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Ford claims its new Fiesta-based Fusion is the world#;s first Urban Activity Vehicle, busting small car segments left, right and centre.

However, there are already vehicles on the market – Mazda#;s Demio and Mitsubishi#;s Colt Space Star, for example – that offer a similar squared-off, tall cabin and high seating position so it#;s hard to see why the Blue Oval is making such claims. Heck, Honda even did something similar with the Civic-derived Shuttle way back in 1984.

The launch late this year in Europe of a small SUV-lookalike, without four-wheel drive capability (though that has been promised for a Brazilian-made version heading to the USA for 2003), suggests that Ford has finally decided to market a ‘recreational’ vehicle sized and specified to appeal to European drivers who use narrow European roads and tiny car park spaces — those who so far have mostly rejected Ford#;s ill-conceived (for Europe) larger SUV offerings – the over-sized Explorer and the wrongly specified Maverick (Tribute).

The new Explorer isn#;t coming to Europe and the Maverick is already being discounted in the UK – not surprising as neither has been offered with a diesel engine, essential for success in the European SUV market where petrol is highly priced.

Ignore all the Ford PR blurb about crossing segements and creating unique niches and the Fusion boils down to a pleasant-looking, roomy, easy-access, easy-load, easy-drive (estate car) station wagon version of the new Fiesta hatchback, with which it shares much of its interior hardware and mechanicals. Sure, it rides a little higher than the class average which makes for easier getting in and out and speed bump negotiation.

Engines are two 16-valve Duratec petrols, an 80PS 1.4 and 100PS 1.6 and, more importantly, a 1.4-litre all-alumium 68PS common-rail turbodiesel developed jointly with the PSA Group.

But Ford still pretends all European buyers want manual transmission so the elderly buyers who like the easy cabin access but want a self-shifter will have to buy something Japanese. An automated manual may be offered later.

Ford says it has made the Fusion cabin more rugged than the Fiesta#;s and has designed in maximum glass area to add to the spacious feel, the lowest possible loading lip with a step-free load floor and plenty of stowage space (but where are the rear door pockets?). Up to six airbags will be available, but the company would earn more points from family buyers if it set a class precedent and included the side cushion bags as standard, rather than offering them only as an option.

European Fusion sales start in October and the model will also debut in the States for 2003, with optional all-wheel drive, courtesy of the Ford do Brasil factory in Bahia which will also build the new Fiesta. The US-line-up of what has been dubbed Ford’s “Korean fighter” will also include a hybrid petrol-electric model.