COAL/QOTD: 2017 Ford Fusion SE – What Has Your COVID-19 Car Buying Experience Been Like?

By January 2021, I had come to the conclusion that selling my 2013 Ford Focus was a mistake, despite the fact that Carvana gave me a decent price for it. Unfortunately, the first two vehicles turned out to be duds, and the overall purchasing experience left a lot to be desired.

That said, things ended up working out decently and I purchased a car that still gels with me over one year after taking ownership of it, but my experiences leading up to my Fusion acquisition were a bit frustrating.

A Carvana shopper paid $12k for the Focus about two weeks after it first appeared online.

When I sold the Focus in October 2020, I figured a steady stream of press fleet loaner vehicles would largely make up for the loss of having a daily driver. But I got hired to write for Ford Authority about two days after the car was whisked away on a flat bed, which meant reviewing cars was no longer feasible. Pandemic living meant that the change wasn’t really much of an issue, since all residents of Chateau Snitkoff were pretty much staying home all the time anyway. But fast forward two months, and it became clear that the microchip shortage was on the horizon, a situation that I figured would lead to a spike in used car prices. With that in mind, I started seriously looking at a Focus replacement in January 2021.

Despite being CC’s resident Ford Motor Company mid-size sedan enthusiast, the 2017 Ford C-Max was the top choice to replace the Focus. I wanted a hybrid for daily driver duties, as they are fine vehicles for stop-and-go driving. Plus, fully loaded examples of the C-Max were a relative bargain up until a year ago, and they’re still going for somewhat acceptable prices today, although the recent spike in gas prices may change that. Anyway, there were several low mileage Titanium-trimmed models in my area, which surprised me a bit, but I quickly settled on one in particular: a certified pre-owned 2017 Ford C-Max Titanium in Kona Blue with the Medium Light Stone (light beige) interior.

That combination, in tandem with the other equipment it had on it (Titanium Driver Assist Package, Interior Protection Package, and navigation, but without the panoramic roof) meant that it was the exact C-Max I would have ordered new in 2017, had I been in the market for one then. With just 27,000 miles on the odometer and a $15,600 asking price that I assumed could be haggled down a bit, I was smitten.

With the full intent of purchasing the C-Max if it checked out, I called the Ford dealer – which is named after the city in Connecticut in which it is located – to get confirmation that the pictures accurately represented its current condition. Aside from the hour and a half drive it would take to get there, I didn’t feel like catching COVID, especially if the trip turned out to be a bust, which it was.

Naturally, the C-Max ended up having quite a bit of scratches on it, some of which clearly could have been buffed out, but other imperfections that most definitely could not, like the literal gouges that were carved out of both passenger side doors. It may not look bad from what is shown in this picture, but trust me, it was far worse in person. In hindsight, it was a blessing that the manager was apparently unavailable to negotiate that Thursday morning (he was attending an online auction that he couldn’t miss, apparently) as I may have ended up settling for a reduced price then regretting the purchase when it came time to have those cosmetic issues fixed. In any event, since I couldn’t haggle at all, I walked, frustrated that nothing came of the trip.

The C-Max, which had been on the dealer’s lot since September 2020, had its asking price reduced twice to $14,600 before disappearing altogether. I suspect it would have cost a bit more than $1,000 to fix all of its cosmetic issues.

Since the C-Max wasn’t very popular, there weren’t a ton of used examples to choose from, and none of the other ones could compare to the C-Max I had checked out, so I decided to broaden my search to include the Ford Fusion hybrid. Apparently, few buyers ordered their Fusion SE hybrids with heated seats, which frustrated me, but I found a 2019 with about 25,000 miles on it for $15k and decided to take Ms. Cougar on a trip to see it, which I outlined about a week after I completed the trip. Once again, I found a vehicle with issues, as the Fusion’s front bumper was cracked. This is another vehicle I would have purchased had it checked out, because while the sedan lacked butt and back warmers, it had automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and navigation, all features I found compelling at the time.

That said, I couldn’t help but feel that heated seats were a necessity for my next daily driver, so I ended up expanding my search to include the entire Fusion lineup. Titanium hybrids commanded a hefty premium over the SE, so those were out, and I decided that any Fusion produced before the 2017 were deal breakers too, as they lacked Sync 3. Although I still believe the 2013-2016 Fusion looks better than the refreshed 2017, it obviously wasn’t a deal breaker. Although there were some things about the mid-size that pushed me towards an SE.

For starters, it appears the 1.5L and 2.0L EcoBoost engines have issues with coolant intrusion and cracked heads. It is hard to ascertain how widespread these issues are, as it seems supply chain shortages have resulted in owners not being able to get their vehicles repaired, and they’re justifiably pissed and airing their grievances wherever they can. So that left one engine in the lineup for me to consider: the 2.5L that Ford borrowed from Mazda circa 2009 and a powerplant that the company still uses in several vehicles to this day.

I found a 24,700 mile Fusion SE at a dealer in Middletown, New York in February and set out in dad’s 2016 Passat to take a look at it. I opted to go solo because I cynically assumed it would also be riddled with cosmetic issues, but that was not the case. In fact, there was one pleasant surprise: a center channel speaker. The “Premium Audio System” that is bundled into the SE Technology Package did not include one until 2017, it seems. I’ll get into how it was ordered in a bit.

After a quick test drive, I determined that the Fusion could work for me, and went back to the showroom to negotiate. This was a one-owner vehicle that had been serviced at the Ford dealer down the street from where I was looking at it, so that was another notch in its favor. Its price was another factor, as it was the lowest priced SE under 30,000 miles within 75 miles of my house. That’s probably why the salesman scoffed when I countered their $14,900 asking price with an even $14,000. Either way, I didn’t like the attitude of this particular individual, who seemed to think a four year old Fusion with that mileage was about as rare as a Ferrari Testarossa.

Upon talking with his manager, they agreed to take $200 off the price, which I felt was a bit low. But at this point I had been a bit worn down by coming up short with my two prior dealer visits, plus I disliked the idea of physically going into another showroom, (this was two months before the vaccines became widely available to my age cohort in New York) so I bit the bullet and bought the car for $14,700. The actual process of filling out the paperwork and taking delivery went quickly, although they never sent me an owner’s manual and the salesman never followed up in a general sense to see how I liked the car. Aren’t dealers great?

While I think they could have come down a bit more, it ultimately was a fair price, especially from the perspective of March 2022, where similar examples are currently on dealer lots for about $20,000, or within several thousand of what they likely sold at after incentives five years ago. In any event, this Fusion has exactly what I need and nothing more. Fun fact: not outlined on this window sticker is the auto-dimming driver side mirror, which is included as part of the SE Technology Package.

Another benefit of that package is the body-color mirror arms, as SE models without the package simply have those parts unpainted, which makes them look decidedly low rent when compared to higher-spec Fusions.

On the merits, I am still very much liking the car over a year after taking it home. The 2.5L is perfectly suitable for my needs and I continue to be impressed with its driving dynamics. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Consumer Reports has to say about the Fusion:

“In a class generally known for bland styling and a lack of driving excitement, the Fusion is a breath of fresh air with a stylish, fun to drive demeanor. That doesn’t mean it’s free of certain quirks that can erode one’s enthusiasm. The Fusion looks upscale and stylish, and it handles like a really good European sports sedan. No matter which version you choose, it impresses with a composed, civilized ride that’s as good as luxury cars costing twice as much. The cabin is also blessedly quiet.”

So have any quirks eroded my enthusiasm for the Fusion? Yes! For starters, the six-speed automatic shifts roughly between second and third, but that’s apparently not indicative of any mechanical issue and a somewhat minor quibble. Additionally, Sync 3 doesn’t seem to like the iPod Touch I purchased last year, as it typically freezes up when it’s hooked up and playing. That may actually be the fault of the iPod itself, so I cannot completely condemn the infotainment for the freezing issues. But I can fault Ford for dropping Spotify compatibly with Sync, which means I cannot use the app on the car’s screen (iPods don’t have CarPlay). If I had done more research before buying the iPod I would have known that happened several years ago, but since I don’t use the car to commute, it’s not a huge deal.

And just so we’re clear, I fully recognize that I’m one of the few weirdos that still values having a dedicated media player for music playback in their car. What can I say? Old habits, and 6,000 song libraries, die hard.

Another quirk relates to how this car came from the factory. It has push button start, but lacks the sensor (Intelligent Access) on the door that automatically unlocks the door when placing a hand on the handle, a piece of tech limited to SE models with the Luxury Package and the more expensive trims. That means the fob needs to be taken out before being immediately placed back into the pocket. A minor quirk, but a quirk nonetheless.

I initially thought the rotary dial shifter would take longer to get used to, but I acclimated to it within a week of ownership. Plus, I like how it essentially frees up access to the storage area below the center stack.

Although the Fusion turns five in July, at just under 26,000 miles, it is still a young car. I will most likely have the battery replaced this year and get new tires within the next two years, but aside from those items and the usual maintenance stuff, I expect this car will be very reliable.

While the Fusion’s resale value could tempt me to trade it in for something newer, its cabin still boasts materials on par with the Ford Bronco Sport Badlands and the current generation Ford Escape Titanium hybrid, two vehicles that retail in the low to mid $30k range. Plus, I like the fact that I currently own the first and last mid-size front-wheel drive Ford sedans, which I suspect is a feeling that I will have for at least five more years.

Ultimately, my Fusion feels less like a replacement for the 2013 Ford Focus and more like a proper successor to my dearly departed 1997 Mercury Sable GS, which stayed with me for nine years. To paraphrase Austin Powers, it seems like mid-size sedans are just sort of my bag baby, yeah!

But enough about me, what has been your car buying experience during the pandemic? I suspect that the chip shortage has all but ensured that my car buying experience was relatively mild, at least in retrospect.