By the mid-2000s, Ford reached a point where they had to do something about their mid-sized sedan offering. With a lineage that included the Tempo and the Contour (the American version of the Mondeo), Ford needed something that fit perfectly between the Focus and the Taurus.
However, it needed to fit Americans and their tastes. That was not fulfilled by the Contour/Mondeo/Mercury Mystique. It was also a very tall order, even in the face of competition dominated by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
The answer came in the summer of 2005. It came three-fold: The Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Lincoln Zephyr. It was developed on a Mazda platform that was eventually shared by Ford for their trio of sedans. The result was a car that fulfilled this mission of being in the middle of the lineup.
The Ford Fusion was a curiosity. It was inoffensive in design, offering plenty of comfort, and levels of performance that met the needs of Americans in the middle.
My approach to renting a Fusion was simple: Drive it for what I need it to do. That way, I can see why they became very popular with fleets, fighting for space with the Camry, Nissan Altima, and Chevrolet Malibu.
Over the course of five years, I had a few first-generation Fusions. Let me do what I can to recall an chronicle my thoughts on this attempt at Ford creating a Camry competitor.
My first time encountering the Fusion was in November of 2006. I ventured out to Detroit for the very first time. Hertz delivered a 2006 Fusion SE for the weekend at its #1 Gold section. For this trip, I found the Fusion an appropriate choice.
This particular Fusion provided ample performance from its 160-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder Duratec engine and its five-speed automatic transmission. It got me from Metro Airport to my hotel in Dearborn, then onward into downtown Detroit for a Red Wings game at Joe Louis Arena and, eventually, to Auburn Hills. For the stops I needed to make on this Veteran’s Day trip to the Motor City, it was comfortable and simply just fine for the task.
A couple of years later, I picked up another Fusion SE. This 2008 model felt right at home in the Twin Cities. Perhaps it looked handsome compared to the one I drove in Detroit. It drove without much drama, even with the Duratec four-cylinder underneath its hood.
All of the Fusions I encountered during this time had a pretty standard audio set-up. The digital readout was a two-line LCQ screen that gave you the information you needed. Of this was the time before SYNC arrived into Ford’s vehicles and SiriusXM was split into two sets of channels, depending on the manufacturer. The sound quality was just fine.
By mid-2009, this generation of Fusion, Milan, and MKZ (Lincoln changed the Zephyr to an alpha badge for 2007-onward) went through a mid-cycle refresh. This update went beyond just new front clips and taillights. More visual changes included new wheels, an interior update, the availability of Ford’s new single dial/dual TFT screen instrument cluster, and, oh yes, the addition of the first-generation SYNC infotainment system.
There were no changes in the basic seat design, however. I found the Fusion to be comfortable behind the wheel over longer distances. I found no fatigue when taking one on the highway and around town.
The engine lineup did change to include a larger 2.5-liter Duratec four-cylinder, connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. Power was up to 175 horsepower. Both of the 2010 Fusion SEs I rented in late June and in October had this engine. For the record, I have never driven a V6-powered Fusion throughout the lifespan of this first-generation model.
However, in February of 2010, I got to drive my first Fusion Hybrid. New for the 2010 model year, Ford coupled its 2.5-liter Duratec four-cylinder engine with an electric motor and a continuously variable transmission. Combined, it put out 191 horsepower and it was estimated to yield fuel consumption over 30 MPG.
This 2010 Fusion Hybrid took an acquaintance and I to see some mutual friends up in Duluth for the weekend. To that end, both of us enjoyed the ride quality and the performance of this sedan.
One test that I gave the 2010 Fusion Hybrid was to connect my iPod to the SYNC system. It allowed some podcasts that were transferred from my iTunes to playback via the audio system. And, yes, it worked. On the other hand, SYNC’s voice recognition system did not.
My final CD3-platform mid-size sedan was rented in January of 2011 during a snowstorm. It turned out to be a 2010 Mercury Milan with a Flex Fuel 3.0-liter V6 that had a lot of miles on the clock. It would also be the final year for the Milan, as the Fusion and MKZ would continue on until the second-generation models were introduced.
For the record, I never got the chance to drive any of the Lincoln models during this generation.
To be honest, I was at the end of my appreciation for the CD3 Fusion/Milan/MKZ by this time. They did what they had to do in terms of getting Ford the product they needed to compete in a highly competitive segment for the time. They did not offend anyone with their design. They provided plenty of performance to keep them in the public eye. More so, Ford yielded a vehicle that helped all three brands when they needed it.
However, the first-generation Ford Fusion did not inspire customers wanting something more spectacular. Something that stood out further from the rest of the mid-size family sedan crowd. That would come in 2012 with the new version of the Fusion and MKZ. Ford realigned their Fusion with the rest of the world under the OneFord program with a car that clearly stood out in a crowd.
For the first-generation Ford Fusion, competency was at best achieved by being in the middle of the road for everything it offered.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicles featured in this article were rented by the author
All photos by Randy Stern