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By Jan Wagner - syndicated weekly columnist/photojournalist
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2006 Ford Fusion & Ford Explorer

 


View from The Cliffs Resort, Shell Beach

I was one of several journalists from all over California who converged on the Cliffs Resort in Shell Beach – halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. We were invited there by Ford to learn about their new 2006 Fusion and Explorer. The presentations were thorough, and left me with a good sense of both vehicles.

To begin our two-day experience, those of us from the southern part of the state all met in Los Angeles and those from the north met in Palo Alto. It was there where we traded our own vehicles for either a new Ford Fusion or Explorer. After breakfast, we then drove along a prescribed route to our central meeting place. This enabled each of us to put lots of miles on one of the vehicles.


Fusion in Solvang

The vehicle that I selected for the outgoing portion of the drive was the 2006 Ford Fusion. It was in a beautiful shade of red, my favorite car color. Along the way, which included a lunch stop in quaint Solvang, I encountered city traffic, open freeways and windy country roads. That really gave me solid first-hand experience behind the wheel in a variety of driving situations

The tech talk the next day would explain why, but my seat of the pants reaction to the Fusion was very favorable. It handled well and had good acceleration and braking. Its handling through the twisties was confidence inspiring. About the only regret that I had in my hours driving the Fusion is that it did not have a manual transmission. That 221 hp, 3.0-liter, V-6 engine is sweet. I hated not being able to precisely control the application of power myself. This drives like a sports sedan. The sad news is that a manual transmission is currently only available with the 160 hp 4-cylinder engine.


Fusion’s large, easy to load trunk

Interior space is roomy, and the conveniently flat trunk – at 15.8 cubic feet (not including the additional space that can be gained from the pass-through to the interior), is really large and also accessible, thanks to a low lift-over height.

A pleasant surprise is how affordable this car is, too. The standard vehicle has an MSRP of $21,710, making the Fusion quite affordable. My car also had such options as leather seating, heated front seats, a premium package, ABS and side air curtains, which brought the price up to $24,485 plus destination and delivery charges. I suspect the typical MSRP will be somewhere in the middle. 

2006 Ford Fusion

Something else that impressed me were the reactions from the public that I personally experienced while in possession of the Fusion. I had stopped at a pumpkin stand to take some photos of the car. While there, a small crowd almost immediately gathered around the car. One person told me that he really liked the car’s styling. I overheard another telling someone that they thought it was a new Cadillac – only to be corrected by someone else who pointed out that it is a Ford.

The next morning Rick Titus gave us a technical presentation on the Fusion. Rick is a former racer and an entertaining speaker. The content of what he said and especially what he showed us told the story with great impact.

The Fusion, as we learned, has a very sophisticated suspension system and it works. A video confirmed this by showing us what words could only suggest. Three vehicles did back-to-back runs at a set speed through a course delineated by traffic cones. The objective was to see how well each car was able to maintain control. This is an important test, because in the real world drivers occasionally need to perform emergency maneuvers. The three cars were the Fusion and two of its nearest competitors: a Toyota Camry and a Honda Accord. The Fusion emerged from that test as the clear winner. Surprisingly, of the three cars the Camry badly lost its ability to stay in control, with the tail violently sliding from side to side by the end of the course.


2006 Ford Explorer

The other vehicle that we learned about was the new Ford Explorer. I am a small car kind of person and have never owned anything as large as an Explorer. Consequently I was quite surprised by what Ford has been able to accomplish with the handling of this vehicle.


2006 Ford Explorer on autocross course

You’ve probably seen videos of the evil handling characteristics of older SUVs. I know I certainly have. So, it came as a great surprise to me that one of the ways that Ford let us personally experience the handling of their new Explorer was on a timed, competitive, north versus south autocross course! Yes, the same sort of venue where I regularly compete with my Miata is where we were told to go for it in an Explorer and a Fusion. Amazingly, the handling of the Explorer was excellent. Oh sure, its size as compared to the Fusion, and the very tight nature of this particular course, limited how quickly we were able to turn the corners, but this SUV stayed safely and securely on the road, and never once hinted at being scary at the limit. As a side note, I am proud to say that my previous autocross experience paid off with the winning time in the journalists’ competition.


2006 Ford Explorer’s frame

The reasons for the Explorer’s great handling are partially attributable to its new frame, which is 63 percent more resistant to bending and 55 percent more resistant to twisting. Here’s why, according to Judy Curran, Explorer chief engineer: “The suspension design and tuning are usually a compromise between ride comfort and body control. Tuning the suspension for a plush, comfortable ride over potholes usually results in a floating feeling on the highway and too much body lean in corners. The stiffer frame enabled the engineering team to tune the 2006 Explorer for much better impact dampening while still delivering confident body control during cornering.”


2006 Ford Explorer’s GPS navigation screen

My vehicle for the drive back to L.A. was an Explorer. I quickly got comfortable with the size of the vehicle, and appreciated its large interior volume and available creature comforts that included an in-dash GPS navigation system. The Explorer was very confidence-inspiring when torrential rains came down along the way.

As always, please share your stories and send your comments to AutoMatters@gmail.com. Enjoy the archives and more at www.AutoMatters.net. Drive safely and do join me again next time.

 

Copyright © 2005, 2006 Jan R. Wagner – #164r1 AutoMatters

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