When the North American auto industry started to go downhill, it looked like Ford would be the first to fall by the wayside.
In 2007, for example, it lost some $3-billion dollars (U.S.) and was closing plants and laying off workers like there was no tomorrow. Which, had things kept going the way they were, there wouldn't have been.
But, as it turned out, Ford was the only one of the Detroit Three that didn't receive government bailout money, and compared to GM and Chrysler, it seems to be coping reasonably well with the economic downturn and the worst automobile sales in decades.
Things are far from hunky dory, but the company is hanging in there. My own theory is that, of the three, Ford has always had the strongest ties to its European divisions, and hasn't been afraid to call on England and Germany for engineering and design input. Having Mazda in the fold hasn't hurt, either.
Anyway, one of key models in Ford's recovery is the Fusion sedan, which gets a mild makeover and a new engine for 2010.
These days, you can get it with a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine, a choice of two V-6s, or a hybrid drive train. There's also an all-wheel-drive Sport version, which is what I drove this time around. I'd say that's covering the bases.
Which Ford needs to do. The Fusion is duking it out in the toughest market of them all: the mid-size family sedan. It has to prove itself against perennial front-runners Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, not to mention the Hyundai Sonata, Chevrolet Malibu and Nissan Altima.
Compact SUVs notwithstanding, this is still the most demanding market in Canada. And the most subtle. Models that strike a chord with buyers do so not because they go faster, look better or have more electronic gizmos. They're popular because they're comfortable, thrifty and give buyers their money's worth.
My tester, the AWD Sport version, comes with the largest engine of the bunch: a 3.5-litre V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic. With the AWD model, this is your only drivetrain choice, and you have some 260 horsepower at your disposal.
Ford has offered AWD as an option on its sedans going right back to the old Tempo/Topaz line and, quite frankly, I'd give it a pass. There's nothing wrong with it, but it decreases your fuel economy and costs some $6,500 more than the regular front-wheel-drive version. True, you do get the larger engine and various other bits and pieces, but do you really need AWD?
Elsewhere, the Sport has a tastefully done interior, with contrasting leather upholstery. I liked it a lot and was actually kind of surprised at the quality. Equipment level is also upgraded; with this model, you get heated front seats, a sunroof, rear-view camera, 18-inch wheels and tires, a blind spot warning (this appears to be the same system found in some Volvos), dual-zone climate control and Ford's Sync media system.
I particularly liked the dash-mounted storage bin, abundance of cup holders and various storage nooks and crannies. All in all, a well-appointed, moderately upscale sedan.
That said, I kind of struggled with the Sport appellation. This car is still too bulky and lethargic to be taken seriously as a sport sedan. Sure, it'll scat when you put the pedal to the metal, but it lacks that seat-of-the-pants, visceral driving sensation that manufacturers such as BMW, Audi, Acura and so on build in so effortlessly.
More to the point, it doesn't transmit its alleged sporty nature to the driver. I felt no urge to run this car hard or toss it into the corners. It feels like a family sedan and behaves like one.
And compared to other, similarly-sized six-cylinder engines out there, the Fusion Sport's power plant has a kind of coarseness about it. The best V-6 engines in this corner of the market are still coming from offshore manufacturers.
That doesn't mean it isn't a pleasure to drive. Ergonomics are, for the most part, easy to get along with and accessible, ingress and egress is good, and there's plenty of interior elbow room - all the things buyers of mid-size sedans look for. As far as these models go, the Fusion is no worse than the competition. But nor is it better.
I have no real issues with the Fusion Sport, but it just doesn't hit me where I live. And, if I was in the market for this type of car, I can't see me forking out the $35,000-plus needed to buy it. Just for the sake of comparison, you can get a BMW 128i Coupe or 323i sedan for about the same money. Ditto for an Acura TSX or Mazda6 GS. True, they don't have AWD, but, all things considered, so what?
When I drove the Fusion Hybrid a few weeks before I slid behind the wheel of this model, I was extremely impressed, and the regular 2WD Fusion, which I drove earlier this year, is just fine. But this version of Ford's mid-size sedan just doesn't have the wow factor.
2010 FORD FUSION SPORT
Type: Five-passenger, mid-size sedan
Base Price: $32,051; as tested: $34,151
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Horsepower/Torque: 263 hp/249 lb-ft
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 11.7 city/7.4 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, Mazda6, Saturn Aura, Acura TSX, BMW 323i, Volvo S40, Volkswagen Passat, Subaru Legacy
- Nicely appointed interior
- Comfy seats
- High equipment level
- No real sizzle here
- Engine kind of coarse
- Do you really need AWD?