I was looking to buy a car next spring, and I had several vehicles on my radar: Cruze, new Focus, and new Optima. I never considered the Fusion because I didn't think I could afford a nice one (I would rather buy a nicer smaller car than a lesser equipped larger car). I had been saving for months for my next car, and I had a decent down payment saved up, I was just waiting for the new models to come out. Well, my old car literally falling apart in a matter of a month bumped up my plans considerably and none of the cars were out yet. Fortunately, clearance pricing and a TrueCar.com internet special made a Fusion as affordable as a new Cruze, Focus or Optima likely would have been if I had bought one within a few months of release.
Well, there were 3 Fusions I was seriously considering: a black SE (cloth with the "Sun and SYNC" package, aka the "necessary luxuries" I wanted), red SEL (leather with SYNC, sunroof and premium Sony stereo) and a black SEL (completely loaded with every option except a navigation screen). I really wanted black, but I didn't want to budge out of my price range for features I deemed unnecessary. But, I didn't want to sacrifice interior features and luxury for the exterior that I wanted, even though it came at a lower price.
Ultimately, it was like the story of the 3 bears: the fully loaded model was too hot because of the price being out of my comfort zone, the SE model was too cold because the interior felt much cheaper without the leather trim, and the cloth seats didn't “hug” me quite as well as the leather seats did. Leather interior makes a HUGE difference in terms of upscale feel...the car felt $10,000 cheaper in cloth form (but it didn't cost that much less). The red SEL, despite not being the color I wanted, was just right. And quite frankly, the more I look at it, the more I love the red color.
Perhaps it's because my old car, a 2003 Focus was so loud it could likely cause hearing damage thanks to a chronic howling noise that I've nicknamed the “mystery noise”...a noise my own mechanic couldn't even figure out (it was never quiet even before there was a mystery noise, for that matter), but the interior of the Fusion felt whisper quiet. The doors close with a satisfying thud that screams "quality" and "excellent fit and finish."
I was interested in the 2011 Kia Optima because of the 200 horsepower 4-cylinder engine, so I was skeptical of the 175 horsepower 4-cylinder in a heavier car than the Optima. Honestly, I was surprised when I first kicked the engine up from 60 to 80 MPH. The engine feels smooth compared to the buzzing, vibrating, 110 horsepower mess of junk under the hood of my Focus. While not a rocket ship, acceleration is much quicker than I thought it would be, and I even feel some nice torque, which is a pleasant surprise. Plenty of power for what I'm looking for, since I don't want a sports car due to high insurance costs and higher costs at the pump. Four bangers mated to six-speed transmissions make V6's unnecessary for midsize sedans unless you want to a) burn extra fuel or b) buy the Sport model for sports handling, as far as I'm concerned.
The car handles bumps with ease with an incredibly smooth ride compared to the Focus. I haven't pushed the car to its limits, and don't plan to, but the car is built off of the Mazda 6 chassis, so it has some athletic handling to it. The car handles on windy roads and takes highway ramps with ease, more stable than I originally thought when I test drove it. The steering felt "loose" to me at first, but as I get used to it I appreciate the feel of the car. A sports car this is not, but the more I drive it, the more I love it. I never thought a family sedan from a volume brand could feel so refined.
I'm slowly, but surely, learning the Ford SYNC system. It's taking some getting used to and I still can't figure out how to have my text messages read out loud to me, but having features such as hands-free calling, turn by turn directions and live traffic in an affordable car is truly mind blowing...SYNC was a major, major selling point to me (and Kia's SYNC-like system known as UVO had me virtually sold on the Optima before this) and I can't wait to become more accustomed to it.
As for the interior, it blew me away when I first sat in my friend's 2010 Fusion SEL about 9 months prior. The experience is much the same from the driver's seat of my own Fusion. I enjoy how the seats “hug” me, and there's plenty of soft-touch, high quality materials on the dashboard and doors. Just some general car buying views on my part: If you're stuck choosing between a newer model with cloth interior or an older model (or smaller car) with leather interior, choose the leather interior. It just feels so much more upscale, like you're driving a luxury car without the luxury price tag. The Sony Stereo thunders compared to my old stereo...a "system" that most teenage boys wanted in high school this is not...but it does the job with crystal clear quality.
One feature I'm disappointed I'll be missing out on in the 2011 Optima is the option for cooled front seats, as the Fusion only offers heated seats...but is that really a reason to complain?
Ford hit a home run with this car and I'm beyond stoked that I get to be a proud owner of one. I've truly been trying not to come off as gloating when I talk about the car to my friends. I almost feel like this car is too good for me and I almost feel guilty talking about it. But nothing replaces the feeling of satisfaction I get when I sit in this car. Kudos to Ford, you really outdid yourselves.
(sidenote: I originally wrote this piece a couple days after I bought the car...as I become more familiar with it, the more I love it. No wonder it was the Motor Trend Car of the Year.)