A Contour update with a Mazda touch

Ford's Fusion aims squarely at the mid-size sedan market.

Ford takes aim at the foreign competition with Fusion, its first new mid-size sedan since the discontinued Contour. (Old stalwart Taurus, which ruled US roads before Camry and Accord rolled in, is gone, too, replaced by the Five Hundred as the big sedan in the lineup.)

There's more afoot here than design tweaks and name games. Fusion's platform and some engineering touches are derived from Mazda, part of which Ford owns, and the result is a roomy ride with surprising responsiveness, at least in the 3-liter V6 we tested. (It also comes in a 4-cylinder option.) If there's a handling hitch it might be the wide turning circle; this is no London taxi.

Chrome-lovers will take to this car's nose, with its louvered-look grille. Fusion's interior is well configured, if less refined than the outer skin. (The hands on the analog clock, for example, have a molded-plastic look.) In response to disappointing side-impact crash ratings, Ford is moving to make side-curtain airbags standard. Antilock brakes are currently a $600 option. ABS ought to be standard.

Upsides for Fusion: better than 25 m.p.g. in commuter traffic (a hybrid is planned for 2008) and the car's price: The 4-cylinder sells in the upper teens; for the V6 SEL, less than $22,000 brings standard features including 17-inch alloy rims and a MP3/CD sound system. (As tested, with leather and seat-heaters, it hit $25,650.)

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