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One and Done: The Best Midsize Sedan in America

The best midsize sedan in America, and four other cars.

By Jason Davis | Photos By Jason Davis | February 26, 2013

Cold Fusion

As most Californians do, we measure driving distance more by time rather than by actual distance. Gauging by time, we had a lot of ground to cover before the short day's sundown photo shoot, and worse if the rain made good on its threat.
That's when Married Guy #1 announced a route alteration. As a general rule, straight lines are the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B. Naturally, our route addendum bended those rules. We took the first exit toward Castaic Lake, a dammed lake at the terminus of the California Aqueduct famous for being the filming location for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show, to see which of our family sedans, if any, had any sporty pretentions lurking beneath. This is a good place to discuss the two very distinct approaches to building a midsize sedan. In one camp, there are cars not known for high styling, but which offer an easygoing ride with space to spare. In the second camp are cars that are styled to stand out from the pack, but which occasionally suffer from a lack of space to accommodate the pretty lines. The Honda Accord and Toyota Camry exemplify the former category, while in the latter you have the new Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu. It gets confusing when the sporty-looking car doesn't drive as sporty as one of its plain-Jane competitors. That was the case with our Ford Fusion SE, one of our two early front-runners. And let's be honest about our superficiality on this one: Looks do matter, and sometimes, what's on the outside can adequately mask deficiencies on the inside. Yep, the Fusion is a looker in an otherwise stale segment. "The Fusion was the most elegant and intimidating car in our comparison," said Bachelor #2. "Like a German car, it feels like it was carved out of a single piece of steel." "It's refreshing, and modern" said Bachelor #1, "and it looks more expensive than it is." And while we're still on the question of looks, the Fusion looks pretty great on the inside, too. It had, perhaps, the best-presented package of any sedan in the comparison. Married Guy #1 tried, but "couldn't find where Ford went cheap on the interior." Bachelor #1 spoke highly of the piano black accents and beautiful contrast stitching, and Might As Well Be Married Guy found it the easiest infotainment system to sync his iPhone to. Speaking of infotainment: the latest generation of MyFord Touch and Sync worked great. Bachelor #2 marveled that it no longer needed awkward catchphrases, and that it worked when prompted and without hesitation. And our audio snob, Married Guy #2, felt the Fusion's 6-speaker audio system was the most powerful in the group, and second in sound to only the Accord. But that's where the praise ends. "Don't let the looks fool you," Married Guy #1 cautioned, "the Fusion is not sporty feeling AT ALL." Most of our quibbles are the result of what's unseen. Under the hood, the 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder provided punchy acceleration, but it was hampered by a balky and confused six-speed automatic transmission. Off the freeway, the EcoBoost didn't respond promptly when we floored it, a characteristic it shares with many turbocharged engines. That's usually not a big deal since the power is strong when it does come on. As a defining rule, we're not an enthusiast source. But if Ford is going to build a $30,000 family sedan that kind of looks like a $100,000 Aston Martin, then it ought to at least partially live up to the billing. Sure, it was a capable freeway cruiser, but none of us expected it to be such a handful on country roads. "The suspension was all over the place," said Married Guy #1. "When I pushed it harder [in the corners], the thing leaned heavily. The suspension got really wobby; not sporty feeling AT ALL." "The transmission is too laggy, the engine is too laggy," said Bachelor #2. "The car doesn't want to get tossed into a corner the way the old one did. It just doesn't want to play." And that's a shame. The Fusion is almost a great car, and it's very appealing to look at and play with, but it doesn't fulfill the promise of its styling. "This car is sooo close to being the ideal family sedan," said Married Guy #1. "It's got high style, but it's just not high on substance."
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7 comments
DRJJJ
DRJJJ

The Accord is the best looking, but the Camry is the best choice if you're looking for reliability! The Camry has the traditional engine/drivetrain config-no direct injection and no cvt tranny like the accord auto! Read forums, these two features are over sold and may just lead to very expensive repairs down the road! I'm guessing manufacturers will regret DI and CVTs! These two features have not delivered as promise in the mpg department either as promised! All the cars are good looking outside and competition is tightening, but this should be known to the buying public! The chevy and chrysler engine/drivetrain is still sub par too ( I rent them), but getting better! Thanks, picky EngineerĀ 

Audi Love
Audi Love

The Fusion is the best of them all, honey! ^^^^^

Gregory Smitherman
Gregory Smitherman

I'm chevy all the way, both the Honda and Chevy Malibu looks the best.

Automotive.com
Automotive.com

It takes a little coercing to get our staff photographer (and talented writer if you haven't read the story yet) out of the dark dungeon known as our cubicle-walled office. But when he gets out, he does a great job. -Jacob

Alex Brown
Alex Brown

This is a great picture.... If the fusion was in a different color, I'd give it the best grill award. Def goes to Honda tho! :)