’08 Accord vs. ’08 Fusion

March 7, 2008

We've already published longer road tests for the Fusion and Accord, but I just did about a hundred miles of driving in top-of-the-line models of both, with a few days in each, and had the chance to really compare and contrast between the two.

The Accord we drove was an EX-L V-6 with Navigation, and the Fusion was an SEL V6 AWD — both with a bottom-line sticker price of $29k, rounding to the nearest grand. Between the two, equipment was actually quite similar; they were both loaded with power accessories all around, automatic climate control, heated seats, and such. The Fusion had all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic, while the Accord had front-wheel drive plus electronic stability control and a five-speed auto. The Fusion’s 3.0-liter ‘Duratec’ V-6 makes 221 horsepower, while the Accord’s larger, 3.5-liter V-6 makes 268 horsepower.

Ironically, our Accord was U.S.-assembled, while the Fusion is assembled in Mexico; some Accords also made in Mexico.

Seemed like just a few years ago, the mid-size four-door sedans were all looking alike — in fact then, when I was at one of the monthly car mags we ran a photo feature to show how ridiculously close they all were. But now that’s changed — just in taking a look at these two models, the proportions and styling details are completely different.

I’m still a big fan of the Fusion’s styling, two years into its life cycle. Unlike its larger sibling the Taurus, the Fusion continues to look contemporary and uniquely American, with a nice, upright angular appearance throughout that breaks away from the smooth, ovoid shapes of the past. The three-bar chrome grille still makes me squirm, but I guess a lot of you out there like it.

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The Accord, on the other hand, falls into a different styling category. It gets a more European influence this time around — I can see more elements from the Passat, C-Class, and even the 5-Series than from its Japanese or American competitors — on the outside, mated to an interior that feels decidedly upscale and Acura-like.

But the interior is what really distinguishes the new Accord from the Fusion. The Fusion’s cabin and dash is noticeably starker and simpler in design; fundamentally, that simplicity is appealing, but the Accord’s materials win us over with a richness and an upscale feel that brings it above. For instance, we lingered over some sharp, injection-molded edges showing in the area around the headlight switch, while in the Accord everything fit together tightly on close inspection with nary a creak.

The Fusion and the Accord have a completely different feel on the road as well. The Fusion is still more of a driver’s car, with a more overtly firm ride, snappier response from the throttle, more noticeable induction sounds from the engine, more decisive shifts from the six-speed automatic, and a level of handling and maneuverability that make it feel quite a bit smaller and lighter (they’re basically the same size and weight, with the Accord about three inches longer, an inch wider, and 90 pounds heavier).

Our only complaints with the Fusion were that the steering stayed overly boosted, as if parking, at mid-speed esses in the 20-40 mph range, road noise could be quite prominent on coarse surfaces, and headroom was borderline-tight.

Even though the Fusion feels peppier in most driving, the new Accord V-6 is really a bit faster, looking at acceleration times. There’s also more of a double-sided personality to this generation of Accord than the previous one. The throttle feels a bit less touchy than I remember; the steering is a little heavier and more firmly centered, the suspension quietly soaks up minor bumps, and the car carries itself as if it’s larger. However, stomp on the gas on a curvy stretch and the Accord literally changes personality, with a firmness and control that’s not initially expected. It’s not dissimilar to the tuning of the current (outgoing) Acura TL.

The Accord V-6 now incorporates the Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system, which temporarily deactivates half of the cylinders during coasting or cruising, after the engine has fully warmed up. While when this was first applied to the Odyssey minivan we could detect a slight vibration when it entered this mode, it’s now virtually seamless in the Accord.

VCM helps the Accord get a better 19 mpg in the EPA city cycle, versus 17 mpg for the Fusion, with its smaller engine, but it didn’t seem to have much of an effect on our overall mileage in the Accord. We drove both of these cars in short-trip daily errands and suburban-style cruising, broken up with frequent traffic lights, and averaged about 16 mpg in both.

I’m not going to call a winner because it’s a matter of priorities and preferences in this car, but in the city/commuter-style driving I was doing with these two I'd rather be in the Fusion. If comfort for longer highway trips — or leaving an impression on passengers — were an issue, then I might chose the Accord. These two cars will appeal to a different type of buyer, and their completely different personalities are both worthy of consideration.

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