Base Fusions come standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder producing 175 horsepower through a six-speed manual on the S or the optional six-speed automatic that's standard on SE, SEL and Sport. S models are aimed primarily at the fleet buyers or those looking for a barebones sedan, even though they do come equipped with power windows, mirrors and locks with keyless entry, electronic stability control and a full set of airbags, air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, trip computer and an AUX input.
Few options are available, though, so it's necessary to step up to the SE to personalize the Fusion a little more. SE gets a six-speed automatic, 8-way power driver's seat, steering wheel controls for the 8-speaker audio system with satellite radio, 17-inch alloy wheels and automatic headlamps with foglights. Ford's SYNC system is an option, as is the 3.0-liter V6 engine with 240 horsepower.
The SEL is aimed to be the luxury Fusion, so it has leather seats (heated in front), SYNC and a dual-zone automatic climate control. The Sport is a slightly different animal, aimed at the family sedan buyer who doesn't want to give up a lot of performance for practicality. The standard engine is a 3.5-liter V6 with 263 horsepower mated to the six-speed automatic. It gives the Fusion considerably more power than the 3.0-liter, but the Sport also benefits from sports suspension, a rear spoiler, special trim inside and out and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. All-wheel drive is available on V6 models, a rarity for the class, as are options like blind-spot monitoring and rear parking sensors.
Competition in this segment is fierce. The Toyota Camry is new for 2012 and is thoroughly competitive, with a quite ride and efficient engines, but it's still dull and top trims get expensive. The Honda Accord is more spacious, but some features are only available on top trims. The Subaru Legacy has standard all-wheel drive and good fuel economy, but neither of its engines is terribly powerful or refined. The Hyundai Sonata has distinctive styling and great fuel economy, but that styling eats into practicality.
Though beaten in some areas by newer competitors, the Fusion is still appealing because of how well it acomplishes what a family sedan must be: spacious, efficient and comprehensively equipped. And a diverse model range, from the budget-oriented S to the fast Sport model, means the Ford offers more choice than most in the segment.
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