October 21, 2009

Nothing personalizes your ride like a distinctive set of upsized rims. Our Bullitt-style 18-inchers are from Ford Racing. They're retro-stylish, factory-tough and surprisingly affordable - just what the accountant ordered for a daily driver.

A while back, we introduced you to our 2009 Fusion SEL V6 AWD. To call this a "project car" would be gross overstatement, yet here it is again. This sedan is, for us, what a similar Fusion may well be for you - a comfortable and competent daily driver with plenty of room for cargo and passengers, along with a good dose of style. Yet we couldn't leave well enough alone, because there are just too many Fusions on the road, and a little personalization is never a bad thing. But this isn't a pampered weekend toy - whatever we do to it has to be practical and (hopefully) stay within a reasonable budget.

Last time out, we began our upgrades by modifying a front-drive-spec Borla 304-stainless exhaust to work on our AWD platform - a job that required some creative fabrication talents and gave us exactly what we were looking for: tone without drone. By comparison, this time we tackle about the simplest of all bolt-on jobs - new wheels and tires. But in keeping with the "practical" theme of this project, our goal was to select new rolling stock that would best serve our SEL's regularly driven role. That meant tires that would stick like a fly's feet in both dry and wet conditions while still providing good longevity and ride qualities. And we needed to mount them on wheels that would stand up to our frequent visits to Detroit's weather-cratered pavement without deforming like a potato chip at the first Kia-sized pothole.

In researching rims, we came to the realization that an S197 Mustang's 5x4.5 bolt pattern and wheel backspacing/offset were compatible with the Fusion. Yup, odd as it may seem, many rear-drive Mustang rims will work just fine on what is essentially a front-drive platform. We had already decided on a reasonable 18-inch diameter for a practical (there's that word again) combination of style and ride comfort. This led us to peruse Ford Racing's catalog, where we came up with a rim that is both classically handsome and surprisingly affordable. While there are hundreds of wheel styles on the market that will fit a Fusion, we purposely opted for an OEM rim because we know they are impact and fatigue tested to extremely high standards. And besides, call us crazy, but we like the idea of putting Ford parts on our Ford.

We then went looking for rubber that would provide great all-weather grip for three seasons (we already have winter tires on our factory 17-inch rims) while still providing the good treadwear rating a daily driver needs. We settled on Continental's ExtremeContact DW - a new design that we've so far found to have tenacious grip partnered with very low road noise, great steering response and a generous treadwear rating.

More details follow in our captions...

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Shine On You Crazy... Rubber??
Many of the numerous tire dressings on the market give a wet, glossy finish, making rubber look more like hard plastic. If, like us, you'd rather have your tires simply look new, dark and fresh, then Black Magic's recently introduced water-based "Titanium Matte Tire Finish" may be worth a try. It worked for us.