Next up is the 3.0-liter Duratec V-6 rated at 240 horsepower. This powerplant is offered only with a six-speed automatic transmission. The 3.0-liter earns an 18/27-mpg rating from the EPA and is also the only flex-fuel engine in the lineup, happy to run on gasoline, E85, or any mix of the two. Order this engine in the SEL trim level, and it can be had with optional all-wheel drive.

The top performer of the pack is the Fusion Sport, which is far more substantial than the usual "tape stripe and badge" treatment. The Sport gets exclusive use of the 263-horsepower, 3.5-liter Duratec V-6, mated to a SelectShift six-speed automatic. This transmission allows full manual control, which mates nicely with the Sport's 18-inch performance rolling stock, sport-tuned suspension, dual exhausts, unique front and rear fascia treatments, rocker panels, and rear wing. Although not a flex-fuel engine like the 3.0-liter, it earns the same EPA rating, and can also be ordered with all-wheel drive.

Rounding out the roster is the much-anticipated Fusion Hybrid. Loh called it "the crown jewel in Ford's hybrid program and the best American-brand hybrid on the market." It's a true parallel hybrid system that will operate on battery power alone, its 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine, and a combination of both. It uses the latest hybrid technology, including advanced and lighter weight nickel-metal hydride batteries, regenerative braking, continuously variable transmission, and variable cam timing on the intake tract to smooth out the transition from gas to electric mode and vice versa.

." There's plenty of low-rpm power, it's quiet, and the CVT transmission is much less prone to the jerkiness found in most hybrids. The SmartGauge with EcoGuide dual LCD cluster has taken the notion of hybrid driver interfaces to a new level. If you choose, a function named Empower will train you to drive more economically, by the adding or taking away green-leaf icons on the display. It's fun and intuitive, and information such as the state of the batteries' charge and current fuel mileage is displayed in an easy-to-read, attractive way. While most hybrids won't go more than 15 or 20 mph in electric-only mode, the Fusion Hybrid will motor along silently at up to 45. This is a useful feature when cruising around parking lots, or in stop-and-go freeway traffic. Frank Markus says, "This is the most fun I've had going slow. I raised the car's average by 1.5 mpg and filled the display with leaves."

The previous-gen Fusion interiors left a lot to be desired, but the new cabins are great places to hang out. They've been redesigned, the materials and fabrics choices are of much higher quality, and they're better insulated for a quieter ride. And infotainment offerings are world-class. Ford's popular Sync connectivity system, now with 911 Assist, is standard on some models, optional on others. A 12-speaker Sony audio system is available, as are voice-activated navigation and Sirius TravelLink.