A good midsize sedan is one of the most challenging vehicles to design. Unlike other types of cars that can focus on doing one thing well, a midsize sedan has to fill a number of different roles. It must be a comfortable vehicle with plenty of room and features. It must be a somewhat sporty vehicle, with a reasonably powerful engine. It must be a reasonably efficient vehicle, with good fuel economy for daily driving. And while doing all of that, it must remain an affordable vehicle. As an example of how two different manufacturers approached this problem, compare the 2020 Ford Fusion vs the 2020 Kia Optima.
Although in terms of size, power, and features, these two midsize sedans are incredibly similar, they are configured and sold in very different ways. While Ford allows each trim of the 2020 Ford Fusion to have a wide variety of options, letting buyers customize the vehicle to fit their needs, Kia follows a very inflexible model with the 2020 Kia Optima that gives buyers few choices and prevents the car from adequately filling some critical niches.
On the surface, the 2020 Kia Optima may appear to be the more flexible vehicle as it offers six different trims against just four trims for the 2020 Ford Fusion. However, each Kia trim has a minimal number of options, and more features are only unlocked by upgrading to a higher trim. In contrast, the individual Ford trims can be optioned with entirely different drivetrains and infotainment systems, resulting in a very versatile vehicle that can fill more of the many roles that drivers use their midsize sedans for. Of particular value is how Ford offers more powerful engines and more advanced technology in lower trims, allowing drivers to have more capable cars without being forced to buy expensive, unnecessary, and undesired features. In general, there is a lot to explore between these two vehicles, so let’s get to it!
One of the best reasons to compare the 2020 Ford Fusion vs the 2020 Kia Optima, is that these two cars have an almost identical set of engines. These consist of a base four-cylinder, a smaller and more efficient turbo, and finally a sizable four-cylinder turbo. In the 2020 Ford Fusion, these are a 2.5L with 175 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque, a 1.5L with 181 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, and a 2.0L with 245 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. For the 2020 Kia Optima, the engine options are a 2.4L with 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque, a 1.6L with 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque, and a 2.0L with 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.
But while these engines are incredibly close in size and power, the two manufacturers used their three engines in very different ways. Kia chose to put the base engine in all three of its lowest trims, the small turbo in its EX and EX Premium luxury trims, and the large turbo only in its top SX sport trim. This decision forces drivers looking for an efficient commuter vehicle to upgrade to the luxury trims while pushing drivers who desire a powerful and comfortable car into buying a vehicle with sporty looks and features.
In contrast, Ford offers far more flexibility. Only the base trim of the 2020 Ford Fusion comes with the base engine, making for a simple and affordable car. The small turbo is then standard in both the SE and SEL mid trims, with the large turbo standard on the top Titanium luxury trim. However, Ford accommodated drivers looking for a simple and powerful car by also making the large turbo an option on the SE trim.
So while Kia charges $32,190 for a 245 hp sedan, Ford offers the same power in a car with an MSRP of just $27,090. And because the 2020 Ford Fusion SE does not have all the luxury features and associated weight found in the 2020 Kia Optima SX, there is a good argument that it is actually the sportier car. In short, despite using virtually the engines as Kia, Ford managed to create a trim structure that does a far better job at giving the customers the cars that they actually want instead of forcing them into undesired upgrades.
But Ford’s emphasis on modularity and customer options is not limited to just the mechanical aspects of the 2020 Ford Fusion. The only way to get high tech features such as adaptive cruise control and built-in navigation in the 2020 Kia Optima is to select the top EX Premium, or SX trims of the car. In contrast, even the base S trim of the 2020 Ford Fusion can be equipped with these advanced features by selecting the optional Ford Co-Pilot 360 Assist Package. And to top it off, this package even adds dual-zone automatic climate control, another feature that is entirely unavailable in the three lower trims of the Kia.
Altogether, this means that while a 2020 Kia Optima with adaptive cruise control, built-in navigation starts, and automatic climate control start at $30,190, a 2020 Ford Fusion with those same features carries an MSRP of just $24,460. Again, this puts the customers first by offering options instead of trying to push them into spending more money than necessary.
Appealing to a Larger Market
However, on top of using very similar engines and technologies in a manner that creates far more variety, Ford also designed the Fusion to compete in a larger market segment than the 2020 Kia Optima. The most important aspect of this is the available all-wheel drive option for the 2020 Ford Fusion.
One of the most common reasons drivers choose large SUVs over the more efficient midsize sedans is the improved all-weather performance granted by all-wheel drive. So by adding all-wheel drive to the 2020 Ford Fusion, Ford allowed its midsize sedan to compete outside of its normal market segment and appeal to more potential buyers than the front-wheel drive only 2020 Kia Optima. Further, in keeping with the rest of its design choices, Ford made all-wheel drive available on both the top Titanium trim and the lower SE trim so that again, customers would not be pushed into buying a higher trim vehicle to get an important option.
Overall the 2020 Ford Fusion is not necessarily a better car than the 2020 Kia Optima. Indeed a comparison of the paper specifications and available features will reveal many places where the Ford falls behind. However, despite their very similar price tags, the Ford Fusion still managed to outsell the Kia Optima by over 70% in 2019. And the likely reason for this is that paper features matter far less than the actual features available in the cars on the lot.
While a fully equipped 2020 Kia Optima might seem to be a superior vehicle compared to a fully equipped 2020 Ford Fusion, the lower trims of the Ford offer far more features and options. And in the world of the midsize sedan, this kind of flexibility and customization is one of the most valuable attributes possible because very few drivers are going to desire the exact feature set envisioned by the factory engineers.