Volkswagen Passat Vs. Ford Fusion Vs. Acura TL

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

Midsize sedans represent a massive slice of the automotive pie. These four-door cars almost single handedly (or wheely?) form the backbone of America’s personal transportation network, shuttling people practically everywhere they need and want to go. Yeah, they’re kind of a big deal, and as a salute to these hard-working automobiles they’re the subject of this week’s installment of Ask AutoGuide.

But this little feature is not a midsize shootout; sorry to burst your bubble like an inflamed appendix. Instead we’re comparing something established and familiar to a couple options that are alien and unusual; hopefully we won’t fan the flames of class warfare in the process. If you’re fixin’ for an automotive dogfight you won’t find it here, though we did post one last summer.

SEE ALSO: 2013-2014 Midsize Sedan Comparison

Anyhow, with that crap out of the way Michael and his wife have owned a 2006 Volkswagen Passat 4Motion wagon since new. The car has served them well for the past eight years as well as two presidential elections and one baby daughter. To better meet their needs and swelling family they purchased a VW Touareg in 2013. The upscale utility has the all-weather capability they need and more than enough interior space.

However, familiarity breeds contempt and with his existing model getting on in years Mike’s eye has started to wander. He’s begun exploring other options, though only in secret; he doesn’t want anyone else to find out. Concerns about the old girl’s mechanical integrity have risen to the top of his mind as the clock keeps on ticking. He’s also considering a replacement for the Passat.

And that’s one area where we can help, having earned an expert’s degree in automotive advice from a popular and likely accredited online university-style school. Michael wants a decently fun-to-drive sedan with a number of attractive options, though nothing crazy. Ideally the sticker price will be less than $35,000. What fits the bill? Let’s start with something familiar.

Yep, we just recommended another Passat, though if you notice it’s not a station wagon. This sedan suggestion is convenient for two reasons. One, Mike & Co. don’t need all that space with the Touareg serving active duty, and two, VW doesn’t offer one in the U.S. anymore (a Passat wagon, that is). Well, it’s decided then.

We’re suggesting the top-of-the-line V6 SEL Premium model, which features a snarling narrow-angle six-shooter under the hood and a number of other attractive features. First, let’s talk powertrain.

The car’s engine displaces 3.6-liters and features an unusual 10.6-degree angle between the cylinder banks. This tight packaging keeps its exterior dimensions compact and allows it to squeeze into a space normally reserved for four-cylinder powerplants.

The so-called VR6 is smooth running and muscular, delivering a 280 hp serving of get-up-and-go along with 258 lb-ft of gravy on top; it’s matched to a responsive six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that changes gears so fast you’ll shift your pants!

This drivetrain combination should be able to move the portly Passat 20 miles on a single gallon of gasoline in urban conditions and up to 28 on the interstate. Combined it stickers at 23 MPG. Regrettably for maximum performance premium fuel is recommended; if maximum economy is desired opt for one of the Passat’s other engine offerings, a generous spread that includes an ultra-miserly diesel.

The V6 SEL Premium variant of this Germanic sedan comes nicely equipped and jingles the bell at $35,085, including destination fees. Owners (or lessees) are treated to some highly desirable items including a rear-view camera, leather seating surfaces and a touchscreen navigation system, to say nothing of keyless entry and push-button start. They also benefit from paddle shifters for a sporty-ish drive and a Fender premium sound system so they can rock out to their favorite Saline Dijon hits.

Of course heated, eight-way power front chairs, Bluetooth connectivity as well as electric windows and door locks are included as well. There’s no roughing it in this VW.

Beyond these fancy features the Passat offers massive rear-seat legroom and is built in ‘Murica if you can believe it. The car is assembled in Chattanooga, Tennessee of all places.

Our next suggestion for Mike is the Ford Fusion, a stylish and fun-to-drive sedan. If looks could kill this car would be serving concurrent life sentences. Its Aston Martin-inspired grille commands attention on the road.

The Blue Oval offering also happens to be this week’s wild-card option. Out the door this top-of-the-line Titanium model is slightly less expensive than the Passat, though it’s loaded with features and high-end technology not available in the VW; this makes it something of a value play, especially since Ford is arguably a less prestigious brand. As an aside, why does Ford call their range-topping trim “Titanium”? It’s not a precious metal! It may as well be called “Zinc” or “Cast Iron.”

Price-wise this version of the Fusion stickers for a reasonable $34,515, which includes 825 bucks in delivery charges. And that MSRP can be even more attractive if you factor rebates into the equation, which Detroit automakers historically love to offer.

At that level the car offers a host of really desirable standard features including dual-zone climate control, leather-covered seats, SYNC, a capless fuel filler and a 10-way power driver’s chair.

But we loaded our Titanium model up with even more, because too much just isn’t enough. We added the $1,200 Driver Assist Package, which included things like blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rain-sensing wipers and automatic high beams. Additionally we opted for Active Park Assist, which cost $895, as well as adaptive cruise control that padded the bottom line by $995. All of these fancy options brought the Fusion’s price-tag to 34 grand and change.

Like the Passat, this Ford offers a variety of different powertrain options, though a diesel is NOT on that list. However you can get a hybrid model, one with a plug-in electric drivetrain and even a small turbo-four and a manual transmission. But for this comparison we decided to go with the alpha dog, the range-topping engine, a 2.0-liter EcoBoost model. Thanks to force-multipliers like direct fuel injection and turbocharging it delivers 240 hp along with 270 lb-ft of twist, all of which is available at just 3,000 rpm. You don’t have to rev this powerplant to get goin’.

Aft of its bell housing the engine is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. It should be pretty effective and smooth but it’s not a lightning-quick dual-clutch model like the Passat’s self-shifting gearbox. Power is routed to the car’s front wheels, though all-wheel drive is available for an extra $2,000.

On the economy front Ford’s Fusion should be a fair bit more economical than the V6-powered Volkswagen… on paper at least. The car stickers at 22 MPG city and 33 on the highway; its combined score is 26 MPG, a figure that bests the Passat by three miles per gallon. That’s pretty impressive but will the car actually deliver? We can’t make any promises; remember, the Blue Oval got its wrists slapped over misleading fuel-economy claims in the recent past. As always your mileage will vary.

Thus far we’ve covered two cars, one familiar option and another that Mike may not have considered before. The Passat is like a hug from grandma; warm, comforting and colloquial. On the other hand Ford’s Fusion is akin to that pair of skinny jeans you’ve been eyeing but didn’t realize you could actually squeeze into; it’s hot with two “T’s,” thought admittedly a little short on back-seat space.

But now it’s time to take things to the next level. With the Acura TL we’re shooting for the moon and hopefully not pulling an Apollo 13 in the process.

In its most basic form, this fancy Honda stickers for $36,925 out the door (including $895 in delivery charges). Understandably that exceeds the 35-grand cap by a bit, but rules were meant to be broken so that’s just what we’ve done.

Even at that entry-level price you get a suitably premium sedan with an elegantly trimmed interior and impressive dynamics. Like the two mainstream offerings listed above this car is still front-wheel drive… unfortunately.

The entry-level TL features a 3.5-liter V6 engine that posts 280 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque. These numbers are delivered on premium fuel, which is required; Volkswagen merely recommends it in the Passat 3.6, while the Fusion will happily run on 87-octane regular, though with slightly reduced output. Like the VW and Ford this TL features a six-speed automatic transmission.

Higher-end versions feature a more muscular 3.7-liter V6 that delivers 305 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. They come with the company’s advanced SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) system and can even be had with a manual transmission.

But back to basics, the TL we’re talking about isn’t all that fancy. Still, it’s got nice features like leather, power front seats, an eight-speaker premium sound system, a USB port and Bluetooth plus heated side-view mirrors; it rides on 17-inch wheels. And guess what?! It even comes with doors and a steering wheel at NO EXTRA COST! Can you believe it?

For $3,730 more than the base model Mike could step up to a TL with the fancy Technology Package, which adds things like premium leather, a navigation system, backup camera and GPS-linked, solar-sensing climate control system into the mix. It brings it closer in content to the other two cars, though it adds a lot to the window sticker.

So, at the end of the day Mike can opt for another VW Passat, a familiar car that’s priced fairly and comes with a decent number of features. He could also aim a little lower on the ladder and get a Ford Fusion that offers noticeably more content for slightly less money. Lastly he could go whole-hog and buy an Acura TL, which by far is the most prestigious of this trio, though it also offers the least content.

As always, good luck in your quest for a new family vehicle and/or spouse, Mike, and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.

If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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