The publishing in October of spy pictures of what the general “net” has dubbed a “Fusion ST” makes us wonder what Ford’s intentions would be for this car: is it a canyon-carver taken out of the same mold as the Focus ST, or it is another attempt at an “executive express” as the original SHO was designated when it was originally introduced. Being a big fan of canyon-carving, but also having owned two original “executive express” SHOs, we’ll predict the “executive express” route for this car. But, wait, there’s already an SHO on the market. What will become of it? More on that later. Note that we’ll use the “ST” designation in this article although we have to doubt that ST will be the model name in production.
The existence of this prototype at this point in time in the development of the 2017 Fusion tells us that the final product will be delivered as a 2017 model in late-2016 as part of the overall Fusion mid-cycle freshening. And while the pictures clearly indicate this is a sporting Fusion, there are a number of things we don’t yet know about the car. So in the absence of more spy pictures, we’ll take an educated approach to predicting the specifications of the car based on what we know about the current Ford sport sedan philosophy, as well as current and future Ford engines and drivetrains, and the application of this to a 4-door sports sedan.
Updated 2015.11.21: The 2017 Lincoln MKZ has been announced with an optional AWD model using the torque vectoring system as developed for the 2016 Focus RS, as well as a new twin-turbo 3 liter V-6. This means that thanks to platform sharing, the engineering for the torque vectoring system is available for the Fusion and only software changes are needed for whatever torque distribution characteristics the engineers wish for driver. Therefore the stage is set for this system to be a part of a sporting Fusion.
Ford has had a checkered past in North America with the success of its 4-door sports sedans. The problem hasn’t been so much engineering ability as it has been a continuing cycle of gaining focus to make the initial effort, and then loosing focus and failing to follow thru with updates. First came the brilliant 1989 Taurus SHO, followed up with slight (and necessary) updates for its second generation. These first two generations of the SHO were big successes for Ford – not in sheer numbers but more importantly as a demonstration of engineering prowess and capability. But then along came the third generation SHO with its odd oval-centric styling, and a V-8 SHO engine that was far detuned from what their engineers had originally developed. The gen-3 SHO was hobbled by its odd styling, weak engine, and lousy transmission. And by the leadership at Ford who attempted with to do with radical styling what the original Taurus did with engineering and practicality. The 3rd-gen was a misfire in the market, as was the base Taurus itself.
Next came the excellent Lincoln LS with a state-of-the-art RWD high aluminum content platform, co-developed by Ford and Jaguar. The first generation all-new “DEW-98” platform was intended to be used for a range of cars at Ford ranging from the Mustang to the Thunderbird to both smaller and larger Lincolns. Instead, when Bill Ford purged all things “Nasser” (plans and people), the chassis languished, didn’t get the updates already in the pipeline or that partner Jaguar was introducing into their own version of the platform, and was then cancelled when it became dated and noncompetitive.
More recently Ford introduced the 4th generation SHO in 2010… but as a mega-size Taurus with a morbidly obese weight problem (at 4368 base pounds, ~1000 pounds heavier than the original Taurus SHO). Smoking its brakes in magazine road tests left SHO enthusiasts depressed… and losing performance tests to the excellent Infiniti G37S had enthusiasts looking elsewhere. The only success of this current SHO is that it provided the engineering basis for the Ford Police Interceptor, which is the only version of the Taurus which is selling at all.
Ford also introduced a Sport version of the Mazda 6-series based 2010-2012 Ford Fusion that provided some hope for enthusiasts looking for the same type of sports sedan as the original Taurus SHO. And while the potential was there, thanks to Mazda platform architecture and a new Ford V-6 engine, Ford wasn’t focused enough to take it any further.
Meanwhile Ford of Europe had been hard at work continuously updating their Mondeo, taking it from what we once knew here in North America as the Contour. The Contour was a severely de-contented Mondeo, because in the European market the Mondeo is the pinnacle of Ford’s product line, versus North American have been conditioned for larger cars packed with options. Ford of Europe even offered an ST version of two generations of the Mondeo, which brought back visions of Sierra Cosworths of the past.
And then Ford got smart (out of financial and world market necessity) with the “One Ford” mandate, where Ford would drastically reduce the huge numbers of platforms across the world to only a single small set of platforms that would then be used worldwide. And Ford of Europe was already developing a phenomenal new Mondeo that would be used worldwide for the first time. All the right elements were present in this car, from the right size for the market to a wide range of modern engines as well as excellent dynamics. While Ford of North America got the car first in 2013 rather than second (due to the European economic situation and a battle with the radical European labor unions over a plant closure), the Europeans finally got their car for 2015 along with additional Europe-specific body styles (wagon and hatchback) and engines. Most importantly, like the Focus and Fiesta before it, Ford of Europe was responsible for the chassis tuning and provided the same excellent handling and dynamics that they had already engineered into the Fiesta and Focus. And while the European Mondeo offers summer tires and slightly better shock rates than the North American Fusion, it’s still the same car worldwide and driving enthusiasts like the car but also recognize the untapped potential of the platform.
Disclaimer: we don’t have inside information from Ford, and if we did we wouldn’t reveal it. The following is an educated prediction only.
All the required major pieces to make the Fusion into a sports sedan are on the shelf already. So we don’t see the creation of an ST as requiring a major financial investment by Ford, or even needing a major development budget. For example the 2.3EB is drop-in identical to the new Twin Scroll 2.0 EcoBoost that the updated 2017 Fusion will get (which the platform-mate Ford Edge already has). The larger brakes are also likely borrowed from the Edge. The Fusion architecture is already architected for AWD, so there is already accommodation for a rear differential and exhaust routing, etc. More on these (predicted) specifications further down in this article, along with a table of specifications.
Whither the Taurus SHO?
The 2017 Fusion ST makes the morbidly obese SHO (4368 pounds base) even more obsolete than it already is. The Fusion ST will be lighter, faster, more economical, and have more room inside. In fact we’re very glad to see that it brings us back to the same general size as the original 1st gen SHO. And while it won’t have the high-winding characteristics of the original SHO engine, the ST will provide the kinds of dynamics that made the original SHO a success with enthusiasts, as well as power, economy, handling and quality that the original SHO could never approach.
Given that the entire Taurus line is selling very poorly and that the SHO is only a tiny fraction of those sales, is there any point left in continuing the SHO? And isn’t it about time for Ford to address the original SHO enthusiast with a sophisticated replacement that does everything better?
Any sporting Fusion to be built in North America would likely also debut in Europe as the Mondeo ST (and don’t forget Australia – this type of fast Ford is part of their national character!). The suspension tuning and dynamics would be identical worldwide (as we’ve already seen in the Fiesta ST and the Focus ST and RS). Better yet, hopefully (and preferably) the European engineering arm of Ford will be assigned responsibility to perform the same suspension and steering magic they have already done so well on the current ST and RS cars as well as ST, RS, and Cosworths of the past 30 years.
Look closely at the spy picture and you’ll see the same type of grill and under-bumper spoilers as the Focus ST. But at this early point in time there is no indication from the pictures or confirmation otherwise as to what engine or drivetrain will be used. The only thing obvious changes are on the outside of the car: 19″ wheels, larger brakes (likely borrowed from the Edge), quad exhaust outlets, and the Focus ST-like grill. We like what we see here, this is understated and logical. Form follows function. We would like to see a major change to the rear taillights – the existing taillights look overly large and make the car appear both narrower and taller than it really is. Ford of Europe moved away from the “Evos” design language in the rear of the car, although the new Edge moves back in that direction with very narrow taillights. The 2017 Fusion would benefit from the approach.
And while we’re opinionating predicting, we’d like to see the excellent LED lighting system that already exists as an option in the Mondeo. It’s drop-in, it meats the U.S. Federal requirements, and it should be standard. The problem is that the prototype captured in the spy pictures isn’t so equipped.
Engine & Transmission
This is where the wishes of enthusiasts split: some enthusiasts want the full-tilt 2.7EB twin-turbo V-6 as found in the new Edge Sport/Lincoln MKX, others want a more balanced (and much lighter) approach with the 2.3EB 4-cylilnder dual-scroll engine. At this early point we believe the ST will use a variant of the 2.3EB dual-scroll, tuned slightly higher than the Explorer or MKC variants. This is easily engineered for the ST because the base 2017 Fusion will move up to the new dual-scroll 2.0EB, which is externally identical to the 2.3EB dual-scroll.
The bigger question is the transmission, and again enthusiasts are split between a manual transmission and an automatic. The current 6-speed automatic certainly doesn’t have the crisp shifts that ST owners would expect. It’s clear that an 8- or 9-speed automatic is somewhere in the development pipeline… but it’s also clear that with the Europeans setting the philosophy of the ST and RS products that a manual transmission would be used. Hence, we’ll predict that, and we believe that the Focus RS 6-speed transmission will be used off-the-shelf. An automatic can always be offered later if it’s justified in the market, and if an appropriate level of tuning can be programmed into the upcoming new automatics.
Another big question is whether the Fusion ST will be front- or all-wheel drive. There are two factors here to consider here.
First is the main drawback of a front wheel drive performance car: weight “redistribution” under acceleration from rest. Drive a Focus ST and you’ll see what we mean… the car is slower than it would be otherwise because FWD inherently shifts so much weight to the rear at the first sign of acceleration. Worse yet, drive a tuned Focus ST and you’ll see that a good portion of the increased power is not usable from rest. There is clearly a limit here, and even the last Ford Focus RS (FWD) with its trick front geometry failed to completely suppress torque steer. It also ultimately suffered from excessive understeer due to the use of a limited slip differential. And of course inherent in FWD is the front tires having to provide traction, steering, and braking.
A highly-boosted Fusion ST with 320 lb-ft of torque or more would suffer from significant weight transfer, the downsides of an open front differential and the limitations of having to rely upon brake-based traction control to attempt to keep itself in check.
And then there is torque-steer… look at one of the videos comparing the Focus ST to the MazdaSpeed3. There is one that shows the ‘Speed3 taking a right-hand turn towards a ditch because the torque steer is so bad that the wheel is ripped out of the hands of the driver. Some of the problem is in the architecture of the suspension, but most is inherent to the effects of trying to put so much torque thru a set of rapidly unloading tires. Compare a ‘speed3 (FWD) to a ‘speed6 (AWD) – same engine – and you’ll have an interesting lesson in the great benefits of AWD. This is what we want for the Fusion ST, just as it has become necessary for the evolution of the Focus RS.
And that’s the system we want, taken directly from the upcoming Focus RS. The Focus RS “dynamic torque vectoring” differential is state-of-the-art and can transfer up to 70% of the power to the rear and also move up to 100% side to side in the rear. This is far more sophisticated than Haldex systems, with far better driving dynamics, but also lots more expensive. Note that a Haldex system can only transfer torque front-to-back and the dynamic torque vectoring system can also transfer it side-to-side. This is the critical difference.
When Ford announced the Focus RS, they also announced at the same time that this torque-vectoring system would also be used in other future Ford products. We see the Fusion ST and the natural recipient of this technology and believe that it is not only necessary to match the power of the 2.3EB engine, but necessary to deliver the kind of dynamics promised by ST products. And it’s already engineered for the platform, as in the 2017 MKZ.
The engine is the heart of a Ford ST or RS product. But the ability to transmit that power at the driver’s command is the next consideration. This is an area where the spy pictures provide no guidance whatsoever. We know that Ford has a new automatic transmission underway for transverse-engine cars with more gears, and with appropriate tuning that could work. And we know that Ford has an off-the-shelf 6-speed manual with plenty of torque capacity for the 2.3 (and the engineering for the power take-off for any rear diff is already there). But we’re also reminded of the sales lesson learned many years ago in the matter of the manual versus automatic transmissions in the original SHO. The automatic clearly won out there. On the assumption that there is only enough engineering budget to certify one transmission, and on the certainty that the identical product will be offered worldwide, we’ll predict a manual transmission. This will be a winner in the eyes of the North American press, and in the expectations of the Europeans. It may not be a sales winner in North America, however. So the jury is out here.
Suspension & Braking
The Fusion ST has a broader mission that the Focus ST: the back seat will actually be used by passengers on occasion. Therefore adjustable shocks are a requirement and can be taken off-the-shelf from the Lincoln MKZ with appropriate retuning. Shock settings will range from touring to sport and will coordinate with the dynamic torque vectoring. And while the torque vectoring system can easily provide track and drift modes, given the mission of the car they won’t be offered here.
Larger brakes, likely from the Fusion Sport, would be 13.6″ and 12.4″ fr/rr. Any current Fusion owners driving their cars “quickly” will agree that the car needs larger brakes and more aggressive pads (and some additional anti-dive geometry would also help). Likewise, judging from the spy pictures, 19″ rims and 245 width tires will be provided, offered in both all-season and summer tread. There is room for more under the fenders, but 20″ wheels would be pointless and add significant weight. The ST-specific wheels on the prototype in the spy pictures are clearly 19″ wheels.
This is where the “executive express” concept comes into play. Since corner-carving is not the mission of the Fusion ST, we’ll predict that if Recaro seats are to be offered, that they will not be as aggressive as the Recaros offered as an option in the Focus ST or the Mustang. And that they should be an option. The Fusion Titanium seats already offer excellent comfort and support. Without getting a look inside the Fusion ST, we’ll have to reply on our own prediction here. We’ll predict (or hope) that an enhancement of the Titanium seats will be offered, with adjustable thigh support, slightly larger side bolsters, and especially added shoulder support. Both the current cooling and heating are a requirement, and the massage function offered in the European version of these same seats would be appreciated.
It’s a safe bet that Titanium-level electronics will also be offered, with navigation, the best stereo, and upmarket safety equipment such as radar cruise control will be standard.
The next question is the price of the Fusion ST. This is dependent upon the specs. AWD will add cost, and the Focus RS differential will add even more. An AWD ST with an 2.7 EcoBoost and likely features would be a minimum of mid-40s USD (using platform-mate Edge Sport as a model, which with AWD and 2.7 is about 45k) at least. An AWD ST with the 2.3 EB would probably be about $4k less. And the Focus RS starts at $37k according to leaked specs, although that is in a basic specification and options will take it to – we predict – $41k.
The next question is trim. We’ve already seen Ford experimenting with RS1/RS2/RS3 trim levels for the Focus RS, paralleling the Focus ST1/ST2/ST3. If that’s the pricing model to be used here, then we could see the Focus RS AWD system as an option, along with Recaros and all the electronics. But again, because this is a very limited-appeal “executive express” model, and because the price could easily balloon to over $50k, we’d predict a single Fusion ST model, AWD, and fairly “loaded” with driver aids beyond just navigation as an option. We see this as $42k USD.
We love the idea of the Mondeo hatchback… but we won’t see it because then Ford would have to crash certify this for the North American market and that would add significant expense to the engineering and certifications. Readers might suggest that a hatchback doesn’t fit into the concept of an “executive express” – but take a look at the Audi S7. It’s a hatchback. Europe offers hatchbacks on several up-market cars. They’re back in favor.
Specification Comparison Table
Here’s our comparison of specifications, showing the Fusion ST against the older Fusion Sport as well as two generations of the Taurus SHO. The original SHO is the model here and the Fusion ST comes as close to it as possible in size and weight, given the current safety requirements, the addition of AWD, and the features and options that current buyers expect. And, yes, the Fusion ST will be fairly heavy, the base Fusion is not a light car, but it will also perform its mission well and if the ST is accepted by the market, it will serve as a benchmark for the development of the next generation of this platform.