Ford was so proud when it introduced its all-new Fusion in 2012.
“It only has four-cylinder engines,” it said. “It’s efficient, hybrid, sustainable, and many other catchwords popular today.”
Well, that may have been a good enough pitch back then, but things have changed. Gas prices have crumbled, and it seems like if people don’t want a gigantic truck now, they want as much power as they can get. So, with the Fusion’s mid-cycle refresh, Ford’s giving it to them, courtesy of a truck.
The newly added 2017 Fusion Sport model shares an engine with the F-150 pickup, a 325 hp 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6 that turns the Fusion into the most powerful mainstream midsize sedan on sale today. It also cranks out a V8-like 380 lb-ft of torque that’s too much for the front tires alone to endure, so an all-wheel-drive system is standard.
Starting at $34,470, the Fusion Sport is a legit Audi S4 alternative at a 30 percent discount. And, like the Audi, its low-key style lets you enjoy its performance under the radar. The biggest changes from the ubiquitous rental-spec Fusion are a slightly more aggressive front fascia, a small rear spoiler, smoky grey 19-inch wheels and a set of smoking, but subtle, quad exhaust pipes.
The few changes inside include faux carbon-fiber trim, deep leather and synthetic suede-upholstered seats and paddles behind the steering wheel that allow you to manually shift the six-speed automatic transmission when you’re in the mood.
To get the car in the mood, you just have to press the sport button in the middle of the handy rotary gear selector on the center console. It sharpens the throttle response, adjusts the shift strategy and stiffens the computer-controlled suspension that the Fusion Sport has borrowed from the Lincoln parts bin.
It also dials up the electronically enhanced engine note and fills the otherwise silent cabin with a mellow but convincing burble. Step on the throttle and what happens next lives up to the sound. The Fusion Sport is fast as a road car really needs to be without getting silly. It merges onto highways with authority, passes like a champ and doesn’t shy away from steep and twisty mountain roads.
There’s an entertainingly informative graphic on the dashboard that shows you which wheels have the power at any given moment. When you’re taking it easy, it remains a front-wheel-drive car for reasons of fuel economy (because, yeah, some people still care about that), but it shuffles power to the rear as needed when accelerating, or if grip is otherwise compromised.
Switch to normal drive mode and it lets the springs float more, but keeps its body under control. Either way, the ride quality is much better than in any other Fusion. The suspension even figures out if it’s about to hit a pothole and can kind of hop over it, or at least not hit rock bottom.
Loaded with all the goodies — like adaptive cruise control, a self-parking feature and sunroof — it’s tough to get the price of a Fusion Sport over $40,000. A $2,000 Sport Upgrade package doesn’t actually make the car any sportier, but it does add an excellent Sony audio system, dual-zone climate control and ambient lights.
The Fusion Sport is a very impressive, very rational sporty car, one of the best I’ve driven this year at any price. I do think it could be a little flashier, though. And the engine would make a great fit with the Fusion’s Platinum trim level, which features diamond-stitched leather upholstery that wouldn’t look too out of place in a Bentley but outclasses the four-cylinder and hybrid powertrains that it is exclusively offered with...for now.
2017 Ford Fusion Sport
Type: 5-passenger, 4-door all-wheel-drive sedan
Base price: $34,470
Engine: 2.7-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Power: 325 hp, 380 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG: 17 city/26 hwy