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.
CC Long Term – 2011 Ford Fiesta Zetec 1.4TDCi: Knowing When To Stick Or Twist
CC Rental Car Review/Travelogue: 2015 Ford Focus Tournier 1.5 L EcoBoost (EU Version) – Shiftless In Europe
Curbside Capsule: 2005-09 Peugeot 1007 – On The Wrong Tracks
I like it! We didn’t get too many B-class MPV here in the States, because bigger MPV & vans took all the glory. Still, I was smitten by the form factor.
The first one we got was the Dodge Colt Vista, which was actually a Mitsubishi (which is why I didn’t buy one). Later versions were also sold with a Mitsubishi badge, and there was even one that had an Eagle badge.
We also got the Mazda MPV, but that was a bigger van. The Mazda 5 came here, but it wasn’t very popular – again, outsold by bigger vans.
We later got the Scion xB, AKA Toyota bB. I owned one and loved it, but I felt the cargo area was too short to be a true MPV.
I wish this body style was more popular here.
I suspect this Fusion is smaller and has less interior and trunk space than an xb. As do most B and some C segment MPVs. Hence the accusations of pointlessness.
They really were splitting hairs putting this between the Fiesta and Focus. Usually driven by old folk in the UK, along with other tall ‘n small cars like the related Mazda 2, Honda Jazz etc. I think Richard Hammond called it “a Fiesta in a hat” and they were often driven by folk wearing a trilby and driving gloves.
After the Fusion came the B-Max, but also the Tourneo Courier. Based on the Transit Courier panel van (B-segment/Fiesta based).
It’s almost ridiculous how many B-/C-/D-segment MPV models Ford offered in Europe in the past decade.
Like the Citroen Xsara Picasso, critics raved about the handling, really, they should have tried the regular size hatch version, they handle like a go-cart with glass at any speed, great fun on a twisty road.
We drive a C-Max (hybrid). Yes we’re old folks. Setting aside the hybrid angle, we really like the seating position and tall cabin. Sort of like having a CUV but camoflaged by the stodginess of the packaging.
I can see where the headlights for the first generation ford transit came from
The current eco sport is neither sporty or very economical.
Looks like a third world car which it is
I remember the Euro Fusion very well, as this car was reasonably popular here in Russia. It was actually a good car, with almost all the room of a Ford Focus, but substantially cheaper, and very capable for its size. The only real issue with it was the lack of a real automatic transmission, and the DuraShift robotised manual gearbox that made up for it was just atrocious, unsafe to drive in city traffic.
Unfortunately, after the facelift in 2005 it got a much lower front bumper, which was very easy to damage in winter or on a dirt road. A lot of the owners cut its lower lip off to get more clearance, or else it just fell off soon enough from use. A push bar was also a popular aftermarket add-on, which looked silly in this case, but actually was of some benefit.
I didn’t know that the first EcoSport was based on the Fusion, by the way. Could have been a hit here. But its current generation (which is sold in Russia) is both too expensive and too ugly, and obviously no match for the Duster (which costs roughly $3000 less for the cheapest version with 4WD).
Heard of the Russian popularity before. Marketing for the car basically stopped here in W Europe after the Fiesta was replaced in 08, but they kept on building them since they were so popular in Russia. Since all the tooling was paid for by then every Fusion sold was cash in hand for Ford.
Interesting little vehicle I knew even more little about besides the familial front end to mid-00s Fords.
Nice article and pics William.
I was a big fan of the exterior design of the first gen Focus. I especially though Ford’s creative design handling of the creased and recessed sheet metal surrounding the wheel arches was particularly original and attractive. Better handled than on this Fusion.
I agree completely on the 1st Focus; it was very brave for a mainstream model. Unfortunately by the time the Fiesta replacement came along they seemed to have got cold feet and toned them down to dull (minor point of interest the three and five door hatches have differently angled rears, the three being more sloped so they don’t share hatches or rear lights even though they look almost the same). Having said that, the look suited this practical boxy Fusion version quite well and is easy to load stuff into.
I feel silly that I never thought they could be related! Although I’m not convinced they are THAT close. The rear, including the doors, seem totally different. I remember Ford in Brazil treated it like a local development, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they exaggerated on that regard.
True, the rear end design is quite different. But sources indicate the EcoSport did use the Fusion as a starting point. I think the changes they made improved it’s looks, personally.
That European Fusion (as well the Brazilian VW Fox / SpaceFox) was a “pointless” car which you quickly find out its point after a ride. For a boring day-by-day using, they are more comfort and fun to drive if compared to their counterparts as the Fiesta of that time or the VW Gol. For me the current EcoSport is a pointless car, as it is too expensive just because the exterior design style, which is also very controversial if compared to the honest visual of the first one.
Some design history: Ford in Eurpe was very interested in Inclusive Design, aware of how Europe´s population was ageing a bit. Ford worked with Loughborough University to make a Third Age suit, a simulator for being a senior citizen (it affected vision, dexterity, flexibility and muscle strength). With that thinking and ergonomic insight, Ford designed the Focus, 2002 Fiesta and Fusion such that they were able to suit drivers of a greater range of physical abilities. Of the 3 the Fusion was the most clearly intended for older drivers, via its raised H-point. Older drivers like to slide sidewways into a car and not have to descend downward (as in a sports car) only so as to haul themselves up when egressing. If Ford did something wrong with the Fusion it was to leave it as 2wd car. Even if only 10% of customers wanted 4wd, the option was needed to validate the SUV-like appearance. Honda did that with the H-RV. One other thing was that the Fusion needed some ritzier interiors as well as the plain ones they offered: buyers of small Lancias and vehicles like the Renault Clio Baccara would have been very interested in that option. But overall, the Fusion was a good car that perhaps dealers did not “get” and which was based on some good thinking left unexplained.
From a design or aesthetic perspective, the Fusion is a very, very well resolved and professional bit of work. I was looking at one just last night. While it looks simple, all of the lines have been massaged to give them tension. It really is deceptive. The car is also unmistakeable, a triumph given the simplicity and formal corrrectness deployed. It is so ungimmicky and remains fresh, so many years after launch. The same goes for the 2002 Fiesta which such a charming car without being obviously cute.
That Top Gear didn´t “get” the Fusion says a lot about that crowd of boors and nothing about the car. I´d almost call Top Gear´s dislike of the Fusion a badge of honour.
To read about Inclusive Design look up the Helen Hamlyn Centre; RCA, London.