DEARBORN, Mich. - Ford hopes the redesigned Fusion will finally trounce the Camry.
The Fusion has become Ford's best-selling car since it went on sale in 2005, and it's one of the top sellers in the country. But Ford hopes the sexier styling, improved fuel economy and features like automatic parallel parking on the 2013 version will help it pass the perennial leader, the Toyota Camry.
Ford enlisted "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest to introduce the redesigned sedan alongside CEO Alan Mulally in New York's Times Square on Tuesday. It also held events in Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and at its headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.
The publicity blitz underscores the importance of the Fusion to Ford, which is rolling out the car to U.S. dealerships later this month. The midsize car segment is the biggest in the U.S., making up half of all car sales so far this year. It's also one of the most hotly contested.
Three of the Fusion's biggest rivals - the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Chevrolet Malibu - are also new this fall.
The Fusion starts at $21,700, which is less than the current Camry and in line with the new Altima and Accord.
But the price rises quickly. A top-of-the-line Fusion with Ford's automatic parking system, lane departure warning, navigation and other goodies is $34,580. An Altima with similar features is $31,950.
The Fusion has a more aggressive look, borrowing the chiseled, aerodynamic profile of Ford's other new cars, the Fiesta and Focus.
Its shuttered grille is gone, replaced by a diamond-shaped one at the end of a sharply creased, pointed hood.
Ford wanted the car to have a premium feel, so it took the extra - and more expensive - step of embedding the Ford badge in the hood instead of attaching it to the grille. Designer Chris Hamilton said the company wanted the car to look like it was worked on by hand.
Ford also incorporated feedback from global focus groups, since the Fusion will be sold all over the world. It redesigned the headlights, for example, after Chinese customers found them too sinister-looking.
The Fusion is the fourth-best selling midsize car in the U.S. right now, at 182,000 cars through August, and it's a key moneymaker for Ford. It's a strong new model but must duke it out in a hyper-competitive midsize segment.