DETROIT – Ford takes the wraps off the ’13 Fusion at the North American International Auto Show here, a car executives say will redefine the midsize-sedan segment with striking design and advanced technologies.

“This is a segment that is one of the most important in the industry, one of the most competitive and one we have aspirations to grow in,” Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of global product development, tells WardsAuto in an interview prior to the unveiling.

“Our goal is not only to be segment leaders, but to offer a car that redefines the segment.”

The most dramatic feature of the new Fusion is its radically altered sheetmetal. The current car was known for its styling, but the ’13 version brings the 4-door model to a whole new level, says Chris Hamilton, chief exterior designer.

“Our goal for the new car was to give the mainstream sedan buyer a top-drawer visual experience, adding some emotional appeal to an already sensible choice,” he says. “From a design perspective, we knew we had to come up with something strikingly different.”

A number of objectives provided the direction for the Fusion design team, including silhouette innovation, refined surface language and a new fascia, Hamilton says.

The new Fusion does away with the 3-box design featured on the outgoing model and common in the segment. Instead, the base of the A-pillar is stretched forward and the B-pillar base extended rearward, a change Hamilton says doesn’t compromise ingress, egress or driving comfort.

The new model also features “character lines” running from front to rear for a streamlined appearance.

“We wanted the body surface of this car to feel tailored, like it’s been hand-sculpted, not like it’s been plugged into a computer and milled out in the corner of a factory,” Hamilton says.

The front fascia also represents a dramatic departure. The car gets a new upper grille positioned somewhat higher than the outgoing model’s and suggestive of higher-end vehicles such as Jaguar and Aston Martin.

A new Blue Oval badge is embossed and flush with the surface of the hood, a design cue Hamilton says is “something you’d expect to find in vehicles of a much higher segment.”

The long, slender headlamps wrap around the fenders and complement the thin, light-emitting-diode taillights.

The new face signals the evolution of the auto maker’s global design language for midsize and smaller cars, Hamilton says, referring to the new design strategy as “Kinetic 2.”

Inside are thinner seats and a higher-riding center console. Storage and interior space is expanded by moving the instrument panel forward.

Soft-touch materials are found throughout the cabin, and particular attention was paid to minimizing gaps between components.

Under the sheetmetal, the ’13 Fusion rides on an all-new global C/D platform that also underpins the upcoming Mondeo in markets outside North America. The new Mondeo will share most of the Fusion’s sheetmetal as well.

The Fusion will offer an array of powertrains not seen in any other midsize car. The ’13 model will be available with a 2.5L normally aspirated 4-cyl. engine; 1.6L and 2.0L direct-injected turbocharged EcoBoost 4-cyl. engines; and hybrid and plug-in-electric vehicle configurations.

The Fusion PHEV will be called Energi, a sub-brand Ford will use for all future PHEVs.

Offering five powertrains in the Fusion will help Ford grow in the segment, Kuzak says. “Customers expect midsize cars to be fuel-efficient, affordable or reliable, but not usually all at the same time.”

The 1.6L EcoBoost engine is expected to deliver 26/37 mpg (9.0-6.4 L/100 km) city/highway. Ford does not disclose fuel-economy figures for the 2.0L EcoBoost or the 2.5L normally aspirated mill.

The hybrid should achieve 47/44 mpg (5.0-5.3 L/100 km) city/highway, besting the ’12 Toyota Camry Hybrid and the ’11 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. It also will be able to travel up to 62 mph (100 km/h) in all-electric mode, up from the 42-mph (67-km/h) limit of the outgoing Fusion Hybrid.

The Fusion Energi PHEV will achieve 100 MPGe (2.4 L/100 km). Ford says the model’s fuel efficiency outperforms its top competitors, including the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius PHEV.

The Fusion Energi PHEV will be able to travel about 25-30 miles (40-48 km) in all-electric mode, says Kuzak, who likens the Fusion powertrain lineup to “the triple crown of fuel efficiency.”

Gas-powered Fusions will hit dealerships this fall, followed by the PHEV. Pricing has not been announced.

bpope@wardsauto.com