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2013 Ford Fusion (Ford)
2013 Ford Fusion (Ford)

Driving It Home

Ford buyers won’t be patient with glitches Add to ...

Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally admitted that his company needs to “fix the process” associated with new-model launches, and if he needs further motivation he should read the latest Consumer Reports test of the 2013 Ford Fusion.

Speaking to reporters after his address to the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, Mulally discussed the issues around three major product recalls last year (2013 Ford Fusion, Escape and C-Max). According to Automotive News, the recalls to fix overheating engines were caused by a software glitch that has since been corrected.

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"All those are lessons learned in continuous quality improvement," he told the industry publication.

Yes, but Consumer Reports testers criticized the 2013 Ford Fusion not for a software glitch, but snug cabin space; uneven fit and finish in the interior; real-world fuel economy that does not come close to matching U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) results; and, the “needlessly complicated and finicky to use” MyFord Touch infotainment system – the one that handles audio, climate, and communications functions on models so equipped.

I disagree on the MyFord Touch issue. Anyone who spends 10 minutes learning how the system functions will have no trouble at all. Ford’s approach to simplifying complexity, while hardly perfect, is far more user-friendly and flexible than the single-controller systems favoured by top tier German auto makers and some others. With MyFord Touch (and MyLincoln Touch), the user navigates through and controls various systems via a touch screen with four quadrants and voice activation.

I do agree with the CR types who have high praise for the Fusion’s driving manners. The “Fusion clings to corners, with quick, decisive turn-in response and well-controlled body lean. The steering is ideally weighted, with reassuring road feel,” noted CR. The best-handling version is the Fusion Titanium, but other versions are also “enjoyable, balanced, and predictable at their handling limits.” Agreed, agreed, agreed.

Jake Fisher, CR’s auto testing director, is right to say that you could spend twice as much money and not get a car with the Fusion’s composed, civilized ride.

However, the fuel economy issue is not going away for Ford, nor should it. And it’s not going away for other car companies, whose customers are finding that all too often what’s posted on the winder sticker does not even remotely resemble how much fuel they use in the real world. Case in point: while CR got an “eye-popping” 39 miles per gallon (6 litres/100 km) in measured testing, the “EPA test results of 47 mpg overall, city, and combined” (5 litres/100 km) are far more generous.

I’d also argue that CR’s testers want too much from the two EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engines available in the Fusion. While I agree that the 1.6-litre turbocharged four can get a bit rough when pushed, it’s not horrible and the performance is more than “decent” overall. And the 2.0-litre turbocharged four is quite powerful. Sure, it’s not as “creamy” as the small, turbocharged fours in pricier German models like the 2013 Mercedes-Benz B-Class, but it’s still very good.

And, of course, the engineers who manage CR testing are not willing to trade function for a pretty form – something they contend Ford did with the new Fusion. This sedan is without a doubt the best-looking, under-$40,000 midsize car on the market, but “eye-catching” looks come at a price – reduced outward visibility, for one thing, says CR.

The new MyFord Touch interface features new simpler graphics and controls that are easier to use.

“The Fusion’s interior looks nice and has high-quality materials but we’re surprised at the number of fit-and-finish flaws we’ve found, especially in our pricey Titanium version,” Fisher said.

CR doesn’t recommend the Fusion as of yet; this Ford is “too new to have sufficient reliability data.” When that data comes in, however, we’ll have a better handle on whether Mulally and his team have taken to heat the “lessons learned in continuous quality improvement."

The Fusion, being the first all-new mid-size model under Mulally’s vaunted One Ford product plan, is the truest test yet of Ford’s turnaround from the edge of bankruptcy just seven years ago. The new Fords look good, drive well and are loaded with fancy technology. But if the software launch “glitches” and such continue, buyers will run out of patience and go elsewhere.

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