SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Scooting along ribbons of asphalt warped across the Santa Monica Mountains above Los Angeles, we're playing all of the curves in crinkled canyons like Topanga and Zuma through connections of Mulholland Drive on the ridgeline and the Pacific Coast Highway that traces the shoreline from Malibu to Santa Monica.
These narrow canyon roads and the top and bottom connectors serve as our impromptu automotive laboratory to test the curve-hugging tenacity and sample the enthusiastic spirit for a new generation of Ford's fine mid-size luxury sedan, the 2013 Fusion.
Fusion of 2006 was the original generation as a four-door mid-size sedan riding on a FWD (front-wheel-drive) platform with body styling borrowing cues from Ford's 427 concept car. It quickly became the best-selling passenger car in Ford's line, bested only by Ford's F-150 truck, the country's perennial best-selling vehicle.
Fusion of 2013 scores a new world-car platform that adds 4.8 inches to the wheelbase length and measures far stiffer and stronger than the first-generation platform.
Fusion '13 carries independent suspension components -- front MacPherson struts with a stabilizer bar and a rear multilink design also with stabilizer bar.
Ford engineers tuned the Fusion suspension to deliver sporty handling characteristics, then switched the rack-mounted steering system to electric power assistance in order to boost fuel efficiency.
Brakes on the 2013 Fusion consist of a disc at every wheel (vented front, solid rear) with linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control (ESC) device.
Fusion presents a muscular hood shape and aggressive prow capped by a six-sided grille with chrome-coated fins, narrow corner headlamp clusters, taut fender bulges over wheelwells and a crisp tail design with bisected LED lamps and dual exhaust pipes protruding beneath smooth fascia.
Fusion's 2013 line includes three different gasoline-powered engines, plus a gas-electric hybrid model and a plug-in hybrid.
This review focuses on Fusion's gas-sipping engines which drop into the three trims labeled S, SE and Titanium.
Fusion S and SE FWD models stock the base plant, a 2.5-liter in-line-four rigged with dual overhead cams (DOHC) and sequential multiport fuel injection. It produces 175 hp at 6000 rpm with torque tipping to 175 lb-ft at 4500 rpm.
Sole transmission is the Ford 6F35 six-speed electronic automatic.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2.5-liter four-pack amount to 22 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.
Fusion SE offers two optional EcoBoost four-cylinder plants with turbocharging, direct fuel injection and variable valve timing.
Ford's DOHC 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder delivers 178 hp at 5700 rpm and torque to 184 lb-ft at 2500 rpm yet fuel economy estimates of 23 mpg city and 36 mpg highway with the 6F35 six-speed automatic or 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway with an optional six-speed manual shifter.
Ford's high-powered yet fuel-thrifty EcoBoost engine, a twin-cam 2.0-liter four-in-line with turbocharging, is the standard plant for Fusion Titanium and serves up 240 hp at 5500 rpm plus 270 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm.
Tied to the 6F35 six-speed electronic automatic with SelectShift (manual-shifting control), the 2.0 EcoBoost plant earns EPA numbers of 22/33 mpg (city/highway) in FWD or 22/31 mpg (city/highway) with optional AWD (all-wheel-drive) traction for Fusion Titanium.
New Fusion models also score the latest versions of MyFord Touch and the Microsoft-powered Sync system, new safety and driver aids such as radar-based adaptive cruise control with collision warning and brake support, Ford's Blind Spot Information System with cross traffic alert via icons in side mirrors, Active Park Assist and Ford's Lane Keeping System with a forward-facing camera behind the inside rearview mirror to monitor lane lines and keep the vehicle on course.
Ford also installs a carload of passive safety systems.
Front riders have dual two-stage frontal air bags plus seatbelts with load-limiting retractors and buckle pretensioners, while in the rear there are anchors to tether a child's safety seat.
Side-impact air bags mounted on outboard front seats and Ford's Safety Canopy consisting of curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows on two rows are also on tap as standard equipment.
Fusion S base model rolls on 16-inch steel wheels capped by 215/60R16 all-season tires and provides such standard equipment as air-conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks, automatic headlights, keyless entry system, cruise control, height-adjustable driver seat, 60/40-split fold-down rear seat, tilting-telescoping steering wheel, a trip computer and a four-speaker audio system with CD deck.
Fusion SE adds 17-inch alloy wheels with 235/50R17 all-season tires, heated exterior mirrors, 8-way power controls for the driver's seat, backseat fold-down armrest and rear air ducts, upgraded audio gear plus satellite radio service.
Fusion Titanium carries 18-inch alloy wheels with 235/45VR18 rubber and suspension system sport tuning, a remote ignition starter, rear parking sensors, sport front seats with leather upholstery and dazzling electronic instruments.
Ford sets MSRP figures for Fusion 2013 at low levels beginning at $21,700 for Fusion S FWD.