SAN FRANCISCO — We’ve got to change our thinking about luxury, prestige and value. The old definitions, as applied to automobiles, simply make no sense.
We also need to rethink what we’ve traditionally deemed as “performance” and “handling” in the automotive media. As currently used, they are illusions — marketing handmaidens to television advertisements featuring fast cars almost always moving on practically empty roads.
Reality: There are no empty roads that can support that kind of driving — not here in the San Francisco Bay area, nor at home in the Washington area. In both places, you are best advised to start driving an hour or so before a scheduled appointment to get there on time.
It does not matter what you are driving. Prestigious automobiles are stuck in the same traffic jam as their lesser motorized brethren — moving no faster, going no farther. In such a circumstance, traditional notions of luxury and prestige are turned on their heads.
Would you rather be in the subject of this week’s column, a fully equipped 2014 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid, getting 47 miles per gallon overall using regular gasoline, or would you prefer a V-12 Aston Martin Rapide S sedan getting 16 mpg burning premium fuel?
The Fusion SE Hybrid is $36,000 with options. The Aston Martin Rapide S starts at $202,000 — and lacks some of the equipment found in the lowly Fusion SE Hybrid, such as automated parking assistance and inflatable rear seat belts.
Okay, maybe that is an overreaching analogy — but not by much. You are sitting in the same traffic congestion on the same road governed by the same traffic laws with the same penalties for infractions. I’ve never met a law enforcement officer who is less inclined to throw the book at you because you are driving an expensive car. Have you?
And why the expense? Other than the patina of exclusivity, what am I getting in a substantially more expensive automobile that I am not getting in the Ford Fusion SE Hybrid? Look at this car. It’s loaded.
It has a 2-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. Maximum output is 188 horsepower and 129 pound-feet of torque — not the least bit impressive for throttle jockeys, but more than good enough for urban commuting and safe, long-distance highway runs. Keep in mind that the purpose of the Fusion SE Hybrid is improved fuel economy, not top racetrack speeds.
Still, the Fusion SE Hybrid is no slouch in road performance or overall presentation. It is attractive inside and out — the latter in no small measure due to a bit of exterior design theft from Aston Martin, a company once owned by Ford. Cabin materials are premium, as is safety engineering. The Fusion SE Hybrid gets an overall five-star crash-safety rating — the highest awarded by the federal government.
It also comes with an admirable list of advanced safety options — blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, active parking assistance, cross-traffic alert, rearview video camera.
The available MyFord Touch communications system with an upgraded Sync package — eight-inch touch screen with an ancillary four-inch configurable gauge cluster — remains a bit too touchy for my liking. (I wound up turning on things I did not want on and turning off those I did not want off.) But I’d rather have it than not.
I ended my week in the Fusion SE Hybrid wondering why I would want to spend more for less. To impress somebody? To go zoom-zoom on roads and in traffic increasingly less amenable to zoom-zoom driving? Because I have the money?
And if I did have that kind of money, I now seriously doubt I would spend it on what now passes for a luxury automobile. As long as there are cars such as the 2014 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid, I don’t have to.