Saturday, July 12, 2014

Fusion. Ford Fusion: From Somewhere on the Bosporus to a Soviet Dead Drop in an Energi SE

While you only live twice, James Bond has had many incarnations. Together, these have upheld Queen, Country and Film Franchise for more than a half-century. It's been a long run -- and one requiring much in the way of automotive hardware. That's how Bonds from Sean Connery onward have come to drive around in everything from AMC Matadors to ZAZ 965s.

Still, the essential Bond-mobile is -- and will remain -- the Aston Martin DB5.

The DB5 is cool -- and judging from its subtle bonnet bump, 007 sits at the banjo-spoked wheel of one in the above photo. With jaw firmly set, he glares at evildoers pursuing him in their Citroen Traction Avant. Not that Her Majesty's suave Cold-War paladin has anything to fear, for after negotiating a tire-squealing series of curves, his Aston will likely squirt a viscous, MI-5-developed fluid onto the roadbed, thereby causing the Traction to lose traction and plunge headlong into the Bosporus, or wherever.

The 2014 Ford Fusion. Photo: Neil Hayward
Odds are better than in baccarat that if Bond were to find himself chased down that same road by cyberterrorists in a new Ford Fusion -- things would be different.

For one, the Ford's electronic stability control and "European-inspired" MacPherson struts would make the car less likely to sail off a cliff. Moreover, an optional Lane Keeping System (which uses a lane-mark-reading camera mounted atop the sedan's windshield) would also help keep it squarely on-track.

Then there are the aesthetics involved. The Ford's styling -- while not wildly futuristic by Jetson-era standards -- would nonetheless be absent the Avant's sinister, Bond-villain cast. In fact, something about

Fusion fancifully fused with Aston-Martin Mondeo

its fascia would seem downright familiar to the international man of intrigue. His stern visage might soften as he noticed how closely the Fusion's trapezoid grille resembled the one on his Aston.

At that point, 007 would rightly infer that the Aston Martin's bug-inhaler had also lived twice. Only this time on a Ford. This homage -- or theft, depending on how you look at it (legal teams representing Ford and its former subsidiary, Aston Martin, are currently divided on the matter) -- helps make the new Fusion one of the best-looking five-passenger sedans idling* at remote border crossings or quietly going the distance under drone-patrolled skies.

The Fusion comes in standard, hybrid and a hybrid-plus-plug-in version like our Energi test car. All are midsize sedans, and, as such, occupy a category more associated with domesticity than derring-do. Countering the car's family-oriented features (that include airbags galore, optional rear inflatable seatbelts and a five-star safety rating), our $44,000 Energi was also equipped with 17-inch aluminum wheels, fog lamps, spotter mirrors, a rear-view video camera, a smartphone app and nav system, some of which might come in handy for covert ops once the family's let off somewhere.

Owing to its roominess and use of finer materials, the test Fusion's cabin exuded a sumptuousness that seemed to anticipate its luxury-car aspirations. Its standard features comprise leather-trimmed heated and ventilated front seats, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, Bluetooth and more. The only drawback we found was with the standard MyFord Touch infotainment system, which was about as awkward to operate as a pair of dagger-tipped oxfords.

Despite the Energi's Soviet-sounding name, it isn't nuclear powered. If it were, AJ (Automotive Journalism) 5 would require us to recapture its plans by taking a Cigarette boat to a remote equatorial island, there to rappel deep into the throat of its central volcano. This would land us in a vast evildoer lair resembling the scaled-up tube chassis of a Philco Predicta. 

Avoiding the lair's shark tanks while peppering its scantily-clad SMERSH vixens with racy bon mots, we'd eventually make off with the plans in a Chinese junk luxuriously outfitted with Persian caviar, French champagne and a bed once belonging to N.K. Winston of the OSS. As we busied ourselves searching this last for tarantulas, the island's hottest Smershette would slither into it in the manner of a panther into an orphanage.

Then, somewhere off the junk's ornate stern, the volcano would blow higher than Krakatoa. In its glow, we'd dispense one last quip and begin to examine the purloined plans. 

Here's what they'd show: The Fusion's not nuclear. (Don't know what we were thinking -- that was the '58 Ford Nucleon). 
You'd know if it had been: The Nucleon was never produced

Rather, it uses the same hardware as found in its hybrid stablemate -- a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine bolted to a front-drive, continuously variable trans-axle (or CVT) that houses an electric motor. While this makes the Energi's output identical to that of the Fusion Hybrid at 188 horsepower, the addition of a 7.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack allows the car to operate as a purely electric vehicle at speeds up to 85 mph.

Thus equipped, the Energi can achieve 49 miles per gallon during normal gas-hybrid operation, combined with an equivalence to 100 mpg while in all-electric mode. 

Pussy galore warms Bond's fender as he checks for tarantulas

All of which sounds great until you realize that the Energi's plug-in feature requires an additional $10,000 outlay -- a substantial hit even if offset by a $3,750 federal tax credit and ten percent state rebate. What's more, the plug-in's battery pack eats up half the trunk and takes seven hours to charge once you get Interpol to locate a suitable 120-volt outlet. Even then it yields only enough juice for short trips

Is it worth it? Well, as Dr. No might put it: "No."

Not yet anyway. The Energi's there for those who like to think of themselves on the cutting edge of gadgetry, or green tech, regardless of cost. It's like the majority of Prius owners who've indicated they bought the brand primarily for "what it says about (them)" rather than what it does for their purse or the environment. Of course as distinctively American as the Energi appears (despite the Brit grille), it's going to have trouble with that demographic as well. 

This was recently brought home to us in a parking lot where one gray-haired matron dressed in the style of a Che-supporting Ecuadorian shepherdess was discussing the merits of her newly-acquired Prius hybrid with another, similarly attired, woman. Our remark, made after begging pardon and while unlocking the door to the Energi parked alongside, that "this car actually achieves better mileage," was admittedly intrusive. Worse, it implied that one of the parties present may have just made a costly mistake. Still, the claim seemed welcome until the ladies gave the Energi the once-over. Then, withering looks worthy of Rosa Klebb told us we were once again in violation of approved standards of ideology.
Klebb: Really more saddened than angry

Fearing that our political incorrectness might risk us a confrontation with tarantulas, we beat it to a park outside of D.C. called the Cabin John Regional. Leafy, bucolic, popular with young families -- it's got a miniature diesel railroad you can ride through its woods.

Being as few would suspect it was also once used as dead drop for a notorious Soviet spy -- that's where we decided to go.

Southbound along I95, the Energi’s impressive handling served the situation well. The highway was flat and broad through here, its sky brilliant at midday. Sunlight glinted off the cascading glass facades of office buildings that intersperse its route with walls of corporate-government anonymity.  

As reflected in these, the Ford moved out handsomely, its ride steady and its steering sharp. That said, back roads like those leading to the park reinforced a suspicion that the Energi is anything but tossable. Rather, a feeling of heft (no doubt partly due to the weight of that extra battery pack) combined with the car's leather-lined cabin to impart a lofty sense of substance that accompanies the driver everywhere.

We arrived at the park to just catch the train as it pulled away from its little station. This landed us in a seat next to a woman with a heavy Russian accent. Suspiciously, she seemed nice. Nodding pleasantly in response to whatever it was she was saying, we rode the Cabin John's woodland route. When the train skirted the parking lot, the Fusion could be spied loyally standing by. Although far from the Bosporus' cedar-topped plateaus, it still had that look -- that DB5 look of what they refer to in the spy game as "legend."

* Can hybrids really be said to "idle"? A neologism may be needed here. Tell you what: A vintage copy of Andrew Whyte's  lavishly illustrated remainder book, Jaguar -- The Definitive History of a Great British Car, goes to the reader coining the best new term expressing what a hybrid is doing while "idling." Submit via comments page. Winner to be announced on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.   

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