DETROIT – Family cars are not known for making styling statements.

But as quality, safety and pricing have converged in the intensely competitive segment, the success of the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima and others show distinctive styling is becoming a strong buyer magnet.

The unveiling of the stunning Ford Fusion at the North American International Auto Show here adds fuel to the theory that the era of family car as sensible shoe is ending.

Critics are starting to wonder if the conservatively styled volume leaders, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, might be in trouble.  

After unveiling the evolutionary-looking Accord Coupe, John Mendel, executive vice president-American Honda, tells reporters on the sidelines that the family-hauler easily holds its own against its highly styled competitors. 

He gives Ford its due for the new Fusion but issues a reminder that the Accord enjoys tremendous customer loyalty. Except for the glass areas, the entire car has been restyled, with lots of fresh curves, he adds.

“I would encourage you to really spend some time and look at it,” Mendel tells a reporter. “What you will first notice is a similar greenhouse, but it really stops there. We kept that greenhouse as part of our design philosophy of what consumers love about the car, which is (interior) visibility.”

dwinter@wardsauto.com