2006 Ford Fusion SEL4-cylinder, 5-speed
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Review and photos by Laurance Yap

It’s kind of interesting, given how many car manufacturers actively try to hide their cars’ origins, that Ford admits to the Fusion being based on the same component set as the Mazda6. Why not? The 6 is a really nice family car that combines practicality with a uniquely sporty feel.

You’ve got to wonder, then, why it took so much longer to bring the Fusion to market. Part of the reason for the delay was that the Fusion is actually a bigger car than the Mazda; it’s been stretched in both wheelbase and track, and therefore has more interior space.

It also wears a completely new skin, with Ford’s new corporate three-bar grille, geometric headlights, and sharply cut edges. The detailing around the lights – chrome around the inside housings of the head- and taillamps, and trim rings around the foglights – is a nice effect, as are the 16- or 17-inch wheels. The overall look is very American, but also more upscale than the Fusion’s sub-$30,000 price.

The details of a car’s interior are usually one of the biggest hints at platform sharing, but Ford does a good job differentiating its corporate cousins, and the Fusion is no exception. Everything you see and touch is quite different from the Mazda6.

2006 Ford Fusion SEL 4-cylinder, 5-speed
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It’s not just the dashboard design, which is composed mostly of sharply-defined planes, but it’s in the details, too: a Ford-like steering column that combines all the controls on one stalk (instead of the Mazda’s two), and completely different seats.

For the most part, the interior works really well. All of the controls are intuitive, the gauges are easy to read, and there’s a huge range of adjustment for the driver’s seat and steering column (which both tilts and telescopes). And comfort, whether you’re carving corners or on a long highway drive, is excellent. On the other hand, there are a few niggling details that drove me crazy. Why, for instance, are the door pockets so tiny? They’re shaped so that nothing but a small paperback book (or a bottle of water) will fit, but there’s a huge expanse of plastic around them that could have been put to much better use.

2006 Ford Fusion SEL 4-cylinder, 5-speed
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And the console seems to have been added as an afterthought: the top part of the dash is nicely designed, with an almost VW-like feel to it, but it’s as if the interior designers only realized at the last minute that the car needed a console, and cut a plank of plastic out to hold the cupholders, shifter, and storage bin. The “armrest” on my car, a soft, squishy piece of plastic, was also kind of loose, a disappointment given the solid execution of the rest of the cabin.

Because of the stretched-out wheelbase, the Fusion obviously feels roomier in the back, but the cabin’s simpler design gives it an airier feel than the more intimate Mazda; this feels like a really big car. You notice it especially when cars pull up behind you at stoplights, and they almost disappear thanks to the height of the rear deck lid, a consequence of the Fusion’s enormous trunk.

2006 Ford Fusion SEL 4-cylinder, 5-speed
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The ride/handling balance has been very well judged in the Fusion. It’s firm, but still comfortable; you hear and feel bumps in the road, but there’s never any rebounding or bouncing around; the all-independent suspension deals with everything in one motion. There’s a bit of body roll in corners, but like the smaller Focus, in this car you don’t feel like it’s due to a lack of control; the roll actually helps the car take a set in corners, and once it’s stuck in there, there’s lots of grip (tires are 17 inches on SEL models), and a surprising amount of speed, too. The Fusion is a car you can maintain serious momentum in, but with a minimum of effort; you guide it with your fingertips and with very small motions, and it covers a lot of ground in a very fluid way.

2006 Ford Fusion SEL 4-cylinder, 5-speed
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Fitted with the base drivetrain, a 2.3-litre, 160-hp four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission, my Fusion was sprightly if not outright fast. The engine makes a nice raspy noise under acceleration but is pretty quiet when you’re cruising; the shifter slides cleanly through its gates but has a huge, baseball-sized shift knob that is actually uncomfortable to hold. A 3.0-litre V6 is also available, along with a five-speed automatic transmission ($1,200), but the four-cylinder and five-speed really make the most of the Fusion’s lively chassis.

Starting at less than $23,000 for the SE model, the Fusion undercuts its Japanese competition while offering similar, or better, interior space, and the same level of standard equipment, and its geometric style is appealing in a class where most of the cars look pretty similar. That it’s a pleasure to drive as well as to look at means it deserves a place on any first-time family sedan buyer’s shopping list.

Pricing: 2006 Ford Fusion SEL 5-speed manual


Crash test results

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