All-new for 2006, the Ford Fusion will replace the Taurus in the company’s line-up as its midsize sedan offering.

Inspired by Ford’s “427” concept car, the Fusion uses a platform that also forms the basis of the Mazda6. It’s a different vehicle from the Mazda – it has a long wheelbase, wider tread, bigger brakes and larger dimensions – but a similar version of the Fusion also appears over at Lincoln, as the equally new-for-2006 Zephyr. Ford also claims it’s the company’s first fully “digital” car, designed, engineered, manufactured and tested in a digital environment with advanced design tools. This helped bring it to market a year faster than in a traditional development program.

The Fusion comes in two trim lines, each with a choice of two engines: a 2.3-litre inline four-cylinder, or a 3.0-litre V6. The 2.3-litre comes with a five-speed manual that can be optioned up to a five-speed automatic, while the V6 uses a six-speed automatic exclusively. All are front-wheel-drive, although Ford is promising an all-wheel-drive in 2007, followed a year later by a hybrid version.

Both four- and six-cylinder versions of the SE feature power mirrors, power locks with keyless entry, 16-inch steel wheels, power windows, speed-sensitive wipers, CD/MP3 player with six speakers, single-zone climate control, carpeted floor mats, six-way power driver’s seat, 60/40 folding rear seat, cruise control, and on the V6, traction control.

The SEL adds fog lamps, automatic headlamps, heated mirrors with puddle lamps, 17-inch aluminum wheels, electronic automatic temperature control, message centre, auto-dimming mirror, leather-wrapped wheel with audio, speed and climate controls, and an upgraded cloth interior.

Available options include leather interior, six-CD/MP3 system, moonroof, side and curtain airbags, perimeter alarm, and on the SE, 16-inch aluminum wheels.

The Fusion is a worthy successor to the Taurus: it rides better, handles sharper, it’s quieter and nicer to drive, and in V6 SEL trim it’s $400 cheaper than the corresponding Taurus SEL. (Its top-of-the-line model is also $8,700 less than the Lincoln Zephyr, which may prompt some flashbacks to the Ford Granada/Lincoln Versailles of 1977.) The bold styling works well, and the interior is well-done; this model may breathe new life into a segment where the blue oval had gotten a little stale.

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