What do the Ford Fusion and Ford EcoSport have in common? Nothing really, being two disparate vehicles in terms of size and using different platforms and engines. Ah, but what do the European Ford Fusion and Ford EcoSport have in common? Quite a bit. Before there was an American Fusion, there was a European one and it was the base for the first EcoSport.
Really, the Fusion was ahead of its time. At the time of its launch in 2002, the European market was still in the throes of its compact (C-segment) MPV obsession and automakers were rolling out even smaller B-segment MPVs. Along came Ford with the Fusion, ostensibly an MPV but looking like a tall-boy Fiesta. People didn’t quite know what to make of it at first – Top Gear, for example, called it the most pointless car on the market. Being based on the Fiesta, the Fusion had keen handling although it naturally felt a bit top-heavier. That top, though, gave the Fusion great headroom and a higher seating position.
The Fusion lived in the shadow of more popular B-segment MPVs but it was a steady seller. Where it proved to be a much bigger success was in Brazil. Launched in 2004, the Brazilian-built EcoSport was a Fusion with a higher ride height, a side-hinged tailgate and some extra cladding. Some of the engines, like the 1.6 inline four, were shared with the Fusion but the EcoSport further differed in offering optional all-wheel-drive and a larger 2.0 four borrowed from the Mazda Tribute; the base engine was initially a supercharged 1.0 four. The EcoSport rode high, both physically and on the sales charts. It also caught rival brands off guard, the first direct competitor – the Renault (née Dacia) Duster – not arriving until 2011.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, Ford had misjudged where the B-segment MPV market was going when it came time to finally replace the European Fusion. Its replacement, the B-Max, was a handsome little people mover with sliding doors and it immediately sold better than the Fusion had for the past few years. But from 2003 until 2009, Ford was selling roughly 80-90,000 Fusions each year on the continent. Sales only crashed after that because the car had been left to wither on the vine, something that was especially noticeable when the related and visually similar Fiesta received a complete redesign. While the B-Max sold better than the Fusion had at the end, it could never match the glory days of the Fusion.
Ford must be kicking themselves. Had they restyled the Fusion sooner and given it the off-road look of the Brazilian EcoSport, they would have been seen as trend-setters. In 2014, they launched the new global EcoSport and, although it’s received underwhelming reviews and is clearly a crossover designed for developing markets, it’s already overtaken the B-Max in sales in Europe. Rumor has it the B-Max is on the chopping block, having been squeezed out by the EcoSport and the new Fiesta Active.
The Fusion might have been seen as a pointless, high-roof Fiesta but it now looks extraordinarily prescient in a market full of seemingly pointless, high-roof versions of existing cars.
Photographed in Potsdam, Germany in September 2018.