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Fusion reaction: Good looks, charm & efficiency

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Fusion reaction: Good looks, charm & efficiency

Ford Fusion Hybrid pricing starts at $28,000, which is $1,575 less than the 2012 model.

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POSTED December 19, 2012 7:10 p.m.

The 2013 Ford Fusion will be its own fusion — a form of automotive alchemy turning steel into sales gold.

This redesigned midsize sedan offers a desirable balance of contemporary design, engaging drivability and a line of efficient and potent four-cylinder engines — and no V-6.

Fusion is all about choice: three trim levels with three four-cylinder engine choices, a hybrid model, optional all-wheel drive and, next year, a plug-in hybrid.

Pricing for front-wheel drive, gasoline models starts at $22,495 with the 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic (33/34 mpg city/highway). The popular seller will be the midlevel SE ($25,745), which comes with a 178-hp, 1.6-liter EcoBoost (turbocharged) four-cylinder and a choice of a six-speed manual (25/37 mpg) or the automatic (23/36 mpg). The topline titanium with AWD starts at $33,000 (22/33 mpg or 22/31 AWD) and includes many extras, such as a rearview camera, 12-speaker audio system, leather upholstery and intelligent access with push-button starting.

The more expensive models have the better fuel economy. And the various driver-assist technologies are still extra, capable of adding $3,500.

I tested a Fusion Hybrid SE, which starts at $27,995 ($1,575 less than the 2012 model), including the $795 freight charge from Hermosillo, Mexico. The test car was $36,160 with options, which included the luxury package ($2,000), voice-operated navigation system ($795), adaptive cruise control ($995) and all the technology options, such as cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping system and active park assist.

$36,000 is a near-luxury price and much about the new Fusion presents a step-up impression. The styling is head turning and enduring, not gimmicky. The cabin soundproofing is definitely luxury class, enhanced by the electronic noise-cancellation system that works through the audio system. But there is much monotone plastic and the instrument panel air vents lack a separate control for flow, just direction.

The test car drove with such hybrid finesse, I forgot I was driving a hybrid. The dual-mode hybrid system uses a 141-hp, 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder and AC synchronous motor and lithium-ion battery pack. Engine and motor total 188 hp put to the pavement through a continuously variable transmission.

EPA fuel economy ratings are 47/47 mpg city/highway and 47 mpg combined, on 87 octane. 37.3 mpg was the best I could muster in a week for combined mileage, heavy on city driving and somewhat heavy on the pedal. That's still about 10 mpg better than the Fusion SE with 1.6-liter gas engine I also tested.

The lithium-ion battery pack allows a peak electric speed of 62 mph, which takes a little practice to achieve. Hybrid elements include auto start-stop and regenerative braking and 17-inch low-rolling resistance tires and alloy wheels.

There is no braking mode to the transmission for recouping energy when coasting downhill. But you get the same effect with a light touch on the brake pedal.

Performance between the hybrid and 1.6-liter was comparable. There is some Ford racing blood in how the Fusion cuts through corners and pulls cleanly to a hard stop. Sightlines are good and the driver's seat put me in an ideal position for hands on the wheel, eyes down the road. That's a confidence builder.

There is no shortage of storage areas, including a dual-level locking glove box, door panel cup holders and front console stash space. An electric parking brake is a nice extra. But it seemed odd that for an electronically-sophisticated car there was no intelligent key for keyless entry/exit and push-button ignition. And some will want more lumbar support in the seat.

The back seat is raised and relaxing with good footroom under the front seats. The hybrid's 12 cubic feet of trunk space looks larger than the dimensions and there's room to carry three pieces of roller luggage and more.

As a mainstream, family- and business-class sedan, Fusion will bring a vote of confidence from current owners and it has the potential to conquest buyers once loyal to their import brands.

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