On a recent trip, I was to spend a few days in the greater Los Angeles area, and decided that driving would be easier and less expensive than flying, and I like driving better, besides. Inevitably there is almost always a layover in Las Vegas to get from Reno to LA, and I’ll always get stuck with the middle seat. I’d prefer 7 hours in relative comfort than 5 or 6 hours of overpriced airport food, uncomfortable seats and cranky seat mates in a pressure sealed tube of disease. Once the flight lands in LA, I’d have to rent a car there anyhow, so yeah, driving is better. The scenery between Reno and LA is gorgeous, as you get beautiful rolling hills if you go down I5 and craggy and colorful desertscapes if you go down 395. In my rental agreement, I chose “Chevrolet Cruz or Similar” and headed to the counter to pick up my car for the week. When I arrived, I was told I’d be getting a Fusion and went to the lot to pick it up. When I got there, the car was inexplicably nonexistent, or at least the attendants couldn’t find the keys, so they gave me an upgraded car, the Fusion Platinum 2.0T Ecoboost. So how did it fare?
It isn’t often that we get the opportunity to drive Ford products here at Hooniverse, or at least not new ones, and not ones that don’t have our respective names on the titles. So when the opportunity arises, we grab the keys in both hands and head for the open road. I was at the wheel of this Ford for nearly 1300 miles, and while I wasn’t exactly sad to see it go back to Avis, the car did serve well during its time in my employ. For a rental car that has already accrued more than 20,000 miles in its life, this car felt really well bolted together. Everything was attached well, nothing was coming apart at the seams, and it was downright comfortable.
I’ve been a Ford fanboy my entire life, influenced heavily by my father. Blue oval runs deep. That said, I was a bit skeptical of this car before I drove it. I wasn’t sure how I’d like the Ecoboost engine, or the flappy-paddle automated gearbox, etc. I’ve been hearing some great stuff emanates from Ford lately, so I was optimistic, but not overly so. This is a rental car, so it’s probably pretty beige, right? Well, it was in comparison to my normal daily steeds, which never fail to liven up my commute (usually by breaking something), but it also compares favorably to any Camry/Accord/Maxima I’ve ever driven. If I were the kind of person who could deal with leasing a ‘boring’ new car every two years, this would probably be pretty high on my list.
The driving experience isn’t the most engaging, but it’s a large front wheel drive car, so you don’t really expect it to be, do you? The steering wheel is where you expect it to be, and the pedal on the right makes the engine noisier and provides forward motion when you put the knob in the middle to “D”. None of that really matters in a car like this, does it? Okay, alright, I’ll talk about those bits for a minute or two. The most important bit there is the Ecoboost engine. It’s a bit of a zinger, it’ll rev up a bit, and it provides good enough power for the segment. 240 horsepower isn’t blowing anyone away, but 0-60 in just about 6 seconds isn’t terrible. I was impressed when I saw 270 torques, though. There is a bit of lag with the smallish displacement turbo engine that you wouldn’t have in a larger N/A engine, but really it’s the 6-speed automatic that is the real let down here. I think that gearbox is still trying to find the gear that I requested of it in Sacramento.
The ride was firm, but comfortable. Far from engaging, but not soft and floaty. You know what the car is doing, but don’t expect it to do it in a hurry. Brakes are acceptable. Steering is acceptable. While this car is billed as a mid-size, it’s DAMN BIG. I can’t imagine what it’s like to drive a Taurus these days, that thing must be like a tank. Parking this car in the underground parking structures in LA was a huge pain in the ass, but would have been damn near impossible without the included rear-view camera.
The gearbox aside, the most egregious part of this car is the Sat Nav. Ford charges a whopping 30 Grand as the no-additional-options price of the Fusion Platinum. Platinum is their highest-level package, and should come packed to the gills with features, yeah? It’s got leather and dual zone climate control, and premium 18″ wheels, and a rear view camera, and the bigger, more powerful engine, and available AWD. But why would they program the car with satalite navigation? The big screen is there in the middle, so you can control the radio on a touch screen (don’t even get me started on that…). Who needs Sat Nav? Well, Ford will give it to you, but it’s an $800 upcharge! Ludicrous. Luckily I have a smart phone with google maps on it. Oh wait, I dropped that in a toilet and it went kerplunk. Okay, so luckily a coworker was able to lend me a TomTom and I was able to find my way home.
As far as the surfaces go, the interior of the Fusion was quite well appointed. This is the premium model, but the “sport seats” were nice, the touchpoints of the car were well crafted and soft. I used to drive a 1992 Ford Crown Victoria, which was probably pretty comparable to this car in its day. Ford has come a LONG way. The doors feel solid and the seats are more akin to seats and less a “couch on wheels”. Granted, a nice bench seat would be cool.
Leather and airbags abound. These shots suck, but it was raining, and I was in a hurry to return the thing before the deadline.
The steering wheel was probably one of my least favorite parts. There was nowhere on the wheel that was comfortable for hands to go. I normally drive with my hands at 9 and 3, using the little indents there on the sides as thumb holders. I wrap my fingers around the back of the wheel and get a firm grip. The buttons and flappy paddles and other gubbins made that almost impossible. as wide as the bits are where the buttons lay, my fingers just had to sit lazily around the back, and it’s hard to explain, but I just didn’t like it. I ended up driving most of the trip with my hands at 5 and 7, which I personally find odious. The materials were good, and the buttons were useful, but with a different wheel design, this could have been worth another point or two in my personal favor toward the car.
One thing that I did really like about the car was the fuel economy. Over the life of the car, which has likely been the horrible life of a rental car with asshats driving like madmen, this Fusion has achieved 27.2 MPG, which is above the EPA average.
On my 1200-some mile trip, this car was over 31 miles per gallon. Early in the trip, over the first 300 miles or so, when I was only driving highway and at reasonable speeds, I saw as high as 38 MPG average. If I’d kept my foot out of it on the return trip, I probably could have had the number up a little higher. In the boost, though, and the fuel starts to burn off a bit faster than it should.
Man, that right hand screen could have been used for something way more awesome. As it was, you could scroll through the HVAC controls, the compass, and the radio controls. For pretty much the whole trip, I was listening to the first Game of Thrones book on CD (33 hours of CDs, by the way!) that I’d borrowed from the library. The “premium” Sony audio was pretty lost on me. As long as I could hear the dulcet tones of Roy Dotrice telling me the story of Starks and Lannisters and Targaryens, I was happy.
I did not test the phone connectivity, because I dropped it in the toilet. If you’re wearing a button up shirt with a breast pocket, don’t keep your phone there when you lean over to flush. Hey ho, life goes on.
In conclusion: It’s good, but I won’t be trading in my 1995 Audi S6 on this any time soon.
[All photos ©2016 Hooniverse/Bradley C. Brownell, All Rights Reserved.]