Shortly after driving the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid and a Fusion equipped with a 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine and the newly developed Auto Start-Stop system (autofieldguide.com/articles/electronics-enhance-fuel-economy-for-2013-ford-fusion) in and around the Santa Monica, California, environs, where people surf and jog and even drive old VW Microbuses, I went to my hotel room. Nowadays, hotel rooms are not just places where you spend time and sleep. They have become places where you buy stuff, from the robes to the bedding. And whereas back in the day if you forgot your toothbrush they might simply give you one at the desk, in this case I noticed that there was a cabinet in the bathroom where you could purchase toiletries. One of the items caught my eye, perhaps because that Fusion Hybrid is aimed directly at consumers who are interested in having a smaller environmental footprint because it is certified by the EPA to deliver 47 mpg city, 47 mpg highway, and (not surprisingly) 47 mpg combined. During my drive, without even trying, I achieved 42.3 mpg in that car. And while the 1.6-liter EcoBoost with the start-stop system is not as remarkable vis-à-vis mpgs (i.e., 25 mpg city/37 mpg highway/29 mpg combined), it, too, is aimed at customers who want to burn less gas. (In a test Ford setup the week before my drive at its Dearborn Development Center that pitted Ford-driving NASCAR drivers against one another to see who could get the best fuel efficiency out of a Fusion with that 1.6 setup, Trevor Bayne won with a remarkable 46.9 mpg. Of course, real NASCAR driving behaviors are not conducive to achieving a whole lot of miles per gallon.)
So back to the item in the cabinet.
A toothbrush. With a handle that, as its packaging proclaims, is made from recycled yogurt containers (#5 poly-propylene; preserveproducts.com).
But the point is this: While the 2013 Fusion is a midsize with a stunning design in the increasingly well-styled midsize segment (e.g., Nissan Altima, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata), it is clear that Ford is addressing the needs of the increasingly environmentally oriented customer base for midsized cars. As Alan Mulally, Ford president and CEO, said, “The new Fusion is part of our plan to offer vehicles with the very best quality, fuel efficiency, safety, smart design and value. We are absolutely committed to class-leading fuel efficiency as a reason to buy Ford vehicles, with customers able to choose the fuel-efficient powertrain that best fits their lifestyle.”
(In addition to the aforementioned powertrains, there are a 2.0-liter EcoBoost (22/33/26 mpg) and a 2.5-liter four (22/34/26 mpg) and a forthcoming plug-in-hybrid powertrain that is expected to deliver in excess of 100-miles-per-gallon equivalent (this takes into account the electric-only portion of the driving and melds that with the gasoline/electric performance). The unelectrified powertrains are all mated to six-speed transmissions.)
And while not all potential buyers of the 2013 Fusion are those who carefully sort their plastic trash and are acutely concerned about the consequences of burning petroleum products, another thing that I spotted puts this range of powertrain offerings into the realm of interest for those people, as well: Not a single gas station that I saw while driving in SoCal had regular selling for less than $4.13 per gallon and one was as high as $4.89.
Prices like that could cut into your purchase of recycled toothbrushes.
The first-generation Fusion went on sale in 2005. Back then it was positioned between the compact Focus and the full-size Five Hundred. The Focus has been radically changed since then. And the Five Hundred is no more.
So the Fusion is now slotted between the European-styled Focus and the broad-shouldered Taurus.
One thing remains the same now as in 2005. The Fusion is manufactured in the Ford Hermosillo Stamping and Assembly Plant in Mexico. But Ford has great expectations for the Fusion, so it is also investing $555-million in its Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan to provide the capacity to manufacture the car there, as well, starting in 2013. The investment will provide a more flexible body shop and an upgraded paint shop, which will deploy a “3-Wet” process (three layers of paint are applied one after the other, while the underlying layers are still wet, which is said to result in a superior finish. And it is a less-costly process.).
When the Fusion comes to Flat Rock, it won’t entirely be a stranger to the plant. Or at least some of its DNA won’t be. Flat Rock Assembly used to be known as the “AutoAlliance International Plant.” It was a joint venture between Ford and Mazda. Ford put the Mustang there. Mazda put the Mazda6 there. The joint venture continues, but the plant’s output is changed.
They’re still building the Mustang in Flat Rock. But as of August, 2012, they are no longer producing the Mazda6 there. If you go back to the model year 2006 Fusion, it so happens that it was based on the platform used by Mazda for the underpinnings of the Mazda6. So there is familiarity. (Ford called the platform for the earlier Fusions “CD3.” The new model, and its global clone, the Mondeo, which is available in Europe and China (“One Ford,” remember?), is based on the “CD4” platform.)
So nowadays, the midsize car has to have something that sets it apart. Something distinctive. And, yes, there are both the styling of the 2013 and the powertrain choices. But one thing that Ford management has been talking about for the past few years, especially as the company rolled out the SYNC infotainment system in 2007, is the “democratization of technology,” by which they mean putting things in mainstream cars and trucks that otherwise might be installed only in higher-end vehicles.
In some cases this is mechanical. As in a suspension setup—MacPherson struts in the front and an all-new multilink arrangement in the rear—that Ford claims is “comparable to the setups found in more expensive Audis and BMWs.” (Presumably they did some engineering benchmarking to quantify that. From a purely subjective point of view, I can attest to the fact that when going through some of the turns on Mulholland Highway, the car was planted, although this was far from being a Tanner Foust experience (youtube.com/watch?v=5Kaj0QyAUoo).
And in other cases, this is purely sensor based. For example, among the available features is a camera-based system used for keeping the car in its lane. The camera is fitted within the rearview mirror housing. If the system determines drift, then there is a vibration in the steering wheel to alert the driver to reel it back in. Also looking down the road is a radar system that is part of the adaptive cruise control. Looking back and to the sides is the BLIS, or “Blind Spot Information System.” This uses sensors in the rear quarter panels to determine if there is a vehicle on the side of the car so that lane changes can be safely made, or if there is cross-traffic behind the car so that if the car is being backed out of a parking space it can be done safely. And speaking of parking, active park assist is also available: It uses sensors to determine whether there is a sufficiently sized parallel parking space, processors to calculate the trajectory for moving into that space, the electric power steering system to guide the car into the space. (Here’s an interesting note: the 2007 Lexus LS 460 first brought self-parking systems to the market; a self-park feature is not being offered on the current-generation LS. So one might argue that this is a case where the democratization of tech has actually greater support than cars that are driven by—dare I say?—the 1%.)