I had the chance to drive a Ford Fusion today. Ford invited me (as a potential customer, not as a blogger) to come to the Detroit edition of the Ford Racing Technology Tour, which is a Nascar themed marketing event, intended to show off the new Ford products to the Nascar crowd.
The Detroit edition was held in the ample parking lot of the Pontiac Silverdome, former home of the Detroit Lions, now home to monster truck races.
Ford set up several short autocross style tracks where one could test drive a Fusion, Mustang, F-150, 500, or Freestyle. The 2006 Explorer ("Audi-face") had a course which featured several large piles of dirt, which had been trucked to the parking lot to form obstacles, on which one could test out the vehicle's off-road capabilities.
I skipped the lower-rank Nascar driver autographs that were available, such as Jon Wood (Clorox/Wisk #47), and the pack-the-Freestyle-with-stuff challenge, and went straight to the Fusion autocross. After getting my ID tag punched (only one ride per vehicle per customer), I strapped into the seat of a red V6 Fusion, with a cute blonde in the passenger seat, wearing a black and red Champ Car uniform. The Mustang, Fusion, and Explorer rides had a Champ Car person in the passenger seat, for safety, The F-150, 500, and Freestyle were solo rides.
My co-pilot told me she was a driver, so I asked to to watch me drive and give me pointers when we were done. After easing around the first turn, I went WOT and tore around the track as fast as I could, squealing tires most of the way. I don't think I ever broke 35MPH, because of the windy design of the course, but I didn't look at the speedometer, so I'm not sure.
I tried to do a good job of it, using some trail braking, tipping back in at apex, and keeping as tight a line as I could. After about 1 minute of fun, I ran out of track. Champ Car girl wasn't impressed--"You really want to use a 9:00 and 3:00 hold on the steering wheel", she said, bored. "You will have much better control if you need to make a correction". She was right.
The Fusion was not a bad ride. It was quiet. It had nicely weighted steering, good linear brake feel, and fairly crisp dynamics. There was some body roll, but not an excessive amount. I have driven the Mazda6, which is the platform-mate of the Fusion, and the Fusion is not as tight. When I hit hard corners, handling seemed very neutral, and I never really went into over-steer or under-steer, though I was usually making the tires shriek.
I was not overly impressed by the power. There didn't seem to be a lot of torque, at the lower speeds of the autocross, so I never felt like I was getting a lot of acceleration. Maybe the transmission was shifting up into too high a gear for the activity. The tires were howling, but I didn't feel that I was driving that fast.
These are just quick impressions, though, based on about 1 minute of hard driving at low speeds with tight turns. Overall, my impression of the Fusion was that it was solid, comfortable, and fun, but not as fun as a Mazda6.
The 500 was actually fairly entertaining to race around the autocross track. It has more body roll than the Fusion, which is emphasized by its tall stance. I drove an AWD/CVT version, which allowed me to spool the engine up to near redline very quickly. Taking the corners at speed was fun: when the tires started to shriek, the car actually seemed to want to oversteer, and I could feel the car moving sideways a little bit, as the AWD probably kicked in.
The Mustang was very nice, but the track was much too short. After the starting straightaway, where you could get a nice chirp on the 1-2 shift, there really wasn't room to go fast, just lots of tight turns. The Mustang was much more tightly glued down than the Fusion, of course.
The Explorer ride was nothing special, just a slow crawl up a few piles of dirt. Not my bag.
There were a number of interesting cars on display. Several Nascar cars, including a cut-away model showing the inner structure of the car. The star of the Nascar area was the Fusion car, which of course is exactly the same shape as the Taurus, but has different graphics. There was also a Focus rally car. A number of modified Mustangs were on display, Roush and other tuners. There was a Ford GT, which was unlocked, and visitors were welcome to sit in the car and fondle the interior. Which I did.
I should have some digital photos to post from the event soon, taken by one of the employees at the event.