For all its dashing good looks—James Bond would not look out of place in this Aston-faced sedan—the Fusion hasn’t really had any powertrain trump cards versus its midsize, mid-price rivals. Sure, there’s a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid, as well as a trio of 4-cylinders, two of them turbocharged.

But those choices are also available elsewhere in this segment, and some of the Fusion’s rivals offer V-6 engines that pack a bigger punch than the most potent of the Ford turbo fours. Examples: The Honda Accord’s 3.5-liter generates 278 horsepower, 268 for the Toyota Camry’s like-sized V6. Fusion’s hottest engine option has been the 240-hp 2.0-liter EcoBoost four.

Note the past tense reference. The arrival of the Fusion Sport puts an emphatic end to Ford’s also-ran status in the midsize power derby. With the corporate 2.7-liter EcoBoost under its elegant hood, the Fusion Sport becomes the pacesetter for the entire category.

Parts bin Mix ‘n Match

There’s nothing new about this engine, or the 6-speed automatic transmission that transmits power to the Fusion’s all-wheel drive system. But borrowing the 2.7 turbo V-6 from the truck inventory (Explorer, F-150) creates a much more vigorous midsize sedan: 325 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque, both arriving at 5,500 rpm.

As you’d expect, an extra 85 horsepower adds considerable urgency to the Fusion’s forward progress. Throttle response is right-now, not a hint of turbo lag. What one might not expect: the Fusion Sport hooks up and leaves the line in a hurry without a hint of wheelspin or torque steer, thanks to standard all-wheel drive.

While the additional haste is welcome, the Sport model’s dynamics are even more impressive—decisive responses to orders from the helm, nicely controlled body motions, impressive grip from a set of all-season performance tires on handsome 19-inch wheels, and, a pleasant surprise bonus, supple ride quality.

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Adaptive suspension

The key to the foregoing is Ford’s adaptive suspension—Continuously Controlled Damping—which instantly adjusts to road surface, vehicle speed, cornering loads, steering angle, and severe pavement irregularities such as potholes. Is it as effective as GM’s cutting edge magnetorheological damping system? Without a direct comparison, that would be hard to determine.

But an afternoon of driving some challenging roads in southeast Michigan made it clear that Ford’s system does the job, particularly in Sport mode.

Sport mode is achieved by pushing a button in the center of a new rotary gearshift, like the ones used by Jaguar and Fiat Chrysler vehicles. Pressing that switch makes a number of changes in the Fusion’s operating parameters: the suspension damping stiffens; the engine control computer raises shift points of the 6-speed automatic transmission; the transmission holds shift commands from the paddle shifters up to redline; throttle responses, already prompt, perk up even more; steering effort increases; the exhaust note acquires more authority; and a small tachometer—dormant in ordinary operation—materializes in the instrument display.

The net of all this is a powerful Fusion that shows impressive composure in fast corners, building driver confidence with every turn. The Fusion Sport is quick on its feet, hangs on at high velocities like a bat in a wind tunnel, and responds with enthusiasm in quick maneuvers. Braking is another strong suit, thanks to a more robust system—bigger vented rotors front and rear.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2016

Pros and cons

Weak suits? Not many. The steering, though quick and nicely weighted, could be more informative. Up- and downshifts using the paddle shifters are unhurried—the Fusion Sport 6-speed will never be mistaken for a Volkswagen dual clutch DSG automated manual. And could there be a little less up-and-down suspension motion in Sport mode? Yes, but there’s not really much, and it would probably be reduced at the expense of ride quality, which is very good.

Inevitably, more power from an internal combustion engine inevitably equates with increased fuel consumption—17 mpg city, 26 highway.

And of course the substantial increase in all-around performance includes a corresponding uptick in price. The MSRP for the V-6 Sport, which is on sale now, is $33,475, putting it near the top of the Fusion range. Our test subject, which was enhanced by a number of optional features, stickered at $41,350.

That’s tops among Fusion competitors. On the other hand, this Fusion makes the competition look a little tame, sprinting right to the head of the class—and without sacrificing any of its civilizing traits.


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