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2013 Ford Fusion (Bob English for The Globe and Mail)
2013 Ford Fusion (Bob English for The Globe and Mail)

2013 Ford Fusion

Ford must convince buyers that smaller engines are better Add to ...

Ford has experienced teething troubles with the 1.6-litre EcoBoost four powering the new $20,000-something Fusion SE mid-size sedan and the Escape crossover.

Fires and fuel leaks, among other things, resulted in recalls in Ford’s case. Does this mean you should cross the 1.6-engined Fusion off your list?

I don’t believe this is necessary thankfully, particularly as the little high-tech Ford motor makes sense, and works well – although it might not be the best choice.

The company has rightly taken flak for not discovering these issues during its extensive new-product test programs. But the real world is a very different place than the test lab. And it is inevitable that, after a machine of any type actually goes into service, faults emerge.

It’s what happens afterward that counts and Ford, as you'd expect given the importance of these two vehicle lines to its bottom line, promptly pulled out all the stops to sort out the problems, the most serious of which was an unusual overheating issue that resulted in a handful of fires. It says a cooling system software fix has resolved that problem.

But there remains an issue of perception - how do you convince north American buyers that a 1.6-litre engine is a practical choice in a mid-sized car?

A basic tenet of North American engine design wisdom and customer acceptance has always been “there’s no substitute for cubic inches.” Well, there is now and Ford is testing the mainstream market waters with its new generation of high-output, turbocharged engines.

In the past, Ford, like all North American car makers, relied on fairly large-displacement, low-tech, lowly stressed and not-terribly-efficient engines to motivate its mid-size cars. But with the average fuel economy bar to be set at 54 miles per U.S. gallon (4.3 litres/100 km in Canada) for 2025, high-tech is taking over across the product spectrum.

In Ford’s case, a new family of EcoBoost engines is designed to wean hard-core traditionalist pickup-truckers away from their V-8s with turbo V-6s. And, it hopes, mid-size sedan (as well as Escape crossover) buyers from their V-6s with 2.0-litre, turbocharged fours, while replacing big normally aspirated fours with a mini-motor 1.6-litre turbo. Both displacements had been traditionally associated with compact and subcompact cars.

The engine in the base front-drive, $22,499, Fusion S (there are also AWD versions) remains the 2.5-litre Duratec four that makes 175 hp and 175 lb-ft, a displacement and power ratings mid-size buyers are familiar enough with. A next-step-up SE goes for $24,499, and an additional $1,400 will buy you the 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine, which produces 240 hp/270 lb-ft. These would once have been considered prodigious numbers for a mass-market four-banger.

But, in between, priced at an extra $900, is the 1.6-litre, which generates 178 hp/184 lb-ft. All are available with six-speed automatic transmissions, but the 1.6 also offers a six-speed manual.

I’ve driven a 2.5 Fusion and its performance and drive-ability were fine, and I’m sure the turbo 2.0-litre will prove more than quick and flexible enough. So I was keen to see how an engine – the same size as the one that came in my mid-1970s Fiesta subcompact – would perform in a modern-day mid-sizer.

The answer? It was competent enough that you’re rarely aware such a small engine is providing the propulsion.

With the automatic, the 1.6-litre motor accelerates the Fusion to 100 km/h in (according to AJAC Canadian Car of The Year testing) 9.3 seconds, a tad slower but in the ballpark with its rivals. Getting from 80 km/h to 120 km/h took a mid-pack 6.2 seconds, exploiting its mid-range torque, which makes it feel like a motor of at least half-again its displacement.

In daily driving, this engine/transmission delivers positive launches and, with all those ratios in the box, you don’t have to drive around with the pedal on the floor mat to make it go.

It does produce hard-working-four-cylinder sounds and vibes when being used vigorously. However, it’s not obtrusive most of the time, and quiet at highway speeds on a light throttle, where its torque allows the transmission to stay in top gear up most hills, while maintaining cruise control settings.

The 1.6-litre is the lightest of the three front-wheel drive Fusions; at 1,551 kg, it’s more than 100 kg lighter than the 2.5-engined car. And it’s the mileage champ of the three engines offered with ratings of 8.7 litres/100 km city and 5.5 highway with the automatic, and 8.0 city/5.3 highway with the manual. The 2.5 automatic is rated at 9.2 city/5.8 highway and the 2.0 EcoBoost automatic at 9.2 city/5.9 highway. After a week in my hands, it averaged 8.5 litres and, on a 200-km highway run, 7.8 litres/100 km, a not particularly brilliant number for this drive.

Will such a hard-working turbo-boosted engine go the distance? You’d hope so, and you’d expect Ford has designed in long-term reliability to match that expected of rival modern engines. But that’s something only time will determine.

The well-optioned-up Fusion SE tester it powered – it priced out at $31,529 – was a thoroughly pleasant car, with distinctive styling, decent room in its tech-style and well-equipped and quiet interior, with a family-sized trunk. It handles, steers and rides well, too.

Is there any worthwhile advantage to opting for the 1.6-litre EcoBoost with automatic? It delivers comparable performance to the 2.5-litre and better fuel economy, but not by a huge amount. It’s neat, it works and it’s definitely the way of the future. But, in purely practical terms, maybe not the right now.

Tech specs

2013 Ford Fusion SE

Type: Mid-size sedan

Base Price: $24,499; as tested, $31,529

Engine: 1.6-litre, DOHC, turbocharged, inline-four.

Horsepower/torque: 178 hp/184 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100km): 8.7 city/5.5 highwat; regular gas

Alternatives: Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda Mazda6, Honda Accord, Buick Regal, Chevrolet Malibu

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