In the midsize car arena, there’s a storm brewing. A battle of the titans, if you will—it’s the thinking man’s Ali vs Fraizer, with Don Dunphy calling the shots. Honda is set to launch its newest Accord in September, as integral to the company as the iPod is to Apple. With Honda’s widely-acknowledged flubbing of the Civic, the Accord means even more now than merely snatching up comparison test victories. And after languishing in rental lots for years, Ford readies a new Fusion with a variety of Ecoboost, hybrid, and electric versions, in a beautiful wrapper that looks expensive and seems like the last thing to come from a company that once gave us the Escort.
If all of this seems like wasted hyperbole for what is essentially a family car, then you’d be forgiven for that. But these two heavyweights are among the most important cars to debut this year, and they’re what will be filling up your neighborhoods and your high school carpools by the end of the year. They’re not set to come out for a few more weeks yet, but we know enough about them now to make an educated comparison,”guesstimates,” as they taught us in high school chemistry. As Ali once said, it’s gonna be a thrilla, and a chilla, and a killa.
Based on what we’ve seen about the Accord, it will be dimensionally similar to the current car, not surprising, since the current Accord was still the third best-selling car in America last month. A source from Honda says that the next Accord will retain the same distance between the front and rear wheels (known as wheelbase) as the current car at 110.2 inches, but overall it will be slightly shorter. This is interesting, as it could mean two things. Smarter packaging means less weight, shorter overhangs over the wheels, and ultimately better handling. Or it could mean that the trunk is now smaller. We saw this with the current Chevrolet Malibu, which downsized its trunk and rear seat legroom to mixed reviews.
At first glance in fact, the Fusion looks like a far bigger sedan, with a few visual trompes d’oeil to make it look sleeker—but at 191.7 inches long, it will be dimensionally similar to the current Fusion’s length. The Fusion’s wheelbase, however, will balloon by more than 8 inches, giving it a two-inch advantage over the Accord, for less kneecap-eating potential in the front and rear seats, so there’s a chance the Fusion might have more room. It all depends on how Honda packages the Accord, which has always been the company’s strong suit.
Ford already released everything there is to know about the new Fusion. It will have three engines, each packing four cylinders, and ranging from 170 to 237 horsepower; that doesn’t include the Fusion hybrid and Fusion plug-in hybrid. Honda will match the Fusion with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection, a V-6 engine, and a plug-in hybrid to start; a regular hybrid will join the lineup later.
This V-6 engine will be important for Honda, as it’s an entirely new design—and a philosophy on the importance of “big-block” engines in a segment that values every drop of fuel economy. Sure, some will tell you that they love the feel of a V-6 engine. And the current Accord has a brilliant, quick motor: with 271 horsepower it produces as much power as you’d need in a family sedan. But what Ford’s playing at here is the tempting power and torque of a V-6 engine, but with better fuel economy. Whether Ford’s 237-horsepower, 2.0-liter Ecoboost four can keep up, as it’s down 34 horsepower and two cylinders.
Gas mileage? Ford’s most economical engine is its 1.6-liter Ecoboost four-cylinder engine, which is slated to return 26 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. Impressive figures, beating the Accord four’s 23/34 mpg best. The 2.0-liter engine—remember, this is designed to go against V-6 models—nets 23 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway. The current Accord’s V-6 gets 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
But, there’s no discounting what Honda has in store for us in terms of efficiency when the all-new V-6 engine comes out. And for many consumers, they’ll be left wondering whether those extra horses are worth the drop in mileage.
“We have a number of advantages over the competition,” said a spokesperson from Honda, “and that includes efficiency, packaging, safety—but the big one we’ll have will be ‘fun to drive.’” To that regard, the 4-cylinder engine of the Accord coupe and sedan will be available with a manual transmission, already guaranteed to be a veritable unicorn. (Hey, maybe it won’t be stolen as much.) Coupes with the V-6 will get Honda’s manual transmission as well. V-6 sedans will come with a 6-speed automatic.
But the big news on the transmission front will be a continuously variable transmission, long the forte of Nissan and legions of whiny, buzzy econoboxes. (The last CVT that Mini did, for example, was so bad it got sued for it.) Honda knows this all too well—and it says that the new CVT will be responsive, more efficient, and even faster than its manual counterparts, aimed at 4-cylinder models for buyers eking out every drop of fuel efficiency. How does 10 percent better mileage than its current 5-speed automatics sound? Because Honda is planning to expand the CVT in a big way, from the Accord to the CR-V to most of its upcoming lineup.
On the Ford front, the Fusion’s transmission lineup is less exciting: all engines get a six-speed automatic, and the 1.6-liter engine can be optioned with a manual featuring the same amount of gears. The 2.0-liter Ecoboost option can be had with all-wheel drive, however, which Honda has never sought to implement in its Accord.
How about style? “The Fusion is great,” said the man from Honda, “as long as you like Aston Martins.” Here’s the thing—lots of people like Aston Martins. The criticism that every Aston Martin looks the same is moot when it looks as good as an Aston Martin. The important thing here is that the Fusion looks expensive: less aggressive than the elephantine Taurus, but sleeker and fancier than anything in the midsize lineup, and suggestive of more than its $22,495 base price suggests. (Mazda’s upcoming 6 was just leaked recently, however, and its Takeri-infused styling will be a contender for the Miss Midsize Sedan pageant.) And from the concept Honda showed at Detroit this year—not to mention the numbers Accord spy photos we’ve seen—the new Accord will be an evolution, not a revolution like the Fusion.
So. The Accord and Fusion will be of similar size, while—as it stands, currently—the Fusion has the mileage part covered but the Accord has a more flexible drivetrain lineup. The Fusion is prettier, but the Accord is proven. One will float like a butterfly, but the other will sting like a bee. It all goes down later this fall—and we’ve got ringside seats.
Source: Ford, Honda