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2006 Ford Fusion SEL

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San Francisco: Distinctive styling sets the 2006 Ford Fusion apart from its dull competitors. This all-new family car is finally a legitimate competitor to the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, unlike the aging Taurus it's replacing.

The Fusion's cabin doesn't look like it belongs in a Ford, and that's a good thing. It's an example of how Ford paid close attention to details to create a car that can - at long last - compete with the Japanese.

When it comes to mid-size, bread-and-butter sedans, I was beginning to think Ford had given up on beating the Japanese. Anybody who's driven a Taurus lately is bound to agree. Compared to a modern Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or even Nissan Altima, the Taurus is a piece of jelly-bean-shaped garbage so awful that virtually all the car's sales went to rental fleets. It's a sad car, indeed.

But Ford has a savior on the horizon, and its name is Fusion. This all-new, mid-size sedan - a replacement for the horribly out-of-date Taurus - is a fabulous automobile in every way. It's not just fabulous for a Ford, fabulous for the price or fabulous compared to the ghastly car it replaces. It's an outstanding car with no excuses. And that's rare for an American family car.

I spent a week trying to nitpick every last detail on the Fusion, from the feel and sound of its engine to the quality and construction of its cabin. No matter how picky I got, I couldn't find any objective reason to pick a Camry or Accord over this great Ford.

Sure, there were lots of subjective things - I personally like the Accord's suspension better, for instance - but as a whole, the Fusion can't be beat. It's even priced cheaper than the Japanese competition.

The impressive features start on the outside with a gorgeous body. It's a fairly aggressive style for a family car, with an unmistakable front end that doesn't try to be highway camouflage like many of its dull-looking competitors. A big, bold grille is flanked by two distinctive headlights that are shaped like a weird combination of square and teardrop - Ford calls the shape a "squircle" - while its triangular taillights have eye-catching silver reflectors that you'll either love or hate. I love it.

Inside, the Fusion isn't quite as distinctive, but it's still a great cabin. In fact, the first thing I thought when I sat inside was, "This doesn't look like a Ford at all." That's a good thing.

The overall look is actually closer to that in a Volkswagen - the company known recently for making some of the best interiors around - as the quality and appearance of materials is second to none. Ford pays close attention to the details inside, making sure the texture and luster of every surface matches perfectly so you never get that subliminal feeling that you're riding in a cheap car. It's nice, but not ostentatious - just like a family car should be.

The driving experience is just as perfect. From the moment you turn the key, it becomes obvious Ford spent an enormous amount of money and time getting all the details right. It lacks nothing.

Starting under $18,000, the four-cylinder Fusion makes 160 horsepower and comes with air conditioning, power everything, keyless entry, a CD player that can play MP3s, and a tilt & telescoping steering wheel. The V6 version I tested felt just as refined as some luxury cars. This top-of-the-line model came with lots of bells and whistles, including leather seats, for around $24,000.

It also drove with the kind of sophistication you'd only find in imported luxury cars a few years ago. Its smooth-revving V6 engine had plenty of power for everyday driving without making much of a fuss, and its six-speed automatic transmission must have been psychic because it always seemed to know how and when I wanted it to shift - silky and comfortable for regular driving, or quick and aggressive for more spirited drives.

Its suspension, based on the highly acclaimed Mazda 6 sporty sedan, also offers a sublime blend of comfort and performance. It can fly though corners when you want to have fun, but it never loses its composure over bumpy, rough surfaces, either.

Finally, after trying to nitpick the Fusion for seven days, I found something I didn't like - and it had nothing to do with the car itself. It was where it's assembled. Oddly enough, this so-called American car is built in Mexico, while many of its so-called Japanese competitors are assembled right here in the U.S.A.

How's that for irony? Once an American company finally designs and engineers a car to be competitive with the imports, it ships all the assembly jobs across the Rio Grande.

What was tested? 2006 Ford Fusion SEL ($21,710). Options: Safety and security package ($595), SEL premium package ($395), antilock brakes ($595), audiophile sound system ($420). Total MSRP price as tested (including $650 destination charge): $23,945

Why buy it? Finally, an American brand offers an honest-to-goodness competitor for the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. There's no objective reason to pick a foreign brand over this Ford, including performance, handling and overall refinement.  By James E. Bryson   AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name: 
 Ford now has a real competitor for Accord & Camry
 The 2006 Ford Fusion SEL
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 The 2006 Ford Fusion SEL
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Ford Internet Media
Series #:   2006 - 03

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