Heretofore, Sport-y Fusions have been so mostly in appearance; the previous Sport package could be applied to front-drive SE or SEL trims and included a gaudy interior upgrade, a rear lip spoiler, a stiffer suspension, 18-inch wheels, and not much else. For 2010, however, the Sport becomes an independent model—with either front- or all-wheel drive—that retains the stiffer suspension, “special” interior trim, and 18-inch wheels of the 2009 trim level and adds a tasteful and handsome body kit and its own unique engine. Indeed, the new Sport is the only member of the Fusion range to receive the 3.5-liter V-6 that was once exclusive to the Lincoln MKZ among Ford’s mid-size sedans. (Other V-6 Fusions use a 3.0-liter.) The 3.5-liter mates to a six-speed automatic transmission with manumatic shifting, and it will hold gears in a decidedly sporty way.

This all-wheel-drive Sport hits 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, 0.4 second quicker than a front-drive 3.0-liter Fusion SEL we tested. The Sport continues to walk away from the SEL beyond 60 mph, making it to 100 mph in 17.6 seconds versus 20 flat. (And that’s in spite of the Sport AWD’s 338-pound weight disadvantage.) Both, however, pale in comparison to the Mazda 6 s sedan with a V-6 and front-wheel drive; the last one of those we tested put up a 0-to-60 time of 6.1 seconds and needed only 15.4 seconds to reach 100. That “sport” is baked into the Mazda 6 from the start and includes balanced handling and good road manners, too.

Although our test numbers show the advantage of the 3.5-liter’s extra output over the 3.0-liter—increases of 23 hp and 26 lb-ft—the engine sounds raspy when pushed, resulting in three more decibels of noise entering the cabin at wide-open throttle. The six speeds backing it up are nice for highway cruising, but when called on, the transmission shifts a bit more lazily and sloppily than we like from something with sporting intentions. Against lesser Fusions, the Sport’s stiffened ride remains comfortable while body motions are better squelched, but we think the Mazda does a superior job of balancing aggression and comfort.

Back among the Ford set, the Sport’s governed top speed rises to 126 mph compared with 112 for the SEL. Fuel economy was considerably lower in our hands, as you’d expect, at 20 mpg versus 24 for the SEL. The Sport AWD is rated at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway by the EPA. Although the brakes performed better on the Sport than the SEL—requiring 196 instead of 203 feet to stop from 70 mph—we still wouldn’t call them good, or really even acceptable. (The Mazda? It needed 165 feet.)

Some of the Parts Are Out of Place

As to the dressier bits, the trunklid spoiler is just for show, and to our eye it’s not showing well. Ditto the loud interior; its blue seat inserts, blue-stitched accents, and blue anodized-look trim were all different hues and were visually arresting on vehicle entry. (The interior can alternatively be accented in gray or red; go for the gray.) But we’d keep the blue stitching on the door panels and wheel, and the seats themselves are supportive, with a mild bolster that kept us in place during spirited driving.

Fusion Sports carry a base sticker of $26,905, which is $1850 more than a Fusion SEL. Our tester’s all-wheel drive adds another $1850. A further $4770 in options—including blind-spot and cross-traffic monitoring, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, heated leather front seats, a sunroof, Sync-ified navigation, and upgraded Sony audio—brought the grand total to $33,525, hardly family-sedan money. Yes, the Fusion Sport does a better job of living up to its name than before, but we’re not sold on the package at this price; we’d rather spend the money on the more well-rounded Fusion hybrid or a serious sports sedan. If you just gotta have a sporty family car, allow us to point out that the Mazda 6 s we keep referring to starts at $27,200 and is a more satisfying proposition.

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