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Sedan excels in driveability

The Ford Fusion is set to turn the sedan world upside down.

In fact, the 2010 edition is arguably the most complete midsize passenger car on the planet. With four different powertrains — including gasoline-electric hybrid propulsion — all-wheel-drive availability and exclusive features and options, the Fusion has become the automotive equivalent of a full-course buffet.

In the three years since the Fusion, along with its Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ sister ships were launched, Ford has continued to benchmark the leading sedan contenders, including the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu and Nissan Altima. Ford’s engineers have focused on moving the Fusion several notches ahead of the competition in driveability, fuel economy and overall passenger comfort.

The outgoing Fusion was certainly a fashionable piece, but the coming version, due to arrive this spring, ratchets things up with a bolder and a more aggressive attitude. The grille’s three horizontal bars have been enlarged and a more prominently bulging hood hints that this car has what it takes in the performance department.

The Fusion is actually less than completely new since it continues to employ a modified Mazda 6-based platform (Ford owns part of Mazda). However, considerable work has been done to the suspension, braking and steering systems to improve ride and handling. In addition, thicker glass, extra sound-deadening material and improved door sealing helps reduce wind and road noise. Ford claims these changes now make the Fusion a quieter-riding car than the league-leading four-cylinder Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

Similarly, the cabin has also been upgraded. Hard-plastic dashboard, console and side-panel surfaces have become industry no-nos and Ford has covered as much of these areas as possible with a soft-touch "skin" that looks and feels more upscale. The seats get added side support and the coverings are also richer in appearance. Finally, the revised gauges are better lit using an easier-to-read three-dimensional effect and new ambient lighting now brightens up the footwells and the floor-console cupholders.

The starting-point 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder represents a gain of 15 ponies from the previous 160-horse 2.3-liter base powerplant. Although final numbers have not yet been released, Ford expects to lop one second off the four-cylinder’s zero-to-60-mph time while improving highway fuel economy by at least six miles per gallon.

The previously optional 3.0-liter V-6 returns, but significant retuning has improved output to 240 horsepower from 221.

For perkier performance, the new Sport model has been added to the mix for 2010 and features a 263-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard with the 2.5, while a six-speed automatic is optional, but standard on both V-6s.

As is the case for the current model, the 2010 V-6-powered Fusions can also be had with all-wheel-drive, a feature not currently offered on any of the company’s direct competitors.

The new Hybrid combines a 156-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a 106-horsepower electric motor for a net output of 191 horses. The Hybrid combo is mated to a continuously variable transmission and can travel up to 47 mph on battery power alone. That’s far better than every other hybrid on the road by a wide margin. Ford claims the Fusion Hybrid can travel up to 700 miles on a single 17 gallon fill-up, or the equivalent of 41 mpg city/36 mpg highway. Not bad for the Hybrid’s $28,000 base price that includes delivery.

Expect the usual standard amenities on all Fusion models plus some exclusive content. Most unique is a capless fuel-filler system that automatic opens and closes when you insert and then remove the pump nozzle. The optional blind-spot warning system puts lights in the side mirrors to warn of approaching traffic, while SYNC, Ford’s voice-activated communications system, operates cell phones, audio programming, vehicle diagnostics and emergency-call placement.

Impressive, indeed. For 2010, the Fusion buffet is expansive with all the right side dishes to make it a healthy choice for your wallet, the environment and even your sporting flair.

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