This manual Ford Fusion is a “Four Door Sports Car” with maximum potential

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Sajeev Mehta

There’s no question I had “beige Camry fever” after experiencing the last—and possibly best—of the breed for myself. The Camry went from an unassuming beige wrapper with a standard five-speed manual transmission in 2007 to a legit, close ratio six-speed, gutsy 2AR-FE powered performer in 2009. But Hagerty reader Citationman explained my hesitancy to pull the trigger most eloquently:

“While I love this Camry–or rather the idea of this Camry—I say drive your other cars more. In the future there will be another unicorn you will not be able to pass up.”

I suspect he wasn’t expecting an alternative to arrive so quickly… but here we are. A stick-shift 2010 Ford Fusion. And behold, it is complete with a close-ratio sixspeed manual transmission. (Or transaxle, if you wanna be picky about it.)

2010 Ford Fusion SE manual transmission
It may not look like much… Sajeev Mehta

At first, I wanted to check out the Fusion just to say I did it. Then, something special happened when I threw it into a corner and mashed the gas. As Trae Tha Truth once said, “Broke up with my foreign car, and fell in love with a Cadill…” well, perhaps there’s no lyrical parallel to what I experienced in this front-drive Ford. Of course this is no ordinary 2010 Fusion—the face-lifted schnoz hides a bigger 2.5-liter Duratec (+15 horses) and the aforementioned manual transmission boasts six speeds instead of five.

Both the Fusion and Camry (alongside Honda Accords, Mazda6s, and Nissan Altimas, to be fair) are from a forgotten, tragically-overlooked era when sports-car dynamics were readily available in safe, comfortable, and modern family sedan wrappers. They didn’t come with SHO badges or 4DSC nicknames like their predecessors, and their natural aspiration and torque convertor-less attitude ensured there was no waiting around for power to shoot you out of a turn.

Ford-savvy killjoys can now interject with facts, such as that the all-new 2013 Fusion was a far superior car and also had a six-speed manual transmission. Which is a fair point, except the 2010 and the 2013 model are two meaningfully different cars that merely share an emblem. Two years ago, I enjoyed a brief stint in a 1.6-liter EcoBoost Fusion paired to manual transmission—coincidentally in the same color and spec as this 2010 Fusion SE. I came close to buying it, too, but the EcoBoost engines aren’t especially low-maintenance compared to the more durable and free-revving naturally aspirated Duratec 2.5. Let’s agree we aren’t discussing the Golden Age of muscle cars here, but in this respect at least there is, uh,  no replacement for displacement: the big 2.5-liter four in the smaller Fusion makes about the same power but is way more willing to give it up when prompted. The older Fusion is also lighter (by about 200 pounds) and is a far more delightful dance partner when it comes to handling.

The newer Fusion is a front-wheel drive luxury car sans prestige—and since I’ve already got one of those, I’m good. This 2010 car speaks to my incessant need to own a 1989 Taurus SHO, albeit with accoutrement that spoil us modern motorists in modern times.

2010 Ford Fusion SE manual transmission
Sajeev Mehta

Someone truly cared for this particular car, and that care started from day one when it was ordered. Unlike my other temptress, that not-an-LE Camry, someone ordered this Fusion SE with every option possible while still retaining the three-pedal setup. The selling dealership tinted the windows, which helped preserve the car’s seats and carpet. The steering wheel still has texture around its circumference, and the car even sports the factory floor mats along with two sets of Ford keys. Some of the interior door handles are losing their chrome plating, sure, but the rest is a throwback to a time when a modicum of soft materials made for an acceptable amount of luxury. It was an era between the heinous times of pre-bankruptcy GM interiors (cough, Pontiac Aztek) and what I would argue are the disguised luxury sedans of our current decade.

The chassis, too, demonstrates a brilliant blend of capability, durability and value. The aforementioned beige Camry wallowed and wafted over bumps, accepting throttle inputs as if they were gentle suggestions. Ford’s Fusion absolutely begs you to launch it hard, the gearing was shockingly aggressive, and its CD4 chassis hungrily ate every corner I threw at it. Naturally, you can’t judge absolute performance on 10+ year old cars with questionable maintenance, mismatched Chinese tires, and a brief test drives. But truths still emerge, because the Fusion’s bones are clearly the Mr. Hyde to the Camry’s Dr. Jekyll.

And yet, much like that Camry, someone mucked about with the poor shift knob. While a replacement (I looked, yes,) isn’t quite so easy to procure at the time this writing, I could pop off the six-speed face and install it on a global Ford Mondeo shift knob purchased from eBay. Or perhaps do the same from a stateside knob from a fifth-generation Mustang. So we have options—including a beefier rear sway bar (2 options, actually), wheel upgrades from the Mustang, and even an ECU tune that could net 20 more horsepower (on 93 octane gas).

The idea performance upgrades further whetted my appetite, and as a fan of OEM+ modifications, I looked down upon the dowdy SE-grade interior and wondered aloud if interior bits from the SEL might dress up the package. The leather-wrapped wheel with flat spots for your thumbs would be nice. Or maybe the fake wood bits with a wooden ball shift knob to match?

2010 Mercury Milan
Mercury

How about the bumpers, hood, trunk, grille, and airbag from a face-lifted Mercury Milan just to make Jack Baruth endlessly jealous of my unparalleled excellence? Jack will always be a better driver, but I’m confident Jill shall put my Fusion Milan on her list.

This and all other avenues are on the table when it comes to me and oddball Ford products, even though I must admit the Camry still has some hold on my attention. The Fusion was priced within $95 of the tired Toyota. In an unscientific experiment, I posted links to both of these listings on my Twitter/Instagram channels… and the Camry got a fair bit more buzz. Not a big surprise there, as most people have some kind of relationship with the ubiquitous Toyota sedan while they’re completely indifferent to a four-door Ford.

Camry vs Fusion manual transmission
So… which one is better? Sajeev Mehta

Indifferent to any Ford sedan, would be more accurate. It’s sadly understandable why Ford killed the Fusion toward the end of its life cycle: low public interest and heavy incentive spending are a one-two punch in automotive retailing. But for a magical, fleeting moment in time, you could get a surprisingly grin-inducing family sedan, good enough to satisfy a real enthusiast, in perhaps the plainest wrapper known to humankind. A manual Mazda 6 might be better (good luck finding one), and a Camry will always be more appealing in a humblebrag sorta way. But perhaps that’s just me? I guess the only question that remains is this: Which six-speed manual, big-displacement four-banger family sedan do you prefer?

(UPDATE: The Camry is sold as of this article’s publication, and it took fewer than 2 weeks for that to happen. Which just proves my point about the Camry’s mass-market desirability, truth be told.) 

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