COAL: 2006 Ford Fusion – My Second Favorite

In late 2004 GM sent me on a 3 year assignment in China, bringing the whole family along.  We sold our house and our vehicles, and settled into expat life in the booming metropolis of Shanghai.  At that time, China was a market where GM could do no wrong.  While the US side was struggling with market share, costs, and a generally bad reputation, GM was the hottest auto manufacturer in China, led by Buick.  Buicks in China exuded prestige, youthful exuberance, and premium pricing, something Buick in the US could only dream of. 

And they did that with a series of cast-off, obsolete platforms from around the GM world rebadged as Buicks.  There was the entry level Buick Sail based on a 10 year old Opel Corsa B, the compact Buick Excelle based on Daewoo Lacetti, and of course, the W-car Buick Regal, the darling of company executives and government officials and basically the same car that was sold in the US for the last seven years.  There was also the Buick GL8, a GM U-van with a Buick grille and used to shuttle VIP’s, hotel guests, and expat families everywhere.  Eventually, GM China went its own way and used its rapidly developing engineering talent to launch its own version of the Buick LaCrosse, still W-car based but way more stylish and appealing than its US namesake.

Well enough about GM; this post is about a Ford Fusion, so this is how a midsize sedan from GM’s cross town rival rose to become #2 on the list of favorite cars that I’ve owned.  

Three years passed rapidly and we returned to a US GM in serious dire straits.  Costs were ballooning, market share was continuing to decline, and the bleeding couldn’t be stopped.  Morale was terrible as the company had just gone through a round of layoffs in its previously untouchable engineering ranks.  I found a new career opportunity and made the decision to leave the GM mothership before it sank into bankruptcy, which happened just a few months after my departure.  

I had to relinquish my company car and needed new wheels quickly.  And finally freed from the shackles of having to choose another GM product, the new automotive world was my oyster.  The criteria were simple – I needed a sedan that was affordable, reliable, had reasonable fuel economy, and would be more fun to drive than my previous Malibu.  And it had to look good doing it.  The obvious choice would have been the Honda Accord, for I had respected Honda’s engineering excellence ever since I owned that Civic in college, and that respect continued during my days working on the Malibu when I spent lots of time behind the wheel the Accord.  By the mid 2000’s, however, the Accord had lost some of its original charm, becoming more homogenized with styling that was as bland as the Camry.  

Ford 427 Concept

In 2003 something from Ford caught my eye, a 427 concept car that the company showed off at that year’s Detroit Auto Show.  Still driving my bland but trustworthy Malibu, I thought to myself that if Ford took the 427 to production, I could really see myself in it.  So when Ford launched the new midsize Fusion 3 years later carrying strong 427 themes, I was smitten.  It was a genuinely handsome sedan, with great proportions and enough bling to make it stand out among a sea of anonymous midsize sedans.  The automotive press raved about it, citing its much improved space utilization and alert and capable handling.  The Fusion was a huge improvement over the cramped and ugly Contour, but as a loyal GM employee at that time I was resigned again to admiring a new competitor’s car from afar.  

I had my eye solidly on the Fusion when I began the vehicle search in late 2008.  Fusions by that time were quite common in Detroit but they still turned my head every time one passed by.  I did extensive research and decided to pass on the optional V6 in favor of the base 4 cylinder engine, due to my new job having a long commute where I would appreciate the fuel economy.  And from what I read, the 4 cylinder with its healthy 160 hp was not a penalty box.  My Fusion was going to be black and chrome, just like the 427 concept.  

After some searching and test drives, I found the right Fusion for me at a local Ford dealership.  It was a midlevel SE model, 2 years old with less than 30k miles in good condition.  On every drive, my new Fusion spoke to me in all the right notes.  It was a capable, well balanced handler, with crisp steering, a responsive engine and transmission, and it still had a comfortable and quiet ride.  The Fusion and sister car Mercury Milan were blessed with the great genetics of the Mazda 6 platform and its 4 cyl MZR engine.  It did a perfectly fine job slogging through the daily commute, but when pressed hard the Fusion said “let’s play” through its superbly accurate steering and a chassis that was nimble and quick on its feet.  This was a huge step up from the Malibu that I had previously, a real driver’s car that made the task of driving enjoyable.  I was even more impressed that Ford could package all of that into such a sharp-looking but practical midsize sedan.

Driver’s Ed Parking Practice


As a result, the Fusion holds the record for the longest tenure of any car I’ve ever owned, past or present, 10 enjoyable and rewarding years.  I drove it for most of that time and it eventually passed through the hands of every member of my family, but it’s always been “my car.”  It wasn’t completely trouble-free though.  It set a few “check engine” lights over its lifetime with the resulting O2 sensor replacements, but more annoying was the car’s tendency to burn out tail light bulbs every few months.  I got very good at replacing these bulbs (I kept a stock of them in the garage) and fortunately Ford made it very easy to do so.  Maybe they knew something about that.  The worst incident was when the left turn indicator burned out right in the middle of my 16 yr old son’s driving test.  Luckily he was done making left turns at that point and managed to pass the test!  Nevertheless, I found that since the fundamentals of the car were solid and it had a likable personality, it was easy to forgive these minor issues.  

The Fusion was nearing 10 years old when my oldest son took it over after getting his license.  He once commented that his friends were driving much newer or nicer cars at school, to which I replied, in my best Dad-speak “you’re lucky to have a car.  When I was your age I had to walk 2 miles to school…”, which actually had some truth to that.  But sadly, at that advanced age the deterioration of the car accelerated at the hands of a teenage boy and his friends, with pieces of trim starting to break off and various stains and scratches marring its once-pristine interior although the car’s mechanicals were still sound.  When No. 1 son graduated and went off to college, he handed the keys to his younger brother, who would be the Fusion’s final driver.  

Some readers may relate to this: as a parent of teenagers, you’ve been conditioned to look with alarm at your cell phone when your child actually calls instead of texts.  A phone call must mean something urgent, or bad.  And so it was, when son #2 called and reported that he was in a car accident severe enough to deploy the airbags.  Thankfully there were no injuries, especially since this Fusion, like 34 million (!) other cars on the road, was part of the Takata airbag recall fiasco, in which defective airbag inflators could hurl shrapnel into the faces of the driver and passenger, causing severe injury or death.  He was one of the lucky ones who wasn’t hurt by the airbags but the 12 year old car with well over 100k miles was declared a total loss.  It was an ignominious end to one of my favorite cars, and a sad day when the flatbed came to haul it away to the scrappers.