The conventional wisdom is, if you want to drive the best midsize family sedan in America, you need only look at the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, because domestic sedans just can't compete.

So much for conventional wisdom. The top two midsize sedans in America now are domestics. Coming in at number one is the Ford Fusion Hybrid, according to U.S. News and World Report's car rankings.  The number two sedan is the Chevrolet Malibu. And the number three spot? It goes to the conventional Ford Fusion.

The car rankings are based on the collective opinion of the automotive press. U.S. News gathers every credible published review of a car and uses those reviews to rank cars against each other. Right now, where midsize sedans are concerned, the Ford Fusion is the reviewer favorite, despite years of Toyota dominating the midsize class.

We know the Toyota Camry is an excellent car, with an established record of reliability and happy owners. The Fusion, however, is a relative newcomer, and one that only hit the top of the rankings with the 2010 model. Let's take a closer look at how these two stack up.

 

Performance

When it comes to midsize family sedans, performance can sometimes be an afterthought. Because these cars are engineered to haul people, driving excitement often comes after comfort. However, the Ford Fusion surprises reviewers by actually being fun to drive.  By comparison, reviewers report that the Camry provides a comfortable and refined ride, but is shorter on the fun factor.

Advantage: Fusion

 

Exterior Styling

The Toyota Camry has fairly conventional sedan styling. A rounded nose and flowing character lines are similar to sedans like the Honda Accord or Mazda6. The design isn't just stylish; the Camry's aerodynamic looks help just a little bit with fuel economy.  The Fusion, on the other hand, is aggressive and angular, with a prominent Ford three-bar grille. The Camry last had an update in 2007, and reviewers say the more-recently styled Fusion is a better looker.

Advantage: Fusion

Interior

Toyota interiors are known for their quality, and the Camry is no exception.  Reviewers like the comfortable, quiet space, and praise the build quality.  They're also impressed with the quality of materials. However, the Fusion has at least one trick the Camry can't match -- Ford's SYNC system.  The optional system allows drivers to control many of the car's functions, including the stereo, with voice commands. It also syncs up with cell phones, so the driver can even use voice commands to make calls or listen to the system read text messages.

Advantage: Fusion

Safety

Midsize sedans are all about family, and that means they also need to be all about safety.  Neither the Fusion nor the Camry disappoint in this respect.  Both offer stability and traction control, and a plethora of airbags.  Both do well in government crash tests as well, earning five stars (the most possible) for driver and front passenger protection in front crash tests and for driver protection in side crash tests. However, when it comes to rear passenger protection in side impact crash tests, the Camry has a slight edge: It earns five stars in the test, while the Fusion earns only four.  While that may seem like a slight difference, it takes on a much graver meaning when it's your kid in that seat.

Advantage: Camry

Reliability

The Camry gets a top score of 10 for its U.S. News reliability rating, but several reviewers note that Toyota's sterling reputation for reliability has begun to tarnish recently. The V6 Camry received a "Below Average" reliability rating in the 2008 Consumer reports reliability survey, and Toyota as a brand fell from first to fifth place in reliability. Still, reliability data isn't in on the 2010 Fusion since it's a new model. While there are some chinks in the Camry's formerly impenetrable armor, it still has the edge simply because it's a known quantity.

Advantage: Camry

The Verdict

When it comes down to the Camry and the Fusion, what really matters is what you're looking for. If you want the newest technology and styling, head for the Fusion. If you want a known quantity with a proven record, the Camry is an excellent choice.  Either way, family sedan shoppers should have both cars on their lists -- the battle for the affordable midsize car class just got a whole lot more interesting.