By Paul Williams

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2006 Ford Fusion
Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

Los Angeles, California – California is the automotive trend-setting state for North America, so Ford decided to grab the bull by the horns, and introduce its new Fusion mid-size sedan on the boulevards of Beverly Hills, the vistas of Mulholland Drive and the stop-and-go traffic of the Pacific Coast Highway.

There it could rub fenders (figuratively, of course) with the numerous exotic brands that define this part of the world, along with the sea of mid-size Japanese cars against which the Fusion will compete.

While it’s tough to stand out in such a crowd, the Fusion held its own. This is a nice-driving, comfortable and sporty car that is the best-looking sedan Ford’s introduced for years. The design of the car was inspired by the Ford 427 concept car, and features the distinctive three-bar grill and flush front and rear bumper from that vehicle.

But more than that, it’s an integrated and coherent design that’s distinctive and very pleasing to the eye from all angles.

The front-wheel drive Fusion is built on the same platform as the Mazda6 (at Ford’s Hermosillo, Mexico plant), although the car doesn’t share any of its major dimensions with the Mazda. The Fusion has a longer wheelbase, wider stance, bigger brakes, and larger interior and exterior measurements in comparison with that car. Interestingly, an all-wheel drive version will arrive next year, and a hybrid Fusion the year after that.

2006 Ford Fusion
Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

A choice of SE and SEL trim levels starting at $22,995 are available with two engine choices, both all-aluminum with variable valve timing. The 2.3-litre, four-cylinder generates 160 horsepower and 156 pounds feet of torque, and the 3.0 litre V6 makes 221 hp with 205 lb-ft torque.

Three transmissions are available, including a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic for the four-cylinder cars, and a six-speed automatic for the V6.

Standard equipment for Canadian cars is comprehensive, including anti-lock brakes and electronic brake force distribution (with traction control for V6 cars), remote keyless entry, air conditioning, carbon-fibre look appliques on the instrument panel, CD player, multi-element projector beam halogen headlamps, chrome bezel taillamps, heated side mirrors, six-way power driver’s seat with manual lumbar support, power windows with one-touch down driver window, power door locks and remote deck lid release, message centre with trip computer outside temperature display, tilt/telescoping steering column and steering wheel-mounted speed and audio controls.

The Fusion also features a spring-assisted, 60/40 split-folding rear seat to increase cargo capacity from the already large, 447 litre trunk.

2006 Ford Fusion

2006 Ford Fusion
Photos: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

The SEL trim level adds compass, upgraded cloth seating surfaces, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob (manual transmission), analog clock, automatic climate control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, automatic headlamps, dual chrome exhaust tips, 17″ alloy wheels and fog lamps.

Our first drive featured only the top-of-the-line, $28,295 SEL V6 cars, with optional leather/heated seats ($1200), premium audio with six-disc CD($495) and the $795 Enhanced Safety Package (side curtain airbags, front seatback airbags and perimeter alarm).

These black test cars with chrome accents, black leather interior and contrasting beige (called “oatmeal” by Ford) stitching were striking in the California sun (and hot inside!). They had the appearance of an entry-level luxury car, rather than a competitively priced midsize family car.

2006 Ford Fusion

2006 Ford Fusion
Photo: Ford. Click image to enlarge

On the road, the Fusion is quiet, smooth and rattle-free. Fit and finish throughout was first-rate, and the design of the instrument panel, centre stack and passenger conveniences echoed the upscale look of the exterior.

Highway driving in the Fusion was very impressive. The V6 engine is barely audible when cruising, helped by the six-speed transmission that imperceptibly shifts from one gear to the next.

Ford is well aware that they haven’t had a contender in the midsize car segment for years. According to Ford Group VP Steve Lyons, the Fusion is “arguably the most important car for Ford since the Taurus.” If consumers don’t respond to the Fusion, it could leave Ford as predominantly a truck company that also makes a Mustang, which is not a position the company wishes to occupy into the future.

First impressions of the Fusion are positive. It does many things well, drives very nicely, has excellent interior room, offers a lot of content for a competitive price, and has an appealing design that looks classy and modern. The basic warranty is 36 months/60,000 km and 60 months/100,000 km for the powertrain.

At a Glance: 2006 Ford Fusion

  • Type: Five-passenger, mid-size sedan

  • Price: SE (I4 manual) – $22,995; SE (V6 auto) – $25,995; SEL (I4 manual) – $25,295; SEL (V6 auto) – $28,295
  • Available: October, 2005
  • Notable: Return to this segment for Ford; uses Mazda6 platform, but modified; AWD and Hybrid versions on the way; competitive price for well-equipped base model

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