Review: 2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

Wednesday October 15th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Solid Power Team, Efficient Use of Space
Gripes: Vague Steering Feel, Ergonomic Cabin Issues

Through the first third of 2014, Ford has sold 72,746 Fusions. That accomplishment places the Fusion fourth in the mid size market segment, behind Nissan’s third place Altima, Toyota’s second place Camry and sales leader Honda’s 112,100 Accord sales. The Fusion may lag the imports, but it is a rousing success compared to other domestic brands like Chevrolet’s Malibu (43,101 sales), Dodge’s Avenger (25,068) and Chrysler’s aging 200 (21,648). The reason for Fusion’s strong showing lies in its appearance, value, and diversity of models. Let’s start with looks, because that’s the first sales hook you’ll encounter. Ford blatantly emulated the grill silhouette of Aston Martin’s $300,000 DB-9 to distinguish the Fusion from anything else in the mid size segment. The Ford’s high belt line also mimics the Aston’s tall side/squat greenhouse proportions. The result is a very handsome product from Ford that rings the styling bell with cues borrowed from Aston’s James Bond closet.

The value facet of Fusion ownership manifests itself in the wide variety of affordable combinations Ford offers. No fewer than 9 different models are available for 2014, ranging in price from the FWD S at $21,900 to the Titanium Energi at $40,500. You choose from 4 different engine options, FWD or AWD, plus 2 plug-in hybrids designated SE and Titanium. The Energi (Hybrid) SE that is the subject of this review carries a base price of $36,700. With the addition of a $295 Reverse Sensing System and a $795 Navigation System, this Fusion SE’s delivered price is $40,585.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

If you choose a Hybrid Fusion, you will lose considerable trunk space compared to a gas powered model. The high energy battery pack occupies a substantial section of the trunk floor, leaving you just a little flat storage area before the floor steps up sharply to house the battery and electric motor components. Note that although your warranty will cover all Energi system bits for 15 years or 150,000 miles, the high energy battery warranty is limited to 10 years or 150,000 miles. Since this Hybrid is only capable of covering 21 miles before its battery charge expires, the trunk space trade-off would seem to pose a considerable deterrent to selecting a Hybrid Fusion. An SE with gas motor only retails for just $23,855, and comes with an unobstructed and spacious trunk.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

But the beauty of this Hybrid lies in its virtually undetectable transfer from electric to gasoline mode when underway. Whereas most such combo cars let you know quite clearly and noisily when switching from electric to gas power, the Fusion transfers energy source quietly and seamlessly. Under full electric power, it proved so quiet that we were able to sneak up on a bobcat hunting in the wild without alarming the cat. An idling gas engine would have instantly driven this cat into the bushes. So there are unanticipated blessings when running silently on electricity. Another Hybrid virtue is the shot of thrust the electric motor provides when you flatten the throttle. The 2.0 liter gas engine which normally provides 141hp and 129 pound-feet of torque, links up with the electric power source which adds 118hp and 117 pounds of its own torque. That’s more than enough surge to spring past slower traffic on two lane roads, or slot into a 70mph freeway pattern without worry. Best of all, you’ll do so while averaging 43 MPG in overall driving. If you restrict your Fusion outings to electric power only, you’ll register 100MPGe. As far as the Energi’s Greenhouse Gas Rating, it scores a perfect 10 out of 10 on the EPA/DOT barometer, and a 7 out of 10 on the Smog Rating scale.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

Unfortunately, Ford equips the Energi SE with rock hard (Treadwear Rating: 430) Michelin Energy tires (225/50R17), that lose grip at the least provocation on twisty back roads. Because this sedan is otherwise so well balanced and sensitive to steering input, the Michelins detract from an otherwise pleasant handling package. If you replace them with something stickier, you might sacrifice a few MPG in favor of improved adhesion. It’s a move well worth making.

Learning to love the Fusion is easy because the interior is so well designed. In SE trim, the driver’s seat is heated and offers 10 power adjustments as well as 3 memory positions. The other front seat is also heated, with 4 power position controls. The rear seat is surprisingly comfortable for long trips. I spent several hours in back, comforted by a large center armrest containing 2 drink holders, and a pair of small, floor-mounted AC vents with adjustable nozzles. the only rear seat demerit stems from the Fusion’s high beltline and small windows, which tend to induce claustrophobia and motion sickness if you enjoy reading while riding.

Ford’s Fusion is leading domestic mid size sales because it looks good, rides well and offers a wide variety of combinations and price points. The Energi SE is one of a handful of Hybrids that’s not only economical to run, but also fun to drive.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with VVT-I, plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 270hp
  • Torque: 280lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/ 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,875
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium

Tuesday August 26th, 2014 at 4:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium

By David Colman

Hypes: Plug-In Convenience with Mainstream Attributes
Gripes: Overly ‘Helpful’ Steering, E-Motor Performance Marginal

If you relish having the most expensive house on the block, then the Fusion Energi is definitely the Ford you’ll want to own. You can buy an entry level Fusion S for just $21,900. An upgraded SE is $23,855. A top level Titanium series Fusion costs $30,500, with incremental jumps to $32,500 for either the Hybrid or the all-wheel-drive version. At the very top of the pyramid stands our plug-in Hybrid Titanium test car, with its base price of $40,500, and its as delivered sticker of $45,310. You can partially justify the extra cost by proclaiming the plug-in feature will save you bucks in terms of fuel cost. But it will take you just short of forever to recover your initial expenditure, which is more than double the cost of a base Fusion.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium

This is not to say that the Energi is a sedan without merit. It’s nice to roll into your driveway and plug this Fusion in for its night time battery recharge. With a special 240V outlet, you can refresh the 300 pound lithium pack in just 2.5 hours. The Energi, however, runs out of electric energy at just 20 miles. If that range meshes with you daily drive, then you’ll never need to visit a gas station again. But for most of us, 20 miles will get us where we’re going, not back home again. To cover the shortfall, Ford has provided a 4 cylinder in-line, 2 liter gas motor which kicks in when needed with 141hp and 129lb.-ft. of torque. The electric motor alone is good for 118hp and 117 pounds of torque. If you have battery reserve, you can combine the two sources of motivation by depressing a button on the steering wheel. Those quick bursts are enough to make passing slower cars possible, a feat not necessarily feasible on electric power alone. With both sources of propulsion in use, the Fusion Hybrid Energi will cut a 0-60mph run of 8.6 seconds and top out at 104mph.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium

Ford has elevated the interior of the Fusion, in Titanium guise, to top level status. The seats are excellent, with special accolades going to their enveloping and adjustable lower back support. The steering wheel contains so many control buttons for cruise, stereo, and incidental information, that you will find it difficult to keep your hands focused on driving rather than programming. The instrument binnacle contains two vertical bar graphs, with the left side dedicated to electric charge information, and the right side providing fuel tank status.

The constant velocity transmission (CVT) offers little in the way of help when you suddenly need more oomph from your drive train. Your choices are restricted to D (Drive) or L (for additional downhill braking), with no paddles connected to the steering wheel for manual shifting. When you’re in full electric mode, dependant on just 118hp to motivate this two ton sedan, you will be a full time occupant of the slow lane. Braking is regenerative, with the heat of brake application being diverted back into the electric energy supply chain. Although the Fusion’s brakes at first seem slightly mushy, they never change their engagement point on successive applications. This will come as a welcome benefit to those who have sampled regenerative brakes that behave inconsistently.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium

The steering effort on our Energi, however, displayed seemingly erratic behavior. At times it felt like the wheel was difficult to turn, at other times it kicked back subtly for no apparent reason. After experiencing this disconcerting behavior for a day or so, I belatedly realized such feedback was intentional. Thanks to the $1,140 Driver Assist Package, the Fusion’s steering is designed to tighten whenever you chain lanes without signaling first. Not only does the steering stiffen, but it also vibrates as it resists your input, even guiding your Fusion back into the lane you’re in. Personally. I would pay $1,140 extra to delete this annoying “feature.”

Steering anomalies aside, the Fusion Energi is one of the best plug-in Hybrids you can own. It tops the list because it makes so few concessions to its special status as a plug-in. Its brakes are dependable and consistent. Its power flow is acceptable in EV mode but better in tandem power mode. It’s a full size four door family sedan, though you do lose significant trunk space to battery storage needs. Its exterior and interior design reveal the same flare and finesse that characterizes the entire Fusion line. If you want to go green, and can afford to spend liberally upfront to save in the long run, the Fusion Energi is a good Hybrid choice.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium

  • Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC inline 4 cylinder plus AC Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 141hp (gasoline)/ 118hp (electric)
  • Torque: 129lb.-ft.(gasoline)/117lb.-ft. (electric)
  • Fuel Consumption: 43 MPG (gasoline)/100 MPGe (electric)
  • Price as Tested: $45,310
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Tuesday June 10th, 2014 at 11:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

By David Colman

Hypes: Porsche Performance at Motorbike Price
Gripes: Why Carp?

Drivers who still consider a car to be a precision tool rather than a blunt appliance will rejoice that Ford is into the second year of production for the sublimely satisfying Fiesta ST. With its affordable base price of just $21,400, this five door, five passenger hatchback is a slam dunk choice for any automotive enthusiast needing more than two seats. Few competitors in this price range come close to matching the sheer joy of driving the ST on a winding back road. VW’s soon to be introduced seventh generation GTI, the hot hatch that started the whole craze back in 1984, will carry a window sticker of $24,395. For that kind of money, you can afford to upgrade the Fiesta ST with the $1,995 optional Recaro seats and still beat the bottom line of VW’s standard bearer by a hundred bucks. The other main contender in this sporting market niche is Honda’s Civic Si, with a base price of $22,405 and a 201hp engine that overpowers the front wheel drive system.

Despite the fact that the Fiesta ST’s turbo motor makes 197hp, you rarely encounter torque steer. This is a beautifully balanced platform designed to handle the instant shove provided by the turbo four’s 202 pound-feet of torque. Although you have 6 gears to select in either manual or automatic gearbox form, the ST’s turbo spools up so fast that gear choice is almost irrelevant. Still, it is a pleasure to stir the cogs with a slick, short throw linkage that facilitates travel from gate to gate. The manual transmission is finely tailored to enhance the driving experience. Just as finely tailored are the optional and expensive Recaro front seats, which afford full upper torso support unmatched by any other economy sedan. Strap into these ribbed cloth beauties and you’ll feel like you’re about to take the starting flag at Le Mans.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

While this hot hatch’s race breeding might leave you starry eyed, don’t overlook the fact that the ST is still a Fiesta, with all of that car’s innate useful virtues. For example, you’ve got 4 doors to ease entry to all 5 seating positions. You’ve got more green house glass than the Crystal Palace, so visibility in all directions is superb. Ford even throws in a rear window wiper at no extra cost and contributes heated front seats for the same price (free). Our test sample boasted a negligibly expensive ($795) navigation system with rather rudimentary graphics. But there’s nothing basic about the Sony premium audio system that’s standard ST fare, or the similarly standard automatic temperature control that lets you dial cabin comfort without taking your eyes off the road. Try pricing these niceties on some of the German competition, and you’ll quickly realize what a cozy financial package the ST represents.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Back in the 1960s, Chrysler Corporation was notorious for devising unforgettably named muscle car colors like Plum Crazy. Ford has happily extended that playful tradition with our Fiesta ST’s jarring shade of ($595 optional) Envy Green. Imagine a fresh lime dissolving in a sea of amber Corona beer and you get the idea of Green with Envy. Few cars in any price range own such visual bragging rights. And in the sub $30,000 category, blatant eye currency is virtually unattainable. But Envy Green just laughs at such preconceived expectations.

Better yet, this turbo terror’s performance exceeds even the vaunted promise of its flamboyant appearance. No bend is too tight to devour, no straight too short to gobble. Equipped with summer-use-only Bridgestone RE 050A Potenza rubber (205/40R17), the ST will slither through a slalom as fast as you can crank its fat rimmed steering wheel from lock to lock. And between those corner apexes, the turbo lights its afterburner so quick that you’ll find yourself dealing with the next apex Right Now. Although the ST masquerades well as a family conveyance, with all of those doors and seats, storage and conveniences, its true merit lies in its exceptional handling. If you’re looking for a practical hatchback but secretly hanker for something to autocross or time trial at track days, look no further than the Fiesta ST.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

  • Engine: 1.6 liter GTDI inline 4, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 197hp
  • Torque: 202lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26 MPG City/36 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,580
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Focus 4-Door Titanium

Monday June 2nd, 2014 at 8:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

By David Colman

Hypes: Great Directional Stability in Rain
Gripes: Tight Rear Seat

Ford has mastered the art of building a cheap car that doesn’t feel cheap. You won’t find any telltale signs of penny pinching when you drive a Focus. The charcoal leather trimmed front seats envelop you so hospitably that three hour sittings pass without complaint. Standard five stage seat heaters ease the journey at no extra expense. Ford has crammed the standard issue Focus with such thoughtful addenda as a tilt/telescope steering wheel, one touch drop of the driver’s window, remote fob lock and unlock, and push button start. Sony provides the excellent audio components, while Ford adds its own navigation unit for $795 extra. A rear view camera which displays its image on the large navigation screen is standard equipment. You’ll be pleased to discover that Ford provides easily modulated dual zone climate control at no extra charge, as well as power operated and heated exterior rear view mirrors complete with wide angle inserts and built-in puddle lamps.

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

Yet this extensive portfolio of goodies costs just $25,500, navigation upgrade included. The cabin of the Focus Titanium is so competently organized that you could easily drive this 2,995 lb. compact hatchback across the USA without hesitation or discomfort. Especially compelling are the 17 inch Cooper Zeon RS3-A mud and snow rated tires (215/50R17) which offer a premium combination of ride comfort and responsive handling. They especially earned their stripes during a scary torrential downpour on US 101 near Gilroy where they never lost their grip on the flooded pavement.

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

While the 160hp output of the Focus’ inline four cylinder motor may seem paltry on paper, in practice it’s more than adequate for zippy but economical forays. We were able to complete a week of Bay Area commutes plus a 120 mile jaunt from San Rafael to Monterey before refilling with a paltry 9 gallons of standard grade gas. Despite this remarkable fuel efficiency (overall EPA rating of 31 MPG), the Focus never felt underpowered. Ford has achieved a rewarding balance between economic operation and responsive engine performance.

If 160hp is not enough to light your wick, consider the Focus ST, which Ford turbocharges to produce 252hp – more than enough to spin the front tires off the rims. The ST Focus is available only with a 6-speed manual transmission. Our Titanium test car eased city driving with its 6-speed automatic gearbox which includes a “Sport” mode gate. When you slot the lever into “S,” you’re able to control up shifts and down shifts via a rocker switch inconveniently located on the shift knob. Although this method of gear override is fairly compliant with your wishes, it occasionally decides to up shift on its own with no provocation from you. This idiosyncrasy can prove inconvenient during passing maneuvers.

While Ford offers a 5-door hatchback Focus, we spent the week driving the conventional 4-door sedan version that combines a huge trunk with a 60/40 split-fold down rear seat that gives you almost as much storage space as the hatchback but with the added benefit of more privacy for your valuables. The amount of luggage the Focus trunk swallowed without protest was a real eye opener: 2 hard shell cabin trolleys, two large soft sided duffel bags, a hard shell large plastic storage bin, and numerous paper sacks stuffed here and there. No matter what we threw at the Focus, it obligingly accepted. All this despite the fact the Ford has positioned a large, space grabbing Sony sub-woofer along the right side flank of the trunk.

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

Although the rear seats are tight for adults, the Focus sedan would make an ideal companion for families with two sub teen children. For that quintessential foursome, the Focus offers just the right combination of interior space, ample hidden trunk storage, and economic propulsion to make it a prime candidate for the prime American garage.

2014 Ford Focus 4-Door Titanium

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter Inline 4 with Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 160hp
  • Torque: 146 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/37 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,500
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta SE

Monday May 26th, 2014 at 8:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Sporting Tendencies, Practical Interior, Gas Genie
Gripes: Lacks Rear Seat Legroom, Distracting Rear View “Spotter” Mirrors

The latest Fiesta is an undeniably handsome design, with its ground hugging snoot, upturned tail, and primly pursed Aston Martin copy grill imbuing it with unexpected flair. The only discordant note in the stylistic aria is struck by the 15 inch SE standard alloy wheels, which are visually swamped by spaciously flared wheel wells. It’s been a long time – 40 years to be exact – since a 185/60R15 tire was considered to be the hot setup in street rubber. It’s not that these Hankook Optimo H426 tires perform without merit, rather that they just don’t look the part on this otherwise up to date styling exercise. The only thing you’ll really appreciate about these tires is their cheap price when it comes time to replace them with new ones. But if this were my Fiesta, I’d upgrade it with Plus 1 (16″) or Plus 2 (17″) tire and wheel packages, either through Ford, which offers both, or via an aftermarket supplier. In either event, the new Fiesta will look more like something from the 21st century than an artifact from the groovy Sixties.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

In addition to its cleanly sculpted body, the SE Fiesta offers the impecunious buyer a host of other, more practical advantages. Topping the list is its negligible purchase price of just $15,450. You can hardly buy a decent motorcycle these days for that amount. Our test SE’s electric “Blue Candy” tint added a negligible $395 to the bottom line. Its “Power Shift” 6 speed automatic transmission, a $1,095 extra, bumped the bottom line to $16,940, still a sensational deal in the automotive scheme of things today. I would forego the optional transmission in favor of the standard 5-speed manual, which is such a pleasure to operate that it makes the lightweight (2,665 lbs.) Fiesta feel even sportier than it really is. The manual gearbox facilitates ratio choice, a job which is rather a chore with the automatic, which lacks paddles, and requires use of a minute, stick-located toggle switch to swap ratios.

You won’t be overwhelmed by the passing power of the Fiesta’s 120hp, 1.6 liter four, which makes just 112 pounds of torque. On the other hand, you’ll love how long it takes to drain this Ford’s 12 gallon fuel tank. We zipped all over the Bay Area for a solid week before stopping to refuel, because the range on a single tank is nearly 400 miles at 32 MPG overall. On highway trips, you can run close to 470 miles before a recharge, since the Fiesta is good for 39 MPG on the freeway. Of course, your butt might give out before your fuel supply, because the cloth seats of the SE are pretty much entry level in terms of adjustability and comfort. Fore and aft travel is manual, as is seatback rake, which is inconveniently controlled by a lever shrouded by the shoulder harness. Steering wheel angle is also manually adjustable, but there is no provision for altering reach.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

The rear seats are useless unless your Fiesta is full of occupants no taller than 5 feet. Even then, your rear passengers will have to duck their heads to climb aboard. Anyone 5’8″ tall will find a dearth of knee room back there, and just 1 inch to spare in headroom. On the other hand, the Fiesta is perfect for packing 2 adults up front and a pair of kids in back. Ford even provides seatbelts and headrest for a 3rd, center mounted victim in the rear seat. Even with a full load of 4 or 5, the sedan leaves you with a surprisingly spacious trunk of 12.8 cubic feet. If your cargo requirements call for more storage length, the rear seats flip down in a 60/40 split pattern, though you’ll need to remove the rear headrests prior to flattening the seats.

Because the Fiesta is so small and nimble, it’s unexpectedly fun to drive. Even in this mildest state of tune, the SE offers immediate throttle response when you’ve dialed up the proper gear ratio. The steering is refreshingly accurate, and you can really boogie on back roads in spite of the Hankook’s modest adhesion limits. If your interests tend more to sporty driving than basic transportation needs, Ford’s Fiesta product line includes the turbocharged ST with 17 inch rims and 197hp. But for most occasions, the base engine is more than adequate. It may be hard to believe, but for the price of an entry level Harley Davidson bike, you can buy a genuinely useful, economic and good looking little sedan that exudes value and versatility.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

  • Engine: 1.6 liter DOHC Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 120hp
  • Torque: 112 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/39 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $17,735
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Escape SE FWD

Thursday March 20th, 2014 at 2:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious Cargo Hold, Remote Keyless Entry, Precise Handling
Gripes: Tiny Info Screen, Poor Seat Bolstering, Finger Twisting Rear Hatch Handhold

For such a small SUV (106 in. wheelbase, 178 in. length), the Escape scores reassuringly high on safety institute (IIHS) crash tests, with “Good” ratings in the all four categories (frontal offset, side and rear impact and roof strength). From the US government, the Escape rates 5 stars in front and rear seat side crashes, and four stars in all the rest (frontal crash- both sides, and rollover). These ratings are due in large measure to Ford’s inclusion of a driver’s knee airbag, front seat-side mounted airbags, and a “safety canopy” overhead bag. Adding to the security blanket for 2014 is a rear view camera, now standard on all models. This proves especially helpful when backing up the Escape, because visibility to the rear is not great. All these passive safety measures work in consort with such active safety strengths as responsive handling, respectable acceleration, and pinpoint steering control.

The Escape model line includes 3 engine choices this year: a 2.5 liter 4 (168hp), 1.6 liter turbo 4 (173hp) or 2.0 liter turbo 4 (231hp). Ford’s press pool vehicle paired the 1.6 liter turbo 4 with a 6-speed “Selectshift” automatic transmission. The Selectshift moniker is something of a misnomer, as the system depends on a shift lever mounted button to swap gears that is both hard to locate and inefficient in use. Better to supply paddles on the steering wheel, or a tip-stick method for gear choice. The 1.6 liter 4 returns admirable gas mileage figures (23 MPG City, 32 MPG Highway, 26 MPG overall), while still providing enough torque (184 lb.-ft.) to tow 3,500 pounds. In normal part throttle use, this drive train provides quiet, ample power. However, when prodded hard, the little turbo tends to shriek louder than tennis vampire Maria Sharapova.

The Escape handles better than its seats handle you. There’s no lack of cornering bite from the Continental Pro Contact tires, which are quite sizeable (235/55R17) for an SUV of such modest proportions (curb weight: 3,675 lbs.). In fact, the abundant cornering power generated by the Escape tends to chuck you off your cushions in the SE’s front seats because they have no side bolsters and they are upholstered in grip less charcoal black cloth. The optional leather seats available in the Titanium Escape, are better contoured to counteract this SUV’s ability to dislodge you. The interior of the Escape is impressively large. If you flop the split (60/40) rear bench seatbacks forward, you can even slip a full size bike through the rear hatch and lay it flat in the cargo hold. You can equip your Escape with an optional self-opening rear door for 2014 triggered automatically when you kick your foot under the back bumper. Our test SE, unfortunately, was not supplied with this latest automotive parlor trick.

The steering wheel of the Escape is festooned with so many knobs and buttons that it will make your head spin. Not a great idea when you’re tasked with concentration on driving. A couple of times, we inadvertently triggered a voice that impatiently awaited commands we were unprepared to issue. The over abundance of minute controls and menu-driven operations is emblematic of Ford’s continued reliance on its Microsoft-derived operating system called MyFordTouch. MFT is as baffling as Windows, and much more dangerous to operate in a driving environment than Windows is at your desk. By diverting your attention from driving, MFT’s opaque methodology tends to undercut the passive safety measures Ford has incorporated into the Escape’s basic architecture.

Notwithstanding ergonomic gripes, the front-wheel-drive Escape is a solid, practical mini-SUV offering handling, tow capacity and storage space that belie its humble size and mechanical specification. At a base price of just $25,550, the SE presents the potential buyer with enough virtue to make it a contender in the final round of consideration.

2014 Ford Escape SE FWD

  • Engine: 1.6 Liter Inline 4, Turbocharged (Ecoboost) with Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 173hp
  • Torque: 184 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,840
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Ford Fusion Titanium AWD

Tuesday December 31st, 2013 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Sweet Motor, Excellent Balance, Precise Handling
Gripes: Sharp Edges on Lower Steering Wheel Spoke

The Fusion ticks the “best ever” box in a number of departments for Ford. Its form fitting seats rate this accolade, for example, by providing such tightly molded support that you don’t want to leave them when you’ve reached your destination. The tailored looks of the Titanium Fusion are fetching enough to make you cast a parting glance at it every time you walk away. Interior furnishing are slick enough to convince you you’re driving a German built Audi, not a Ford made in Mexico. And the driving experience is precise enough to make you think you’re wheeling a BMW rather than a domestic product. So what’s the secret to all this success? Good design augmented by even better implementation.

The fun starts under the hood, where the 2.0 liter turbocharged “EcoBoost” engine makes a prodigious amount of horsepower (240hp) and torque (270lb.-ft.) given its modest displacement and excellent 25 MPG overall fuel consumption. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that any Grand Prix engine producing 120hp per liter would have landed in the winner’s circle at every Formula 1 race on the schedule. This direct injection gem of a Ford motor processes its fat torque curve through a creamy smooth 6 speed automatic gearbox featuring “SelectShift,” a proprietary Ford gear changing system that utilizes both a console lever and steering wheel paddles to manipulate gear choice. If you slot the console lever into the rearmost position designated by an “S” for Sport, the transmission automatically revises its program to favor use of lower gears, higher engine speeds, and faster shifts from gear to gear. In the Sport range, the diminutive paddles adjacent to your thumbs on the steering wheel become operational. In other words, the Fusion can be driven like a true sports sedan.

Fortunately, it also enjoys the kind of handling precision and all wheel drive traction that usually costs far more than the Fusion’s base price of $32,200 might suggest. The only optional item enhancing performance on this test car was a set of 19 inch alloy wheels for an extra $695. These “H-Spoke” dark stainless colored aluminum rims mounted beefy 235/40R19 Continental Conti Sport Contact tires that stuck to the pavement assiduously. Ford has snubbed the suspension movement of this Fusion effectively. It will cut apexes with the best sedans Europe has to offer. Those scooped bucket seats pin you in place while the taut springs and shocks do their job.

But we can keep the little secret about this car’s exceptional handling between us, because you can sell it to the family as a practical and safe means of transportation, and nothing more. After all, the 5-passenger Fusion scores high on the Institute For Highway Safety’s Rating System, with “Good” results on all 4 crash tests. Up front, standard dual stage airbags combine with knee bags to afford maximum driver/passenger protection. Side curtain airbags are also standard fitment. The rear seat is spacious and inviting, and the low beltline of the Fusion’s redesign for 2013 emphasizes outward visibility. Ford has also improved airflow over exterior surfaces by 10 percent, resulting in a corresponding increase in fuel economy at freeway speed.

The cockpit of the Fusion Titanium is a restful and well crafted space. I noted very close tolerances at the tricky joint where the dashboard meets the door panel. In fact the only interior demerit was a failed retraction spring on the passenger side grab handle which allowed the handle to dangle. Microsoft’s” MyFordTouch” computer system interface inhibits intuitive programming of the infotainemt system. But once you’ve mastered that hurdle, the system does work well. Below the removable coin holding tray in the compartment between the front seats. you’ll find a pair of memory stick receptacles which you can use to load all your musical choices into the Fusion’s memory. Ford uses Grace Note software for all disc and music file identification. Although our test Fusion boasted several expensive technological additions (including a $1,000 Driver Assist Package for lane keeping, a $995 radar Adaptive Cruise Control, and a $795 Parking Assist) you can easily do without any of them and still enjoy the many primary virtues of this sedan. However, a rear window wiper would be a useful option that Ford does not offer.

The Fusion Titanium AWD offers exceptional value, great comfort, and such sublimated driving pleasure that anyone canvassing the market for a sports sedan ignores this impressive Ford at their peril.

2013 Ford Fusion Titanium AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 270lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/31MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $37,670
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302

Wednesday May 1st, 2013 at 12:55 AM
Posted by: Francois

Hype: Stellar Cosmetics, GT Grunt
Gripes: Clunky Door Slam, Distracting Wide View Ext. Mirrors

Front to back, here are the significant features of the “base” Boss 302:

  • New aero package to reduce lift
  • A completely revised 444-horsepower engine with unique head castings, different exhaust valves and exhaust-side cams, upgraded internal materials in the valvetrain and pistons, and a long-tube custom runner intake drawing on Ford’s Daytona Prototype experience
  • The “Brembo package” found as an option on the 5.0 and supplied standard on the GT500 is here as well, upgraded with specific brake pads by Performance Friction and special brake lines for improved pedal feel
  • Stiffer springs surrounding five-position adjustable shock absorbers, and a bigger rear swaybar
  • Three-way adjustable electric power steering
  • A second set of exhaust pipes exiting to the sides to reduce backpressure and terrify anybody who happens to be in the same tunnel as a Boss 302
  • Nineteen-inch wheels with Pirelli P-Zero tires

That’s a long list of revisions, and they’re all important to the Boss mission of “balanced performance.” But as we climb the sixteen-percent grade of a Monterey canyon road, it’s the monstrous engine that makes its presence most immediately known. This car is too fast for all but the most gnarled back roads, reaching effortlessly into the triple digits between corners and pulling relentlessly from three grand all the way to the 7,500 rpm soft rev limiter. No factory ponycar has ever offered this kind of pace in these conditions — only Ford’s own 2011 aluminum-block GT500 can even mount a challenge.

After just a few miles of observing this car’s ability to warp time and space, we back off the throttle and relax. As good as the brakes are, they really aren’t up to the challenge of endless ABS-cycling high-speed entries down long, steep hills. It would take Corvette-ZR1-sized platters to dissipate that kind of heat, but this is a car that costs less than a base ‘Vette. Time to back off — and we’ve made the right choice, as the local police have woken up to the fact that there are a dozen Mustangs with side-facing exhausts racing around the area. We’d better find a place where this kind of power can be safely uncorked.

Compared to the Sibling: The Ford Mustang GT
Mustang enthusiasts have had more special editions to choose from than Baskin Robbins has flavors. Every year Ford or Shelby float new and tasty variations of this quintessential ponycar. One of the best packages in the car’s 49 year history is the California Special version of the Mustang GT. This package, which carries a surcharge of $1,995, substantially changes the look of the GT by adding faux side scoops behind the doors, a pair of working black air vents atop the hood, a pedestal rear spoiler, and ever-so-subtly faded hood stripes which match equally unobtrusive “GT/CS” side stripes. This economic package also includes unique black billet upper and lower grill bars highlighted by a tri-star pony badge, special front splitter with fog lights, and unique rear diffuser and badging.

Ford continues the custom motif inside, with model specific lettered floor mats, special front seats with Miko suede inserts and logo-embossed head rests, and a distinctive silver “GT/CS” inscription on the faux carbon fiber dash board. In the Sterling Gray Metallic shade of our test vehicle, these filigrees looked distinctive without being garish. A final pedigree is provided by black enameled, silver machined “GT” inscribed alloy rims (19” x 8.5”) bearing beefy Pirelli P Zero Nero competition tires measuring 245/45ZR19. The rims and rubber did wonders for both the looks and the handling.

This test GT/CS harnessed the 5.0 liter V-8’s 412hp to a 6-speed automatic ($1,195 extra) which includes, for the first time, a SelectShift Manual Mode. To engage this feature, you must first move the floor-mounted stick fully rearward into the Manual gate, then make your up and downshifts using a rocker switch appended to the left side of the shift knob. Due to the small size and remote placement of this switch, manual selections are difficult to make. This super sporty Mustang deserves paddles on the steering column, or at the very least, a bump stick for manual shifts. Given that the standard 6-speed manual is such a pleasure to operate, you’d be well advised to save the grand plus you’ll spend for the SelectShift automatic.

Because Ford equipped this particular GT with a 3.15:1 rear axle ratio, it returned 20 MPG in mixed driving. This is excellent mileage for such a powerful V-8, but I would have gladly forsaken a couple of MPG for better low end performance, by equipping the GT with a 3.37, 3.55 or 3.73 limited slip rear end ratio. All of these are available at no extra cost, and with any of them, the improvement in acceleration is remarkable.

Even with its gearbox and rear end limitations, the GT/CS Mustang is still a total blast to drive. You can hang the rear end out like a NASCAR star, because the sticky Pirellis always save the day. The fat rimmed steering wheel’s electric power assist provides accurate information about tire placement and adhesion. Although you can deselect traction control at will, the system is so well engineered that you never need to override this safety net to enjoy maximum performance. Above all else, the Mustang GT is a driver’s car. With GT/CS enhancements, it looks enough like a Kal Kustom to make you George Barris. In reality, though, this GT costs just $40,230.

43 years ago, Ford produced a limited run of 1968 California Special Mustangs (complete with faux side scoops) that have become cult cars in the collector market. There’s absolutely every reason to believe the exact same fate awaits this excellent reincarnation.

2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302

  • Standard Engine 5.0L V8
  • Standard Transmission 6 Speed Manual
  • Cylinders 8
  • Horsepower @RPM 444@7400
  • Fuel Economy Cty/Hwy 15/26
  • Combined Fuel Economy 19
  • Engine and Transmission: 5.0 V-8/6M
  • skidpad 0.89 g.
  • 1/4 mile 12.92 sec.
  • 0-60 4.7 sec.
  • 1/4 mile 112.47 mph.
  • Star Rating: 9 Stars out of 10

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Review: 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

Tuesday April 16th, 2013 at 8:44 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Mileage Champ, Pugnaciously Cute
Gripes: Goofy Dash, Rock Hard Tires, Whiny CVT

If Ford’s C-Max Hybrid represents the future of cars, I’ll start reviewing toasters. This expensive derivative of the $16,995 Focus costs $31,085, weighs a whopping 3,639 pounds, but makes just 141hp in petrol mode or 188hp in combined petrol/electric mode. Saddled with a noisy CVT (Constant Velocity) transmission, the C-Max whines its way laboriously to thrust. The faster you accelerate, the more noise you generate from the drivetrain. It makes you want to plop the C-Max into the slow lane on the freeway and stay there. Although it posts a combined city/highway fuel economy rating of 47 MPG, it will take you a couple of decades before you recoup the $14,000 price difference to a petrol powered baseline Focus.

Ford has reinvented the concept of the dashboard in this car. Instead of providing such essential information as water and oil temperatures, greenie marketing types have installed a plethora of video games designed to challenge your environmental commitment. There’s a “Tutorial” slate from which you can chose such hot topics as “Braking Coach,” which assesses your proficiency at maximizing energy reclaimed through regenerative braking. If you tire of that game, which appears in the left quadrant of the instrument binnacle, you can always scan the video depiction of a tree that occupies the right quadrant. The number of “Efficiency Leaves” dropped by this shrub indicate your level of energy conservation. The fewer leaves and vines you drop, the more efficient your driving. Drop enough leaves and you’ll need to revisit the Braking Coach for a repeat seminar in pedal application. To win all these video games, just park the C-Max and drive something else. Is there anything greener than an undriven car?


With all those video distractions available, driving C-Max is the mobile equivalent of texting on your iPhone while trying to avoid bumping into people on the street. Sure, if you focus clearly enough, you can pay attention to your driving, but it’s too easy to get caught up in the conservation strategies. Ford conscientiously renders most of the Apps inoperable while driving, but there are still enough dash delights to keep your mind occupied by everything but the road ahead.

Block off the video console, and the C-Max provides a satisfying driving experience. The electronically assisted power steering, for example, is precise enough to enable you to clip apexes with impunity. The leather wrapped steering wheel affords a solid grip thanks to two flared paddles at the 10 and 2 positions that give you better leverage when the road throws curve balls at you. The Michelin Energy Saver A/S tires (225/50R17) are surprisingly clingy given their rock-hard 480 treadwear rating. The downside of this rubber choice is the Michelins need to be inflated to 38 PSI. At that pressure, the C-Max bounces its passengers around like toys in a Piñata.

With both rear seats erect, the C-Max provides 25 cubic feet of storage space, Dropping the rear seats increases that number to 45 cubic feet. The $2,215 Equipment Group 302A transforms the interior of the C-Max into a hospitable, luxurious environment by adding a Power Liftgate, Rear View Camera, Premium Audio and Navigation. The diminutive sedan accepts 4 adults graciously, 5 in a pinch, with large enough doors to ease loading and disembarkation.

The C-Max Hybrid looks positively practical when compared to its Plug-In brother, the “C-Max Energi” model, which costs an extra $7,750 and travels just 20 miles before its EV supply dies and its petrol engine kicks in. If you are a confirmed greenie, the C-Max Hybrid makes much more sense the Energi. But if you just like to drive, this pricey Hybrid doesn’t make much sense at all.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, 141hp + 118hp AC Motor
  • Horsepower: 188hp (Combined)
  • Torque: 129 lb.-ft. + 117 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 47 MPG City + Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,085
  • Star Rating: 6 out of 10 Stars

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2013 Ford Flex-SEL AWD Review

Wednesday February 20th, 2013 at 1:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Handsome, Comfy
Gripes: Irascible Dash Controls, Parking Woes

It’s not often I lose a fight with a turn signal indicator, but the stalk on this Flex had me flummoxed. So much pressure is required to move the lever, that half the time it wouldn’t budge until after the window of need had shut. In a microcosm, that recalcitrance is emblematic of the Flex’ testy driver/vehicle interface. For example, if you want to turn the seat heaters on, you can only do so if the proper screen is displayed on the driver information center. No physical buttons for this task are present. If it’s really cold and you’re wearing gloves, you can’t activate the touch screen without first removing your gloves, since the screen is sensitive to heat rather than just pressure. Also, if you want to change interior temperature settings, the dash provides poorly differentiated receptor spots that issue a barely audible click when touched. So you need to look at the display screen to confirm any temperature change you think you’ve made. It’s an unsatisfying, time consuming and attention diverting procedure.

Ergonomic transgressions aside, the Flex is a true family warrior, with easy seating for 6 spread over 3 rows. If you delete the 2nd row console ($100 option) you could easily squeeze 7 into this sizeable bus. The rearmost pair of seats fold flat but must be removed for access to the sunken load floor. The 2nd row seats are auto-folders which facilitate quick conversion from bus to truck. Interior room is vast, thanks to a stretch limo wheelbase of 117.1 inches and a cargo hold of 83.2 cubic feet with all rear seats folded. The price you pay for this interior convenience is measured in size and weight. The Flex is a road giant with a length of 201.8 inches and a curb weight of 4,471 pounds. Given those figures, it’s nothing short of amazing that this behemoth manages to return 19 MPG in overall mileage.


What’s even more surprising is this big boy’s spunk and agility. The base engine, a 287hp, 3.5 liter V-6, is 25hp more powerful than last year’s standard offering. But the base V-6, with 255 lb.-ft. of torque, is good for towing just 2,000 pounds of trailer. If you plan to tow a 4,000 pound load, however, you’ll want to opt for the 3.5 liter twin-turbo V-6 which ups horsepower to 365 and makes 350 lb.-ft. of torque. Outside of the towing limitation, the base V-6 is plenty punchy in normal driving. This engine parses power through a 6-speed “Selectshift” automatic transmission with manual gear selection available through a floor-console mounted lever. Steering response is more communicative than you might expect. It’s never difficult to place the front wheels directly on an apex, and the all-wheel-drive system keeps the 18 inch Goodyear Assurance tires (235/60R18) churning relentlessly through each and every switchback. You won’t mistake the Flex for a sports agility vehicle, but considering its size, it gets down the road with alacrity. To this end, Ford has retuned Flex’s 2013 chassis components for better road feel. Passing power is good, handling is commendable, and outward vision through the vast glass acreage is superb.

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