Ford Fusion road test: New turbo engine increases fuel mileage

2014 Ford Fusion SE

2014 Ford Fusion SE

With nearly 20 models for sale in the affordable mid-size sedan segment of the automotive marketplace, it’s not an easy task for a manufacturer to build one that stands out in the crowd. But Ford has pulled it off with the latest version of its 5-passenger Fusion, now beginning its third model year.

The Fusion is a blend of handsome styling; efficient, four-cylinder power; a long list of available high-tech features; and driving dynamics that combine responsive handling with a comfortable ride.

Ford Fusion instrument panel

Ford Fusion instrument panel

I recently had the opportunity to sample a mid-range 2014 Ford Fusion SE, a car that will continue fundamentally unchanged in the 2015 model year. Its standout new feature was a new turbocharged 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine that generates 181 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque.

A close look at the spec sheet will show that it is quite similar in power and efficiency to the Fusion’s 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder powerplant. But that engine disappears in 2015 and was available in 2014 only in combination with a 6-speed manual transmission. A six-speed manual transmission in a Ford Fusion? I wonder if anyone has actually seen one.

So, let’s look a little more closely at the new engine, an obvious choice for buyers who want to move up from the less powerful, less efficient, naturally aspirated 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine that is standard in the base model Fusion.

Ford Fusion front seats

Ford Fusion front seats

Teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission, the only one available, the turbo engine can move the 3,440-pound, front-wheel drive sedan from a stop to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds. That’s certainly not enough to get the heart pumping, but power was adequate in all driving situations.

More importantly, it can return an EPA-estimated 25 miles per gallon of regular-grade gasoline around town, 37 mpg on the open road and a combined 29 mpg. I actually averaged 29 mpg in a week and several hundred miles of driving on mostly urban and suburban roads and, on one stretch of open road, saw fuel efficiency level off at 38 mpg.

A small part of that efficiency can be attributed to the optional ($295) start-stop system which automatically cuts the engine at traffic stops, then fires it up again when drivers move their foot from the brake to the accelerator.

Ford Fusion back seat

Ford Fusion back seat

With some of these systems the transition is rough — I’m thinking in particular of a BMW that I spend time with — but the Ford system is nearly invisible. In fact, the whole operation of the Fusion SE is nearly seamless. The engine revs smoothly and quietly and gear changes are nearly imperceptible.

The independent suspension swallows most road imperfections without jarring the passengers; yet, it offers adequate agility on the back roads of life. The steering is communicative and the brakes are strong. No, the Fusion is not a sports sedan, but it’s no Barcalounger on wheels, either.

The Fusion SE’s upscale looks are matched by a high-quality interior that can make many passengers feel as if they are traveling above their pay grade. Buyers planning to make a lot of trips will be happy with the 16-cubic-foot trunk.

In addition to its many amenities, the car comes with a full complement of airbags and side curtains plus four-wheel antilock disc brakes with stability control and emergency brake assist, halogen headlights, inflatable rear seat belts and hill-start assist.

Base price of an SE with the 1.5-liter turbo engine is $23,935, Standard features include 17-inch painted alloy wheels, power driver’s and front passenger’s bucket seats, climate control, 6-speaker sound system with satellite radio capability, message center with trip computer and MYKEY, which allows parents to adjust various functions to keep teen-agers from becoming distracted while driving

Options included on the test car included the Luxury Package ($2,350), featuring leather seating, heated, front seats with memory settings for the driver and an auto-dimming mirror; the My Ford Touch infotainment system ($1,100) with dual-zone climate control and rear-view camera; reverse sensing system ($295); navigation ($795); keyless entry and start ($520); and inflatable rear seatbelts ($190).

Add everything together, including the delivery charge and a special savings package, and the suggested manufacturer’s price comes to $30,005.

The Japanese giants have been consistent leaders in the affordable mid-size sedan market over the last generation, but the Ford Fusion is coming on strong. Buyers are learning they can have a handsome American automobile that is fully competitive with Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

For detailed specifications, go to the next page. If you would like to read about the Ford Fusion plug-in hybrid, click here. And, if you would like to read about the Ford Fusion Hybrid SE, click here.