Desktop Drives: America’s German Sports Sedan
Why do people want to become automotive journalists? Money, fame, women? As someone who isn’t an auto journalist I am still fairly sure none of those really come with the gig. However, for myself, the answer is simple: press cars. That holy grail of “other people’s cars” is the icing on the cupcake, however on top of that it increases the breadth of cars available to journalists. I do not have this advantage, and as such some creativity is required. Welcome to Desktop Drives, a [hopefully] weekly comparison between two cars, using the information available to everyone. Video and print reviews, images, stat numbers, and anything else will be used to decide which car appears better—on paper at least, with my own verdict at the end. I would love to use my own pictures, but since I cannot, I will try and utilize press photos when possible however I used Car and Driver this week. The new Ford Fusion Sport provides a nice, new set of muscles to begin this series, comparing it to its German rival, the BMW 340xi.
For years now, if you wanted a capable sports sedan, you looked to the Germans. Of course, there were a few oddballs, like the Pontiac G8/Chevy SS, the big-engine SRT offerings, and the odd Lexus, but they never overtook their more pedigreed cousins. There is a reason that the major publications used the 3-series from BMW as the benchmark for fun, four door performance; it’s pretty great. I own a fairly tired, higher-mile 2007 328xi and while I know I have never experienced the car near its prime, it’s entirely acceptable. In fact, it is very well controlled, with smooth body motions, nice control, and a silky straight-six. The new top-dog from the Bavarian automaker in this segment—barring the M-tweaked products which are too focused for this comparison—is the 2016 340xi.
Normally a fair comparison would be reserved for fellow countrymen Mercedes-Benz or Audi; but Ford has recently decided to step into the fray and provide the contender, with their Ford Fusion Sport. They have offered a Sport trim-line before with the Fusion, however it mostly consisted of a visual change, along with a slightly revised suspension tune. The new iteration is a whole different game, featuring a trick continuously-computer-controlled damping system for its suspension which allows it to skip over potholes by bracing itself, an all-wheel drive system, and most importantly a 2.7L Ecoboost twin-turbo V6 serving up heaps of power.
As far as I know, Ford has not done any comparing themselves between the two models in the press, and as such it may seem pretentious of me to face them off. However, as the table below shows, they are much closer on paper than BMW would probably care for.
|Model: 2017 Ford Fusion Sport (Google Source)
Horsepower: 325 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 380 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Engine: 2.7 L Eco-Boost twin-turbo V6
MSRP: From $33,720 (fully optioned $41,960)
Curb weight: 3,681 lbs.
Dimensions: 192″ L x 73″ W x 58″ H
Overall NHTSA safety rating: 5 star
|Model: 2016 BMW 340xi (C/D numbers)
Power: 320 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 332 lb-ft @ 1380 rpm
Engine: 3.0L twin-scroll turbocharged straight six
MSRP: $48,795 (C/D tested price $60,420)
Curb weight: 3802 lbs.
Wheelbase: 110.6 in
Dimensions: 183” L x 71” W x 56.5” H
Overall NHTSA safety rating: 5 star
Close in every respect that is except for price. Even a fully loaded Fusion Sport, equipped with such niceties as automatic cruise control and seats which warm and chill your nethers, cannot come close to tickling the base price of a 340xi. Base model BMWs are very base indeed; the knowledge of being in a un-optioned model makes itself known immediately upon entry. In fact, a more favorable comparison with price as the main concern is achieved with the much slower and less sporting-capable 330xi: it features only 258lb-ft compared to the Fusion Sport. Score one Fusion.
The Fusion also trumps the BMW by being both physically larger, lighter, and more powerful than its rival from Munich. The normal benchmark, the venerable 0-60 time, cannot be used here. The Fusion has not been put through instrumented tests yet, and Ford has not provided any numbers. There is a single YouTube video which shows a time of 5.4 seconds, which is not startling speed. It should be noted that only 80 miles were on the engine, and it should gain more acceleration as it breaks in. Don’t be surprised for around 5 seconds to 60mph, which is certainly nothing to laugh at. While this absolutely decimates the Fusion Sports normal competition—the Honda Accord V6, Nissan’s Maxima 3.5, and the Camry V6—the BMW walks away with a Edmunds.com reported time of 4.4 seconds on their long-term vehicle. While surprising, there could be a few contributing factors. First and foremost is the development behind the two cars. The Fusion is a very capable-looking platform, however at its core it is a parts-bin special. The transmission is Fords corporate six-speed automatic, beefed-up and equipped with paddles, the non-torque vectoring AWD system is lifted from the Edge, the engine is the 2.7L shared with the F-150 and Edge Sport, and even the trick suspension is borrowed from the Lincoln stable—albeit with revised sport tuning. All of this helps keep price down, and does not mean that the end-result will not be good; however, companies like BMW design their entire model line with driving
This design focus is immediately apparent in BMW’s own press language on their website with phrases such as; “In 1975, BMW sparked a revolution with the 3 Series. And more than 40 years later, it’s still the benchmark of the segment it invented” and “Every evolution of the 3 Series embodies BMW’s intelligent approach to engineering”. While this might sound like they are tooting their own horn, most of the major publications would agree with them. There are no parts bin swaps here: the transmission is more sporting-oriented, with a manual on offer as well, the engine is a straight-six unit with plenty of pedigree and more than likely smoother operation, and the chassis is sporting with that magic BMW weight distribution. The xDrive system is more similar to the Fusion’s unit, than a car with more AWD sporting pretensions, such as an Audi S4 or WRX STi from Subaru. It does not feature any mechanical slip control in the form of differentials, but it certainly aides in acceleration and grip, shaving almost a second off the 0-60 spring according to Edmunds. While on paper the Fusion Sport seems to slap the BMW around, in the real-world the lead in development time—by almost 45 years—by the BMW seems to pay off. The BMW takes this score on this one.
The BMW continues to live up to its reputation visually. Of course this is subjective, but the exterior of the BMW is something I would show off, and modify to accentuate its good lines. The Fusion’s exterior on the other hand is a step down a notch. It is a good looking car for a family car, but the Sport is supposed to be a bit more than just a family car. It is simply too Plain Jane for a car with almost 400 lb-ft of torque on tap for my tastes, although this ‘sleeper’ status may be a draw for some. The interior is a similar story, with perhaps even more credit to BMW. I have been in the previous generation of both cars, and without a doubt the 3-series is in a different league than the Fusion. I am sure that Ford has stepped up its game in the mean-time since I have been inside a Fusion, but the BMW looks just as pleasing as ever, with more 21st century niceties to play with.
The seats appear to have better bolstering, and the materials seem a step or two above the Fusion, which is to be expected. On top of that, the configurator for the Sport is quite the tease, offering pretty looking white leather seats as the image for certain option packages, and yet dull, boring, black is the only option. By my eye the BMW scores on both exterior and interior fronts, however the worth of such luxury—in this case between $10,000 and $20,000—is up to the individual.
This article is titled “America’s German Sports Sedan” and the statistics seem to back this up with the Fusion Sport winning “Top Trumps”, with its muscly engine and fancy suspension. While looking into the cars for this story, I was fully in the Fusion camp and prepared to applaud it all the way to beating the 3-series, however once comparing the two packages, certain realities sunk in. I have no doubt that the Ford will be a blast to drive, even with the family in the back. If you end up with one I imagine you would be very happy; however, I do not think this explosion in technology and power in this segment exactly warrants a comparison of this nature yet by conventional customers. While on paper the Fusion seems to be encroaching on the BMW, the 3-series is safe where it stands. The interior qualities, overall car development, and yes, the badge, would in fact make it worth $10,000-$20,000 over a Fusion Sport for me. Therein lies the real answer: anyone cross-shopping a Fusion Sport and a 340xi, and who can safely afford the 340xi, will more than likely end up in that car. The only exception I could see, is someone who would really drive and modify their car, as even $10,000 could completely change the Fusion, with enough left over for tires and other consumables for years. Again, someone in this situation would probably realize that the BMW, as a purpose built machine, would handle any hard driving and hard modifications more readily than its Fusion counterpart. While the numbers game is certainly interesting with the Fusion so close to the 3-series, the BMW still takes the cake.
Stephen Hyden View All
I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.
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