At first glance, the seems just another generic, midsized sedan. But get in, step on the gas, and the power hidden under the hood delivers a fun, responsive, and exceedingly fast drive. This probably shouldn't be a surprise because of the car's close ties to racing. Ford introduced the 2006 and NASCAR Fusions at the recent Daytona 500. Their predecessor, the Torino, debuted at the 1968 Pearson NASCAR cup.

The test vehicle came in black, probably one of the reasons the vehicle looks a bit bland. But nice touches include lights under the passenger and driver-door mirrors that go on when you remotely open the doors.

Inside is a clean, uncluttered design. The black color theme continues, with a black pebbled-leather steering wheel, the shiny "piano black" center stack, and black leather seats. The rest of the cabin is shades of soft beige. A small storage area intended for sunglasses held a CD titled Ford Fusion Podcasts. Even though I usually dislike commercials, I sometimes appreciate clever marketing.

The instrument panel is intuitive and easy to read. Gages are silver-rimmed and have white letters and red pointers on a black background. A nifty chrome-trimmed clock sits near the CD player. The heated seat positions me squarely in front of the steering wheel and the Focus, unlike many vehicles, doesn't annoyingly continue to screech when you inadvertently forget to fasten your seat belt. It just makes a few discreet beeps and then stays silent.

The car grew on me, and the more I drove it, the more I liked it. The Focus begs to be driven faster, a plea that is hard to resist. The A 3.0-liter V6 Duratec engine produces 220 hp at 6,250 rpm and takes only a few seconds to get the car going 70 mph. The engine mates to a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. The L mode, which normally indicates low gear, actually boosts transmission rpms to provide engine braking on hilly, twisting roads. This extra control is great fun and definitely adds to the vehicle's race-car feel.

A double-ball-joint front suspension and hydraulic gas-pressurized front and rear shocks provide a firm ride that holds the pavement tightly. The car feels nicely stiff and the power rack-and-pinion steering delivers tight control and good handling on straightaways and around curves. Excellent braking is assured with power front and rear disc brakes. Antilock brakes are optional, as is "traction assist," said to provide additional stability and steerability.

The SEL comes standard at around $21,710. Options including a safety and security package with side air curtain, driver and passenger air bags, and antitheft alarm ($595), a premium package with heated power mirrors, compass, and on/off delay headlights ($395), and heated front seats ($295) put our test-drive Fusion at $25,230.