The Fusion brings together the right elements – price, safety and fuel efficiency – but it is lacking just one more piece: fun.
Road Test: Ford Fusion SE is neat, functional and vaguely uninspired
It's not easy to come up with a decent name for a car, which probably explains why those sensible people at BMW and Volvo (among others) rarely use anything more than bunch of numbers and the odd letter to label their products. Indeed, it's difficult to find anything too amusing about a car badged as a 535i or an XC60 when a Daihatsu Naked, a Honda Jazz or a Suzuki Cappuccino might be parked just up the road.
Ford also has a tricky history with names. While such classics as the Mustang and the Model T are rightly considered two of the all-time greats, some of its other efforts fall in a much lower bracket. Take the Aspire, a mid-Nineties hatchback that no one, erm, remotely aspired to, or the Probe, a not unattractive coupe from the same era saddled with the sort of name that made people snigger uncontrollably whenever it came into view. I can't imagine why, can you?
The Fusion is a more recent addition to the questionable names category. Launched here in 2008, it has undergone a midcycle refresh for the 2011 model year. And while its name suggests a multi-flavoured dish made up from complex, layered ingredients sourced from all corners of the globe, it delivers instead something far more straightforward. The Fusion is more burger and fries than coconut-crusted saffron chicken.
The "con-fusion" doesn't stop there either. In Europe, Ford uses this same name to market an oversized Fiesta possessed of all the aesthetic beauty of an egg-box, while here, a pretty mid-size saloon gets to wear the badge. Even odder still, in this region, the Fusion's most direct competitor is the Mondeo, a similarly sized, same-price family car that also happens to be available from your friendly local Ford dealer.
That hasn't stopped the Fusion being a big hit in its North American home market - where it sits logically between the smaller Focus and the full-sized Taurus and doesn't have to jockey for sales with the Mondeo - winning the influential Motor Trend Car of the Year award last year and clawing its way towards the top of the best-sellers chart.
The Toyota Camry is, of course, still the car in front of the Fusion. For how much longer, is harder to judge. The Japanese marque continues to be beset by safety issues, recalling another two million-plus vehicles only last month, following last year's multi-model recall. In the circumstances, this latest Fusion could hardly arrive at a more important time. Toyota's crown is there to be taken.
It is undoubtedly a handsome car, more striking than the Camry and a neat alternative to either the Nissan Altima or the Honda Accord, the other serious contenders in its class. On its nose, Ford's now trademark shiny three-bar grille is flanked by neat halogen headlight clusters. The car presents equally well in profile, although the emphasis is on conservative rather than cutting-edge lines. Ford knows this sort of styling plays out well in this relatively risk-averse segment, where value-for-money and fuel economy are more primary concerns than being the sharpest-looking kid on the block.
That sober feel continues inside. It's a neat, functional but vaguely uninspiring cabin, where dark swathes of plastic are rounded off with splashes of metallic detailing that try, and fail, to liven things up. In a further attempt to lift the mood, the three-gauge instrument panel benefits from something called "contemporary ice-blue lighting", while the centre console houses Ford's Sync entertainment system linked to a six-speaker sound system. Front and rear-legroom is universally decent, though, and boot capacity is also generous. Ford claims a class-leading 467L of storage space.
So far, so none too shabby. What problems there are become evident on the road. The Fusion uses a 2.5L four-cylinder engine with a six-speed automatic transmission in the SE specification on test here - larger and more powerful than the Camry's 2.4L engine - but still one that feels distinctly underwhelming. It's slow to respond and loud when it finally does. Handling is a little wallowy too, the steering being dull in the corners.
One can't help feeling that, in trying to emulate its Japanese opposition, Ford has engineered the fun out of the Fusion somewhere along the line. I found myself unconsciously whistling the Roberta Flack/Fugees' classic Killing Me Softly every time I climbed into the car, which, while not offering a terribly reliable template for reviewing cars, did at least seem to sum up the lifeless air that hangs over this set of wheels.
All is not lost, however. The Fusion is safe (airbags are standard fit for both front and side of the car), its fuel efficient (using a shade under 9L to travel 100km) and its nicely priced too - the SE spec is only Dh74,500. If only it could be as exciting to drive as those good looks suggest it might be. Now that would be a proper fusion of quality ingredients.
For more about the latest mid-range models, check out Road Test: Small Cars.