In 1964, Motor Trend's Car of the Year award went to the entire Ford lineup, recognizing its combination of design, engineering excellence, and performance. In 1970, we gave the nod to the Ford Torino, which could be ordered in a wide variety of configurations. Forty years ago, buyers could choose from economical, six-cylinder-powered sedans to the dragstrip-ready 429 Super Cobra Jet fastback. These legendary winners had one thing in common: bandwidth. In the 1960s and '70s, this term wasn't yet part of popular lexicon. Today, the 2010 Ford Fusion's impressive bandwidth as a model range was one of the many factors that helped it earn the 2010 Motor Trend Car of the Year award.

Want an economical midsize sedan that doesn't cost much, yet won't bore you to tears? Need to please your greener side with a high-tech hybrid? Fancy a near-sport sedan with AWD, 18-inch rolling stock, and the latest infotainment and electronics? Depending on which model you choose and how many option boxes you tick, the Fusion can be any of the above. Arthur St. Antoine calls the Fusion "a compelling sweep across one of the market's most hotly contested segments."

The original Ford Fusion came to market for the 2006 model year. The basics were there, but the car wasn't fully baked. For 2010, Ford's product teams gave the lineup a soup-to-nuts redevelopment so thorough, it's as if the first-generation car never existed. Only the passenger-shell sheetmetal and other basic architectural elements escaped being redesigned, upgraded, or replaced. Although a four-door sedan is the only body style offered, powertrain choices expand from two to four, and each is new or substantially revised. There are several trim levels offered as well: base S, upmarket SE, luxurious SEL, a separate Sport model, and a Hybrid. Early in this year's COTY program, there were quiet whispers, while heads nodded, about how the Fusion looked, felt, and drove like an entirely new machine.

It isn't often that lower-end models impress our lead-footed, enthusiast-driver staff, but our 2.5-liter four-cylinder Fusion SE tester proved the biggest of surprises. Paired with a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission and optional Monochrome Appearance Package, (which, at only $895, includes 18-inch alloy wheels, V-rated performance tires, a rear spoiler, leather steering wheel, and cruise control), the Fusion SE goes from mild-mannered commuter to worthy canyon charger. Edward Loh said it has a "balanced ride, yet it's sporty and really fun to chuck in corners." And it boasts an EPA rating of 22 city, 29 highway, and an as-tested sticker price of just $23,065.

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