We sit down with the lead engineer for Ford's all-wheel-drive Fusion Sport, and talk about the need to inject some excitement back into the mainstream sedan segment.

Within the Ford family, there’s no question that the Lincoln Continental was the star of the 2016 Detroit Auto Show. Production versions of flagship sedans tend to dominate our attention. But I was excited about the Ford stand proper, too, largely because the brand has ventured out into a niche that I’ve long argued deserves renewed attention: a performance sedan from a non-premium marque.

Ford has sold a Fusion Sport in generations past, but the trim descriptor has been historically misleading. “Sport” in the case of the 2017 car has some real power behind it: 325 horsepower, in fact.

"Based on customer feedback, this is one of the big unmet needs.”

There’s nothing like it on the market today. Chrysler offers the 200 S V6 with 295 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, but that still significantly lags the Sport’s 325/350 output. 

Chief Program Engineer Bill Strickland told me that the marketplace is asking for it. “We think, based on customer feedback, this is one of the big unmet needs.”

Starting at $34,350 (when it goes on sale this summer), those customers will have to be willing to pony up to nearly the top of the segment pricing as it exists now. But doing so will get them what sounds like a credible sports sedan, with continuously controlled damping, bigger brakes front and rear, a unique wheel/tire package with an available summer tire, and of course all-wheel drive.

It suits what Strickland believes his customers are looking for, “Not necessarily a track-ready car, but more performance, more fun to drive.”

With the critical success of the recent Ford Focus ST and Fiesta ST, the creation of this very able Sport model does make me wonder: Why not a Fusion ST?

Strickland again references Ford’s market research, saying simply, “That’s not what our customer base wants.” Right now the Fusion Sport isn’t a “track-ready” product that engineers would require before the ST badge was applied, with work done on extended cooling performance, amongst other elements. The team hasn’t ruled out an ST tune of the Fusion, of course: “Who knows, maybe in the future.”

Proof of its ability to deliver back-road smiles will have to wait until I can get a test behind the wheel of the Fusion, but I’ll admit to being excited for that drive. And I’m not alone; apparently shakedown drives of the Fusion Sport have been in high demand in the Ford executive and engineering circles. Even the guys building the cars crave some excitement in the world of midsize sedans, it seems.

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