Monday, December 08, 2008

Test drive: 2008 Ford Fusion SEL

Photographs: Stephen H. Goldstein
© 2008 and forward

The Ford Fusion SEL, shown (top) on L'Enfant Promenade and in front of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in Washington , D.C. , offers a comfortable ride for the family or for a business trip.


By Stephen H. Goldstein
Golden Quill Editorial Services
© 2008 and forward/All Rights Reserved

The Ford Fusion SEL, the top trim line for 2008, provides a roomy, comfortable and peppy ride for a family of five or for a business trip. Sedate even with the optional Sport Appearance package, however, it will not be confused with a Mustang.

The 5-speed manual transmission moves the 4,233-pound car with ease, even with a 2.3-liter inline 4-cylinder engine and 140 horsepower and even in the rolling hills of Western Maryland . Despite good sound-dampening and the windows up, a passenger still will notice wind, engine and tire noise but less so than in smaller models.

The tested car, with front-wheel drive and optional 18-inch wheels and tires, averaged better than 28 miles per gallon between tankfuls of 87-octane gasoline. The EPA estimates are listed at 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.

A 182-horsepower, DOHC V-6 Duratec engine is available, and the EPA estimated mileage is only slightly lower, at 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. On the available all-wheel drive V-6 Fusion SE and SEL, the mileage dips further to 17 and 25 mpg.

The 2010 Fusion, Ford says, will upgrade the engines to a 2.5-liter Duratec inline 4-cylinder engine with 175 horsepower, a 3.0-liter V-6 with 201 horsepower and a 3.5-liter V-6 with 263 horsepower for the Sport model. Ford expects its heavy investment in advancing its powertrain technologies will replace its engines by 2010 with improved performance and fuel-economy.

Ford says Fusion is its “first fully digital car, designed, engineered and tested using the most advanced technology available for precision and quality.” The digital technology shows mostly in the data center and the sound system.

The digital data center near the gauges on the tested car shows almost 500 miles to empty on fill-up for a 17.5-gallon tank, based on an average of 28 mpg. Over almost 600 miles, the tested Fusion matched that average at the gas pump.

The midsize Fusion fits in the Ford lineup where the enlarged Taurus had been. The roominess for most adults includes the back seat, unless a tall passenger pushes the front seat back far enough. The tested car features leather seats, with separate heat controls for the front buckets. The trunk, at 15.8 cubic feet, is spacious by comparison with other midsize cars.

Passenger safety rides with comfort in the Fusion. The car rates a 5-star government rating for driver and passengers in a frontal crash and for the front seat in a side crash. The government rating drops to four stars for the rear seat in a side crash and a single-vehicle rollover crash.

The SEL includes upgraded electronic accessories: eight-speaker stereo AM/FM radio with six-disc CD changer (loaded singly through one slot) and Sirius satellite radio, an auxiliary input jack for an MP3 player and a USB port for a storage device in the large center console, which stores the CDs.

The radio has 10 button presets, providing 30 presets for the three optional Sirius bands, 20 for the two FM bands and 10 for the AM band. The Microsoft-developed SYNC system offers a voice-activated, hands-free connection to a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, iPod, PDA, MP3 or other digital music player. Controls for the sound system and cruise control in the leather-wrapped steering wheel make driving safer than reaching for the center dashboard.

Even with all of these features, others have criticized the dashboard’s silver plastic accents, but the whole effect doesn’t cheapen the car’s appearance as much as it does in other cars, even Ford models. Like other Ford models, the high trunk line on the Fusion hides tailgating vehicles but not as much as in smaller models.

The larger speedometer and tachometer gauges and the smaller gas and engine temperature gauges, gray-trimmed black in a black background, are understated and not digital. In night lights, the needles are red and the numerals are blue.

A stylish, round and small analog clock sits in the center of the dash, below the vents and above the sound controls. The center rearview mirror darkens with headlights from the rear, and the side mirrors are heated. Tandem map lights flank the mirror, but there’s no roof light or rear-seat lights.

A button on the lower dashboard changes the “ambient mood lighting,” for some reason in six colors, for the floor and the dual cupholder in the center console. It’s also a $295 option.
The Fusion indeed shows Ford’s attention to quality engineering and production and upgrades responding to drivers’ interests.

2008 Ford Fusion SEL
Vehicle class: 4-door sedan.
Power: 2.3L, L4 DOHC engine.
Mileage: 20 city / 29 highway.
Where built: Hermosillo, Mexico .
Base price: $19,785.

Test drive review: 2008 Ford Focus

Photos by
Alan P. Goldstein/
© 2008 and forward


By Stephen H. Goldstein
Golden Quill Editorial Services
© 2008 and forward All Rights Reserved

WASHINGTON — Drivers have been keeping their cars for more years and more miles — 100,000 miles, 200,000 miles, even 300,000 miles — mostly to save the money to buy a new or low-miles “certified” used car. However, car makers, trying to boost sales in a hard-bitten economy, have added many features to new cars to attract electronically connected buyers.

Since radios were first installed in dashboards in the early 1930s, cars have added electronics previously left at home: Stereo radios with cassette, 8-track tape and CD players, cell phones, satellite radio and now: a synchronized voice-activated communications and entertainment system — developed by Microsoft and Ford — that connects the passenger to a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, an MP3 player, an iPod, Zune, Sirius satellite radio and more.

The Ford Focus upscale and “sporty” SES, for example, has many of the comforts of a luxury automobile at a fraction of the price, especially to compare the features on a $16,000 car more than a decade ago and what options that money adds today.

The 2008 Focus introduced the 2-door coupe, replacing the ZX hatchback and station wagon. For 2009, Ford has added the SEL model to the SES, the midlevel SE and the basic S model. Each upgrade in trim level adds features as standard equipment that are options below. In 2008, the spread between the S and SES trim levels was about $2,000, from about $14,000 to $16,000.

Ford updated the Focus, introduced in the 1999 model year, with larger but still compact vehicles through the years. The freshening apparently didn’t excite some auto enthusiasts, however, but Ford’s announced plans to bring the European version of the Focus to the United States in 2010 did rev them up.

From the outside, the Ford Focus still looks like a subcompact car, although larger than its ancestors from earlier in the decade. In the driver’s seat, it looks and feels more like a crossover trying to blend car with SUV. The shape of the car — low in front and higher in back — reduces wind drag but not enough of the wind noise. The high back end hides tailgaters behind. At least, the tailgater seems to be closer than it may be. Other cars have the same problem.

Standard equipment includes P215/50 tires on 16-inch alloy wheels, which improve the ride but don’t muffle the road noise yet enough, and front and rear independent suspension. The car includes six air bags: the two in the front, side air bags deployed from the leather seats and head curtain airbags for both front and rear passengers.

It has dual power-adjustable — and heated — outside rearview mirrors; a color-matching rear spoiler; fog lamps; air conditioning and heater; an inside rear-view mirror that darkens electronically when headlights hit it from behind; AM/FM stereo radio with single CD and MP3 player; an auxiliary audio input jack an electronic message center that shows the odometer, two trip meters, a bar-graph display of gas mileage in motion; average mpg and estimated miles to Empty (more than 400 miles at fill-up).

Optional equipment includes a power moonroof, heated leather bucket seats, anti-lock brakes (drums in back, disc in front), traction control, a 6-CD/MP3 “audiophile” system and Sirius satellite radio with 30 station presets added to 20 for FM and 10 for AM. The SYNC system also works with a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, even downloading its phone directory, and it will read cell phone text messages through the stereo system.

Dashboard controls and buttons take a little time to become familiar, but as usual, the manual explains their functions and features. Redundant controls on the steering wheel for the sound systems and cruise control improve safety while driving. The headlights and fog lights have only manual controls and do not turn on or off automatically.

The center rearview mirror darkens with headlights behind. The dashboard below it features a hooded readout in the center for the radio frequencies and volume and the SYNC display. The instrumentation behind the steering wheel lights up in blue and red accents on gray/white gauges. The logically designed controls for radio and SYNC, heat and air conditioning are in the center of the dashboard, although the manual explains how to use the various functions.

Some critics have cited the plastic vents and dashboard treatments. The silver coating does wear off in time. However, federal fleet mileage requirements have pushed carmakers to use lighter materials — more plastic — to save weight.

The 140-hp (at 6,000 rpm) inline 4-cylinder engine handles the hills quite well, noticeably better than a 100-hp engine in a similar compact, even with a 5-speed manual transmission. California regulations limit the horsepower to 130 for a low-emission vehicle. At posted highway speeds, the engine in the tested car turned at 2,500 to 2,800 rpm, which helps the gas mileage. The manual 5-speed shifts smoothly and offers good acceleration.

The visibility in the Focus is somewhat limited for backing into and out of parking spaces, mainly because of the large, solid headrests. On the open road, visibility is fine, with larger mirrors than in other cars and the side windows.

The back seat, usually a tight fit in many coupes, is spacious in the Focus but difficult to enter and exit, even for an average-size person. The hooks for hanging dry cleaning, for example, are back far enough that some people would have to step into the back to reach them. The large trunk includes a safety latch for someone trapped inside to escape.

In its digital readouts, the tested car averaged more than 31 mpg between fill-ups of the 13-gallon tank. With the gas receipts, the tested car approached 33 mpg for combined highway and local driving.

The Ford Focus SES, nicely outfitted, comfortable and sporty, can make 700 miles in a week roll by almost without notice.

Data Box:2008 Ford Focus SES
Vehicle class: 2-door coupe.
Power: 2.0L, L4 DOHC engine.
Mileage: 24 city / 35 highway.
Where built: Wayne, Mich.
Base price: $16,475.

Stephen H. Goldstein, senior editor for Golden Quill Editorial Services, has been a print and broadcast journalist since high school graduation — and in print even earlier.