-- Postmedia News
-- TRIM LEVELS: S, SE, Titanium, Hybrid
-- POWER: 2.5-litre I4 (175 hp); 1.6-litre I4 EcoBoost (178 hp); 2.0-litre I4 EcoBoost (240 hp); Hybrid powerplant (141 hp)
-- FUEL CONSUMPTION (L/100 KM CITY/HIGHWAY): 2.5-litre: 9.2/5.8; 1.6-litre
-- ECOBOOST AUTO: 8.7/5.5; 1.6-litre
-- ECOBOOST MANUAL: 8.0/5.3; 2.0-litre
-- ECOBOOST FWD: 9.2/5.9; 2.0-litre
-- ECOBOOST AWD: 9.5/6.3
-- HYBRID: 4.0/4.1
BASE PRICE: $22,499 to $33,999