HARRISON HOT SPRINGS, B.C. — What do you get when you take 20 automotive journalists, a handful of Ford employees, a few tubes of various colours of acrylic paint and a bunch of canvases with the outline of a Ford Fusion already pencilled in?
You get one, courtesy of Ford’s product development manager Bill Rowe, that looks less like a Fusion and more like a second-generation VW Scirocco, a few that look like fastback Audi GTs. Included in that bunch are a few pretty freaky concept-car ideas, including Fusion Coupé, Floating Fusion, Visionless Fusion (the windshield was accidentally painted over), Fusion Wagon and Fusion Overland (with massive tires thanks to a slight error in perspective). I nicknamed mine Drag Racing Fusion (even though I overemphasized the rear wheels of a front-drive car).
Only a few actually resembled the Fusion. Did it help we had spent the day previous flying early to Vancouver, learning about the 2017 Ford Fusion and driving to Harrison? Likely not, but little matter: the Louvre will not be calling.
Yet, while none of us will be on the consideration list for the Museum of Modern Art, you might want to put Fusion on your list if you’re thinking of a new mid-size sedan.
The upgrades to Fusion are considerable, but with only slight tweaking of what Rowe called a successful design. “When we do focus groups, we don’t tell them we’re with Ford, yet among our competitors, Fusion always drew the most positive responses for design, inside and out,” Rowe said.
In other words, don’t fix what ain’t broke. Still, no design can’t be improved, so Ford added some boldness to the lower front fascia, which gives the car a lower, more hunkered appearance, with the illusion of a wider stance. The tail lights have been tweaked to be a little sleeker, a little more well-integrated. “When we go and change vehicles we don’t just go and change things without first talking to our customers,” Rowe said. “We wanted to find out what they liked, and more importantly, what they didn’t like.”
The results are some significant tweaks to the inside. Rowe said customers wanted better access to the storage bin at the bottom of the centre console, improved cup holders and a higher level of craftsmanship. As a result, the shift lever becomes a knob and the parking brake becomes electronic. Which clears space in the centre console to move the cupholders forward and improve access, while getting the shift lever out of the way of the storage bin, which now also gets a smart USB jack and a 12-volt power outlet. One-touch up and down windows all around are standard.
Added to the lineup is a Platinum model, which adds some richly detailed leather, including quilted leather for various accent pieces, including the door panel. A really appreciated touch was the use of open-pore wood as an accent to the matte metallic trim on the dash. Open-pore wood just feels like wood, while highly polished wood with 14 coats of lacquer looks and feels like… 14 coats of lacquer. If you want to make wood so highly polished it looks like plastic… just use plastic!
The powertrain gets perhaps the biggest news, with an available 2.7-litre twin-turbo V-6 all-wheel-drive model that promises to be quite the rocket, with nearly 400 pound-feet of torque on tap. More than enough for most customers will be the 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine that itself is quite sprightly. There is also a more sedate normally aspirated four-cylinder and a couple of hybrid offerings, a standard Fusion Hybrid as well as Fusion Energi, a plug-in hybrid that drives the first 35 km from charge on full electric.
And as impressive as it was to get to Vancouver from Harrison Hot Springs with the average equivalent of about three litres per 100 km, the Energi is not the vehicle for someone with any amount of cargo requirements. My carry-on and camera bag were it; my driving partner Tom Sedens’ luggage had to go into the rear seat. The trunk of the Energi is more than half battery. The hybrid trunk has a bit more space, while the gas version’s trunk will satisfy most families’ needs.
Rowe said hybrid and plug-in hybrid sales, while not strong to begin with, have virtually fallen off a cliff. Low fuel prices are largely to blame, and the few provinces to offer any kind of incentive also don’t help. “Eighty per cent of our EV sales are to Ontario, B.C. and Quebec, where incentives are in place.”
Also holding back EV sales (which includes hybrids and plug-in hybrids) is consumer fear: fear of running out of juice mid-journey and fear about the cost of repairs. As with most manufacturers offering EVs, the drive batteries in Fusion Energi and Fusion Hybrid carry an eight-year warranty. With both Fusion hybrids, the cars can keep going for as long as you can put gas into them, just like regular cars.
Higher levels of Fusion also come with various driver-assistance features, including self-parking, collision-mitigation with braking, lane-keeping assist (which can either just warn you or steer you back, your choice), pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control.
Fusion comes with a very well-sorted suspension offering an excellent blend of ride comfort and handling. You don’t sacrifice one for the other. Steering assist is electric, and that does mean feedback is limited, but it is precise and the suspension hugs curves.