Acura ILX vs. Ford Fusion

By Zack Klapman.

This may seem like an odd pair, sort of a Mike Tyson vs. Oksana Baiul situation, but look beyond the 12” size difference and you’re left with 2 cars that are selling modest underpinnings smeared with a creamy and affordable luxury spread; carryover drivetrains, with the bodies and interiors acting as freshly made pesto. The ILX is a Honda Civic for blue-er bloods. The Fusion is the sexiest reasonably priced 4-door sedan on sale today. Though technically in different markets, at the root, these cars are doing the same job.

Our testers were similarly priced ($31,400 for the ILX, $29,180 for the Fusion). The Acura starts at $25k, but with the optional 201HP 2.4L engine, and electronic niceties, ours broke the $30,000 glass ceiling. That’s a lot of money for a velvet pillow on a Honda bench. Since it weighs 2,900lbs, it pulls strong; faster to 60 than the Fusion. And it will give you 31MPG if you’re nice.

2013 Ford Fusion

But there’s a problem if you buy this “big” motor: It’s only sold with a manual. It’s a nice 6-speed, but it’s a mistake not to offer an automatic. It seems like a decision born of an Autoblog comments section. Offer a manual, don’t require it. If Lamborghini owners don’t want to row their own, I doubt many Acura buyers do. This isn’t the new Integra.

2013 Acura ILX

Inside is a sea of black plastic flowing toward a large button in the center, similar to the Hyundai Azera, but more dated looking. Everything is big, labeled, utilitarian. The 2013 Acura ILX took the ingredients “leather”, “black plastic”, “NAV” and mixed them together, without any kind of real style or panache. Everything about this car, from the comfortable ride, to the grippy-but-tippy handling, to the leathery interior, says, “adult commute”.

2013 Acura ILX

The Ford Fusion: The humbly priced beauty queen. It’s like an Aston Martin Rapide by the Kirkland brand; similar looks, bargain price. Some people criticize Ford for this, but I don’t know why. I prefer more pretty cars on the road, don’t you? Or would you prefer another Ford 500? Exactly.

So the outside looks good. Its size means it’s roomier than the ILX everywhere: hips, legs, shoulders, and bags. Even if you disregard the space, the Ford’s interior is much more exciting than the Acura’s, and (unlike the ILX) it will still look good and current in a few years. The entire cabin has a flow and art to it, and the materials feel good. It looks and feels more expensive than it is, always a good thing.

2013 Ford Fusion
But like fashion model, there are flaws inside:

1. I don’t like the touch-sensitive buttons. I like having tangible feedback that the action I just requested has been met; A click, a spring, something. I also found it hard to hit the button when looking down the road.

2. To say the radio-tuning dial had trouble keeping up is to say the sun is warm. Spin it like a top and you’re lucky to move the dial 3 channels. Going from XM 5 to 97 will take you an hour.

3. The gauges are a bit on the small side, requiring a longer look than most.

Those issues aside, the interior is a great place to travel. The seats are exceptional; the car feels sound. And though the 1.6-liter turbo-charged Ecoboost engine seems small, 184ft-lbs of torque gets you to speed easily, and breaking 100MPH is no problem. Steering feel was fine, and the shifter in our manual-equipped car (a clear journalist’ special) was light but felt good.

This car also surprised me in the corners. Its 3,400lb is not that heavy enabling the car to dart back and forth on canyon roads with surprising vigor. The cliché, “It drives like a German car.” fits.

Conclusion

Though I tend to judge cars on feeling more than numbers, it’s impossible to ignore the latter here. These are sedans for the adult moving forward in life, and numbers matter to those people.

For the same money as the ILX, the 2013 Ford Fusion gives you 6 more MPG, more space, and higher lateral grip. It’s heavier and less powerful, but you can’t tell. The feeling from the ILX driver’s seat is like a mushy Civic. It’s quick enough, turns well enough and it’s nice enough. But I still found the atmosphere dull, and if that’s what you want, you can find it cheaper.

2013 Ford Fusion

On the other hand, the Ford Fusion wins every test other than a drag race, it feels expensive, and has looks as universally celebrated as Farah Fawcett. The $30,000 question is simple: Ford Fusion.

Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Photos provided by Acura and Ford (Automatic transmission pictured).