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Review: 2014 Ford Fusion SE 1.5-L EcoBoost

Tiny new engine punches well above its weight. 1.5-L Ecoboost turbo four is both smooth and efficient, but sluggish on the highway.

Toronto Star

Ford’s mid-size Fusion has yet another choice of powertrain for 2014 ? bringing the tally to six.

The new 1.5-L EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder engine slots in between the base 2.5-L and the 1.6-L EcoBoost. Above that resides the 2.0-L EcoBoost four, the Fusion Hybrid and the pricey plug-in hybrid Energi.

You’d be forgiven for wondering why Ford would bother adding the 1.5-L EcoBoost when last year’s 1.6-L EcoBoost (now only available with a manual six-speed gearbox) made the same 178 hp with a tad more torque.

The answer lies on the other side of the globe. China is now the world’s largest automotive market, and there, cars above 1.5 L are subject to additional taxes. Hence, the new mill for Ford’s global mid-size sedan.

The 1.5 L wasn’t engineered to mate with a manual tranny. Why? Here’s a clue: in 2013, three-pedal Fusions accounted for a mere 3 per cent of Canadian sales, and we’re probably one of the more enthusiastic markets.

This small direct-injection turbo engine punches above its weight, delivering 177 lb.-ft. of torque from a low 1,500 r.p.m.

It’s a charming little thing, too, running with relative smoothness and making an earnest snarl when you put your foot in it.

The unobtrusive six-speed auto is tuned for maximum fuel economy. As such, it upshifts early and does its best to keep the engine spinning at low revolutions.

So when calling down to the engine bay for some acceleration, you wait a few beats for the transmission to find a lower gear and the turbo to spool up.

Once all systems are online, the Fusion moves out quite smartly, but highway throttle response lies somewhere between lazy and comatose.

Official fuel-use figures are 8.8 L/100 km in the city and 5.5 on the highway. My wintry week netted 9.8, which is nothing to write home about.

That seems to be the case with Ford’s EcoBoost engines. They post good figures in the unrealistic test cycle, but real-world economy suffers with the more of that turbo power you use.

Having the Fusion for a week reminded me of what a fine driver’s car this is. The SE’s leather-trimmed front seats are exceptional ? comfortable yet snug and supportive ? and the driving position is spot on. The large centre console lends a sense of intimacy and purpose. The doors close with a reassuring European thunk.

Out on the road, the Fusion feels taut and alert. The steering is direct, and while the ride might be firmer than some competitors, it shows an expert blend of body control, compliance and refinement.

I like the clear and colourful central cluster that incorporates a pair of flanking LCD displays. The audio sounded very good, too, but, generally, the interior design falls short of the Fusion’s sultry exterior promise.

This car was fitted with the $850 SE Tech/MyFord Touch Package that includes a back-up camera. Another $800 adds navigation.

Ford has taken a ton of heat over this comprehensive touchscreen interface, but continual upgrades have made it faster and easier to use.

Like any of these systems, familiarity tempers contempt. But there is an inherent problem with any kind of automotive touchscreen interface, and Ford exacerbates the issue by furnishing a barren landscape of plastic below the screen, with more icons for HVAC and audio that require accurate finger prods. And that means your eyes need to leave the road.

Here’s the deal. Humans have opposing thumbs for a reason. We’re tactile creatures. We like to grab things. Like rotary knobs to adjust the temperature in our cars. Poking away at inert flat surfaces in hopes of striking pay dirt (or the seat heater icon) is not the safe way to go.

And in certain light conditions, the Fusion’s smudged screen and control panel were nothing but glare.

It’s interesting to note that BMW, which first waded into the tech interface pool about 10 years with its much-derided iDrive, has pretty much come full circle. Its iDrive has evolved to incorporate a group of easily identified (by touch) buttons around the main rotary controller, and a host of preset buttons on the dash.

Okay. Rant over. Interface issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Fusion SE 1.5 L. It’s still one of the most rewarding drives in the segment, and it imparts a sense of enduring solidity to match its runway looks. My back seat passengers enjoyed their roomy digs, and the trunk is huge, too.

The Fusion has been a success for Ford in Canada, outselling both the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, although fleet sales likely tipped the balance.

Nonetheless, with Mazda6 just being named AJAC’s Car of the Year and the all-new Chrysler 200 in the wings, the Fusion is surely looking over its shoulder.

The vehicle tested by freelance writer Peter Bleakney was provided by the manufacturer. wheels@thestar.ca.

2014 Ford Fusion SE 1.5-L EcoBoost

Price: $27,599 base, $33,389 as tested

Engine: 1.5 L EcoBoost turbo four

Power/torque: 178 hp/177 lb.-ft.

Fuel consumption L/100 km: 8.8 city, 5.5 hwy, 9.8 combined as tested

Competition: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda6, Chrysler 200, VW Passat

What’s Best: Runway looks, sport sedan handling, roomy interior

What’s Worst: Interface issues, fuel frugality requires a light foot

What’s Interesting: Bragging rights for the smallest engine displacement in the mid-sized sedan segment.

  • Review: 2014 Ford Fusion SE 1.5-L EcoBoost
  • Review: 2014 Ford Fusion SE 1.5-L EcoBoost

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