“I can’t underestimate how important the Fusion is to Ford,” — Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas, to workers at Flat Rock, Michigan assembly plant.
The mid-size car segment is filled with able competitors and most are either new or recently updated. The oldest, Hyundai Sonata, is a 2011 model and each new model is being launched with a wider range of features than ever before. Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Chevrolet Malibu and next year’s Mazda6 represent the best collection of mid-size cars ever available in the United Sates.
What makes this competition interesting is the different approach that each manufacturer is taking. The Nissan Altima enters the race with a cost conscious four-cylinder engine with no turbo or direction injection. Despite this, the Altima has superior fuel economy and excellent power. Add in attractive styling cues from the Maxima, and you get a pretty compelling offering at a great price.
The Ford Fusion takes a different tack with six powertrains, including two hybrids. We got a chance to drive four of them in Santa Monica this week. Our impressions are positive, but we wonder a bit about the complexity of all these offerings.
2.5-liter inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed auto: This might be the best combination of price and attributes of the four we drove. While not as powerful as the EcoBoost options, it works well for a vehicle in a segment where dynamics are less important than price.
1.6-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed manual: While Ford won’t sell a lot of manual transmission Fusions, this vehicle clearly has a European feel and would be our choice for fun. You clearly feel the small size of the 1.6, but pushing it hard and gliding through the gears with the smooth shifter makes this a fun ride.
2.0-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed auto: More fun than the 2.5 liter four, but will buyers in this segment buy-in? Ours had the stand-alone start-stop feature, which worked better than other executions we’ve seen. It’s a good glimpse into the positive future of start-stop fuel saving technology.
2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle inline four-cylinder with an electric motor: As fun to drive as a hybrid! The hybrid version has received an EPA certified 47 miles per gallon for both city and highway driving, giving the vehicle the highest fuel-efficiency of any hybrid in its class. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry Hybrid LE gets 43 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway, according to Toyota.
Building a hybrid can get you to about $38,000. A Titanium All Wheel Drive can get to you to $39,000. Start saving now.
Going on sale in July 2012, the new Nissan Altima joins the most competitive car class in the market. Representing the second largest car segment (after small cars), the mid-size car class is critically important to each manufacturer in the class; volume, profits and image are on the line.
It is hard to believe that the AutoPacific 2010 President’s Award Winner, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, is about to be the oldest major competitor in the class. The 2013 Nissan Altima joins the new Toyota Camry (new for the 2012MY) and Chevrolet Malibu (2013 Eco model is on the market now) and awaits the launches of the upcoming 2013 heavyweights – Honda Accord and Ford Fusion in Fall 2012.
First seen at the 2012 New York International Auto Show in April, the Altima drew “WOWs” from the media at its unveiling. The management of some competitors gulped and looked a bit nervous. Most were very complimentary; the new Altima has gone upscale in a big way without adding much to its price tag.
Traditionally, the mid-size car class has been noted for its relatively bland styling. That changed with the launch of the 2011 Sonata in early 2010 where over half of the buyers indicated that exterior styling was extremely important in their selection of the car. Sonata’s swoopy styling broke the mid-size car mold. The 2011 Kia Optima that followed the Sonata is strikingly handsome in its own Euro-Korean way. Toyota stayed very conservative with its new 2012 entry and Honda is rumored to have continued its very conservative streak with the next generation Accord coming this fall. The 2013 Ford Fusion is another game changer in the mold of Sonata and Optima, but even with Fusion’s advanced styling, Altima may have pushed the envelope the farthest. Nissan calls it “Altimaness”.
An annual pilgrimage for the auto industry is to attend the press days at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit each January. Unfortunately, this year I cannot attend because my physicians caution that I should not be heaving carry-ons into and out of overhead bins and baggage carousels.
So, I’m jealous.
One of the primary businesses of AutoPacific is to keep on top of what is the latest in the auto industry worldwide, so AutoPacific will still be well represented at Detroit.
I asked each of our staff members to remind me why I should or should not be jealous of them attending instead of me. Read below the break for their input.
Fending off import competition from Volkswagen and Mitsubishi and domestic competition from Chrysler and GM, the Ford Fusion pulled through a win in the Mid-Size Car segment. The Fusion took top marks for its combination of size, safety, and comfort. Leading characteristics include:
• Safety features, which give Ford Fusion owners a strong feeling of safety while driving
• Interior package was applauded for driver’s seat comfort, storage/compartments, quietness inside the vehicle, instrument layout and audio system performance
• Exterior size
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This week on Let’s Talk Cars, exclusive, in depth looks at the Top Rated SUV and Top Rated Car in the 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards..
Yeah, we know. You’ve read all about AutoPacific’s coveted Vehicle Satisfaction Awards. But have you seen the award winners, inside and out? This is your chance. Let’s Talk Cars Host Cameron Barrett takes the Lincoln Navigator out for a spin and nearly gives up her card carrying status in the “Small Car Lovers Club.” And AutoPacific President and Founder George Peterson along with Analyst Dan Hall put the Hyundai Azera through its paces.
After all that fun, because we can’t get enough of cars and know you’re just like us, we sit down inside the 2006 Ford Fushion, get blinded with a little bling bling, and ask the question, What Were They Thinking?!
01:15 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards Best SUV – the Lincoln Navigator: Cameron Barrett, Let’s Talk Cars Host
9:20 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards Best Car – the Hyundai Azera: George Peterson, founder and President of AutoPacific, and Dan Hall, AutoPacific Analyst
16:19 Ford Fusion Interior: George Peterson, founder and President of AutoPacific
When Ford announced its new 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V6 engine, many were underwhelmed by its 250-horsepower output. After all, similar displacement modern V6s from Ford’s Japanese competitors have achieved that level of output for years. Gads, even Japanese Minivans were approaching 250-horsepower with the Honda Odyssey at 244-horsepower. The Acura MDX gets 253HP from 3.5L. The Nissan Altima gets 265 from 3.5L.
Those of us at AutoPacific and VehicleVoice were wondering if Ford just didn’t get it. Couldn’t they read competitive specifications?
Ford’s New 3.5L V6 Gets 265-Horsepower
Well, Ford finally has let the “official horsepower” number slip and it’s good news. The 3.5L V6 gets 265-horsepower on regular grade fuel. That means the first vehicles to get it should feel pretty darn nice. Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX and Lincoln MKZ all get the new powerplant. And, Ford says that the 3.5L will be its high volume powerplant of the future.
Hope it feels as good as it sounds.
Every year, Car & Driver, one of the high circulation car enthusiast magazines in the United States, publishes the results of its 10Best awards. The 2006 10Best Cars awards were released in the January 2006 issue of Car & Driver and you can find them on the C&D website at (http://www.caranddriver.com/article.asp?section_id=33&article_id=10354)
Not having looked at the winners prior to writing this blog, VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) staff conjectured about what types of cars Car & Driver would select.
We knew that, being a buff book, they’d select cars that appealed to the enthusiast, maybe throw one or two mundane winners into the mix, be heavy on import marques and generally favor smaller cars. Lets see how accurate we were?
BEST SPORTS SEDAN – Acura TSX
BEST SPORT COMPACT- Audi A3
BEST LUXURY SPORTS SEDAN – BMW 3-Series
BEST PERFORMANCE CAR – Chevrolet Corvette
BEST FULL SIZE SEDAN – Chrysler 300
BEST MUSCLE CAR – Ford Mustang GT
BEST FAMILY SEDAN – Honda Accord
BEST ROADSTER – Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
BEST SPORTS COUPE – Mazda RX-8
BEST LUXURY SPORTS CAR – Porsche Boxster
So, lets see, seven are import brands, 3 of the imports are from Germany and four are from Japan. Mazda picks up two wins with its sports cars.
Fusion Hot Out of the Blocks
Fusion is Ford’s new mid-size sedan and is a very respectable piece of work. It has distinctive styling, a good sized interior and a large trunk. This combination puts Fusion in the hunt to attract buyers of mid-size cars that have been unable to consider a Ford since the demise of the easily forgotten Ford Contour (and who can’t forget its predecessor – the Tempo). For the first time in years, Ford has a competitive mid-size entry worthy of consideration. The first full month of sales for the Ford Fusion was October, 2005. Fusion, right out of the blocks, looks like a surprise winner with slightly over 4,000 units sold.
In a departure from conventional mid-size car marketing, Ford says they are not going after buyers who would consider the high volume Japanese entries like Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. Instead, they think they can have a pretty healthy business selling to Mustang owners who are moving into a mid-size sedan after their fling with the most popular sporty coupe on the planet.
Mercury is getting much needed new-product investment as part of Ford’s more new products, faster campaign and had several announcements at the 2005 Chicago auto show. As well as the Milan, Mercury announced it is bringing a hybrid to the Mariner for 2006, a year earlier than initially planned, and introduced a redesign of the Mountaineer. Though the platform supporting Milan is found under Lincoln Zephyr as well as Ford Fusion, the Milan shares more with the Fusion than the Zephyr.
Milan targets buyers in the 26-to-35 age bracket with a stylish, contemporary entry. Mercury family cues include satin aluminum accents inside and out as well as the signature waterfall grille. The interior can be had in black or two-tone, with either satin accents or wood. While as many as six airbags can be ordered on Milan, they are not standard. The standard equipment list does, however, include a power six-way drivers seat, remote keyless entry, and power heated sideview mirrors.
The architecure used for the Milan, Fusion, and Zephyr began as the Mazda6, but is wider and longer and is not the same platform per se. It uses different suspension components, geometry, and different stampings. Though derived from the Mazda 6, the Milan gains about two inches in wheelbase and width. This translates into exterior dimensions and interior room that will be vital for success in this segment.
This four-door, five-passenger unitbody sedan offers a fully independent suspension. The front is a short and long-arm arrangement, with a multi-link setup in the rear. Power is from the oft-used Ford 210HP Duratec 3.0L DOHC 24v V6, though the Mazda 160HP 2.3L DOHC 16v I4 serves as the base engine. A five-speed manual is the standard transmission, with a six-speed automatic mated to the V6 engine.