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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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.

Safety is an important criterion, not only for our Car of the Year judges, but for anyone. The Fusion excels here too. Besides standard four-wheel disc brakes, ABS, dual-stage airbags, and a variety of other active and passive safety measures, you can order a rearview camera system, as well as a Blind Spot Information System that warns you when another vehicle is hiding in your blind spot.

Downsides? Just a few. Our fuel testing includes photo shoots and other activities that tend to reduce real-world mileage, but the Hybrid model fell somewhat short of its EPA ratings. The manual gate on the Sport's SelectShift transmission is located on the far side of the shifter, not near the driver as it should be. The lower rear-seat cushion lacks support, and the front-center armrest is uncomfortably low. The 3.0-liter V-6 has 23 less horsepower than the Sport's 3.5-liter engine, but doesn't earn any better EPA mileage ratings (although it is E85-compatible). Yet these are small points that do little to diminish the Fusion's overall goodness.

In these tough times, value is high on everyone's list. It's here that the Fusion delivers great pop for the penny. The four-cylinder Fusion S starts at just $20,345 and is well equipped at that. Depending on which of the other four models you choose, and optional equipment levels, you'll find many of them will price out in the mid- to high-$20,000 range. Our fully loaded Sport AWD, at $33,525 as tested, represents the high range of the Fusion lineup.

St. Antoine summarizes: The Ford Fusion now represents "a sensational lineup of quality powertrains (for which Ford deserves huge applause), smartly tuned chassis, functional and attractive cabins, and outstanding value." The Fusion has matured into a fully competitive roster of midsize sedans, able to compete with the best in the marketplace, including sales juggernauts such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. In all, it's a worthy winner of Motor Trend's 2010 Car of the Year competition.


Ford Fusion SE - Sport AWD - Hybrid
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front engine, FWD-AWD-FWD
Engines SE: 2.5L/175-hp/172-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4;
Sport: 3.5L/263-hp/249-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6;
Hybrid: 2.5L/156-hp/136-lb-ft Atkinson-cyc DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 106-hp/166-lb-ft electric motor
Weight to power 19.0 - 14.5 - 19.9 lb/hp
Transmissions 6M - 6A - CVT
Axle/final-drive ratios 4.39/2.98:1 - 3.33/2.28:1 - NA
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar*
Steering ratio 16.0:1*
Turns lock-to-lock 2.8*
Brakes, f;r 11.8-in vented disc; 11.0-in disc, ABS*
Wheels 6.5 x 16-in - 7.5 x 18-in - 7.5 x 17-in cast aluminum
Tires, f;r SE, Sport: 225/45R18 91V, Hybrid: 225/50R17 93V; Goodyear Eagle RS-A
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 107.4 in*
Track, f/r 61.7/61.3 in*
Length x width x height 190.6 x 72.2 x 56.9 in*
Turning circle 37.5 ft*
Curb weight 3321 - 3846 - 3801 lb
Weight dist., f/r 59/41 - 60/40 - 59/41%
Seating capacity 5*
Headroom, f/r 38.7/37.8 in*
Legroom, f/r 42.3/37.1 in*
Shoulder room, f/r 57.4/56.5 in*
Cargo volume 16.5 - 16.5 - 11.8 cu ft
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.8 - 2.3 - 3.1 sec
0-40 4.3 - 3.7 - 4.5
0-50 6.0 - 5.1 - 6.2
0-60 8.1 - 6.8 - 8.2
0-70 10.5 - 9.1 - 10.5
0-80 13.2 - 11.6 - 13.2
0-90 16.9 - 14.5 - 16.4
0-100 21.1 - 18.7 - 20.4
Passing, 45-65 mph 4.1 - 3.6 - 4.0
Quarter mile 16.1 sec @ 88.0 mph - 15.2 sec @ 91.8 mph - 16.3 sec @ 89.4 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 133 - 128 - 128 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.81 - 0.80 - 0.79 g
MT figure eight 28.1 sec @ 0.61 g (avg) - 27.9 sec @ 0.59 g (avg) - 28.6 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 2450 - 1800 - NA rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Base price $21,625 - $28,755 - $28,350
Price as tested $23,065 - $33,525 - $32,295
Stab/traction control Yes/yes*
Airbags Dual frnt, frnt side, f/r head*
Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles*
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/60,000 miles*
Roadside assistance 5 yrs/60,000 miles*
Fuel capacity 17.5 - 16.5 - 17.0 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 22/29 - 17/24 - 41/36 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.79 - 0.99 - 0.50 lb/mile
MT obs fuel econ 23.6 - 19.5 -33.3 mpg
Recommended fuel Unleaded regular*
*Spec applies to all three models
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