Completely face lifted and overhauled for the 2013 model year, Ford smacked a home run with its Fusion five-passenger sedan. Its European-influenced styling, quiet cabin, crisp handling, excellent fuel economy and a list of techno gizmos that shames some luxury sedans makes the Fusion one of the top sellers in an extremely competitive segment.
For 2015 it continues to offer something for nearly all midsize car shoppers.
Buyers have a choice of a conventional or two turbocharged four cylinder engines, with available all-wheel drive on SE and Titanium models. Want a hybrid? The Fusion has one that has an EPA rating of 44 mpg in the city. For more electrification the Fusion Energi is a plug-in hybrid that can travel 19 miles on battery power alone.
Want a Fusion that offers good fuel economy but don’t want to shell out the extra dollars for a hybrid or plug-in hybrid? Hidden among the trim and engine choices is an optional stop-start system that Ford calls Auto Start-Stop. It’s offered as a $295 option only on Fusion SE models equipped with the 1.5-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine.
EcoBoost And Auto Start-Stop
EcoBoost is Ford speak for gasoline engines which combine turbocharging, direct injection and twin independent variable camshaft timing. They are designed to deliver the power output of larger displacement naturally aspirated engines while achieving smaller engine fuel economy.
The Fusion’s DOHC 1.5-liter EcoBoost four produces 178 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 177 pounds-feet of torque starting at 1,500 rpm. That’s more than enough output to haul around the sedan’s 3,400 pounds and send it to 60 mph from stop in 8.2 seconds.
As for fuel economy, the engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission has an EPA estimate of 24 mpg city/36 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined. While that’s an efficient powertrain in and of itself, Ford says the Auto Start-Stop system improves fuel efficiency by about 3.5 percent overall, while predominantly city drivers can save up to 10 percent.
The 3.5 percent claim is verified by the EPA’s fuel economy rating of 25 mpg city/37 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined for the Fusion with stop-start.
At its most basic level, a stop-start system automatically shuts the engine off every time the vehicle stops, such as at a traffic signal, and restarts it instantly when the brake pedal is released and takes off smoothly.
Hybrid vehicles with automatic stop-start use a powerful electric motor that can provide instant torque to both start the engine and start the car moving from a stop. But in non-hybrid cars with stop-start, the engine has to be spun up to speed by the starter motor before the vehicle can move.
This can result in a lag with noticeable shuddering between the brake pedal’s release and power being delivered.
Fusion’s Auto Start-Stop falls under the “light stop-start” category. Since it doesn’t use an electric motor and batteries to move the car down the road, it is not considered a hybrid system.
The system is comprised of a heavy-duty starter, a more powerful 12-volt absorbed glass matt (AGM) battery and an electrically driven transmission pump that maintains internal hydraulic pressure even with the engine off. On the engine side, there is a hardened ring gear to deal with the increased number of start events.
Having a direct-injection engine facilitates the restart, and to minimize launch delays that can cause jerks and shuddering, the transmission is kept in gear even with the engine off as opposed to shifting it into neutral.
To ensure accessories such as lights, the audio system and climate control settings continue working when the engine shuts off, Ford engineers developed unique algorithms for the computer programs that control the Auto Start-Stop system. The company has applied for more than 25 patents for these system programs.
Driving With Fusion’s Auto Start-Stop
Dating back to the 1999 Honda Insight, I have driven more than 50 different hybrid vehicles plus, a dozen or so non-hybrid cars with stop-start systems. My assessment of the Fusion’s Auto Start-Stop is, it’s as refined as any hybrid vehicle stop-start function, and far superior to most non-hybrid cars with stop-start, including some premium German sedans.
To make things clear, driving any vehicle — hybrid or non-hybrid — with stop-start is slightly different from standard vehicles. There is a slight delay for the engine to kick on after the brake pedal release and the car begins moving. With the Fusion, that delay was one, maybe two seconds. After a couple of days, it just seemed normal.
As for shuddering on take off, sure, if I slammed the accelerator pedal to the floor. But under normal acceleration from a stop, forward motion was quite smooth.
Like some other stop-start systems, the Fusion’s can be turned off. I opted to do that during a late afternoon drive on Interstate 5 heading south from Seattle to Tacoma. It is notorious for stop-and-go, stop-and-creep commute driving, and turning the system off for a few miles eliminated jerky restarts.
The 1.5-liter turbocharged four is eager, but not eye opening quick. It is, however, a welcome blend of fuel efficiency and performance. There’s minimal turbo lag before reaching peak torque at 2,500 rpm, but the six-speed automatic works smoothly to keep things in line.
The Fusion has a number of distinctive qualities. It’s a superb freeway cruiser with excellent straight stability, and the cabin is commendably quiet, even by the standards of a generally quiet class.
Based on the European Mondeo sedan, the chassis and suspension provide a buttoned-down and well-damped character while maintaining a generally smooth ride over all but the most rough road surfaces.
Ford’s electric power steering is taut, well weighted and communicative, and renders reassuring cornering. Brakes are strong underfoot and linear in their response.
While the Fusion offers energetic driving dynamics, it fulfills its mission as a family sedan. It comfortably seats five adults with the added benefit of a generously large, 16-cubic foot cargo space.
The 2015 Fusion has the full menu of safety features: four-wheel antilock-disc brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, front knee airbags, side curtain airbags, and new for this year, a standard rear view camera. Optional is inflatable rear seat belts.
In crash tests, the government gave the Fusion five out of five stars for overall crash protection, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Fusion the highest possible rating of “Good” in its moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength crash test.
How About The Fuel Economy?
We put 613 miles on the Fusion sedan in the week we had it. It included two 110 mile round trips to SeaTac airport, a day on the city streets of Seattle, family errands and a casual sightseeing Saturday drive.
Overall, the car rewarded with 31.3 mpg, 2.3 mpg better than the EPA estimate of 29 mpg. Considering that most of the miles driven included myself and two or three passengers, and the airport trips filled the trunk with luggage, I have to give a big thumbs up to the stop-start system.
Competition is fierce in the midsize segment and the Fusion faces off against nearly a dozen entrants. It routinely follows the best three sellers every month. Tops is the Toyota Camry, followed by the Honda Accord and Nissan’s Altima.
Fusion is offered in three trim levels. The base S starts at $22,860 including $850 destination charges; the SE is priced starting at $24,395; and the top-of-the-line Titanium has an MSRP of $31,140.
While the SE price of $23,545 is alluring, the standard engine is a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four with a fuel economy rating of 22 mpg city/34 mpg higway/26 mpg combined. To get stop-start you have to order the 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine, which costs $885. Add the $295 for stop-start and you’re looking at $25,575.
All new for 2015, the comparably equipped Toyota Camry SE with a 2.5-liter four and six-speed automatic starts at $24,465. Fuel economy is slightly less than the Fusion with an EPA estimate of 25/35/28.
Both the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima employ continuously variable transmissions, which improves fuel economy but are somewhat annoying in operation. The Accord LX has an MSRP of $24,420 and the 2.4-liter four cylinder’s 27 mpg combined is less than the Fusion. Altima’s SV starts at $25,455 and its 31 mpg combined is best among the four midsizers.
There’s no question that the Camry, Accord and Altima are excellent midsize car choices. But if you’re looking for family sedan practicality that is stylish and offers first-rate driving dynamics, quiet comfort and good fuel economy, make sure the 2015 Fusion SE with the Auto Start-Stop system is included on your shopping list.