That's a great lead-in for Ford, which is launching the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion at the Detroit Auto Show.
With a sleeker design, a choice of three four-cylinder engines, plus not only a hybrid but a plug-in hybrid model--the 2013 Fusion is Ford's first mid-size sedan design sold around the world since the 1995-2000 Contour.
"New global face of Ford"
The styling of the new Fusion sedan was previewed by the Ford Evos Concept at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September.
The fastback roofline of the 2013 Fusion has echoes of the handsome and well-received Audi A7, along with a strong accent line through the door handles and along the sides of the car that effectively disguises the height of this sedan.
Inside, the cabin is straightforward but stylish, with a European look that concentrates on easy-to-read instruments and a large display screen in the center stack. Thankfully, it is considerably less ornate and highly designed than the overly complex dashboard of the Fiesta subcompact.
The company considers the 2013 Fusion the "next generation of emotive Ford design," and says its front appearance will be the "new global face of Ford" products. And, designers say, the goal was to change the way people think about mid-size sedans.
It's a category that has a number of bland, serviceable, appliance-like products in it--several of the Japanese entries fall into this category--and Ford wanted its Fusion to be daring, distinctive, and appealing.
Based on the applause at a preview event from a generally cool automotive press, we'd say they may have gotten it right.
Three fours, two EcoBoosted
Ford will offer only four-cylinder engines in the 2013 Fusion, dispensing entirely with the 3.5-liter V-6 option offered in the current car.
This follows the pattern laid down by the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, and since adopted by the Chevrolet Malibu and other cars. Eliminating V-6 engines allows for a smaller engine compartment and less beefy front suspension components, making the car smaller in front of the firewall and lighter overall.
The Fusion's three gasoline engines are a base 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter four plus a pair of EcoBoost fours--a 179-hp 1.6-ilter and a 237-hp 2.0-liter. Note that the largest engine is the least powerful, reflecting the power increase provided by the EcoBoost combination of gasoline direct injection and turbocharging. (All power outputs are estimated.)
Transmissions include a six-speed automatic for all three engines, and a six-speed manual offered only with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost option. All-wheel drive is available only with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, the most powerful of the trio.
As for projected gas mileage, at a preview event, Ford projected 26 mpg city, 37 mpg highway for the 1.6-liter engine with six-speed automatic, which likely translates to a combined rating of about 30 mpg. That compares to the best current combined rating of 26 mpg for the current (non-hybrid) model.
Fusions fitted with the 1.6-liter engine and six-speed automatic, by the way, will be the first Ford non-hybrid vehicles to come with a start-stop system--at a price of $295. This switches off the engine when the car is stopped, then turns it on again as the driver begins to lift off the brake.
Ford says that the real-world mileage increase from such a system is roughly 3.5 percent, and in heavily urban driving, it can go as high as 10 percent.
For the 2.0-liter model, Ford projects 23 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, for a combined rating around 26 or 27 mpg. That's about 25 percent better than the V-6 with equivalent power in the outgoing model, Ford noted.
Gas mileage for the base engine, expected to represent only about 10 percent of sales, wasn't discussed.
Smaller hybrid engine
For the 2013 Fusion Hybrid model, Ford is using a 2.0-liter four tuned to run on the Atkinson cycle, which is very efficient but produces little low-end torque. Instead, that torque is provided by the electric motor.
The engine is the first one from Ford that is entirely "beltless," with no power takeoffs of any kind and all accessories--not only the air-conditioning compressor, but even the water pump--run on electric power.
On the road, Ford says the new hybrid Fusion can run in electric-only mode up to 62 mph under some circumstances (against 47 mph for the current model).