A lot can change in eight years. Just a short time ago, 2006 to be exact, Ford still held a one-third ownership stake in Mazda. The two companies were producing vehicles based on the same platform, and it was this year that the Mazda6-based Ford Fusion came to be. But like a Hollywood marriage, we all knew it had to end and Ford told Mazda “it’s me, not you” and left the zoom-zoom company behind.
As the life-cycles of these shared platform vehicles came to an end, it was time for the two companies to develop all-new models on their own. No longer would Ford and Mazda go on like a high school project, getting equal marks for a project in which one side did all the work.
Ford was first up with a complete reinvention of the Fusion last year while Mazda unleashed an all-new Mazda6 this year. Interestingly, despite parting ways, the core qualities and competencies that each car possesses are remarkably similar. Both are gorgeous. Both promise exceptional fuel economy. And both deliver an engaging driving experience.
For this comparison we have gathered mid-level versions of the two vehicles outfitted with their most efficient engines and automatic transmissions. The 2014 Mazda6 is a Touring model that begins at a base price of $24,495. After items like the technology package, fog lights and destination charges are added, our vehicle comes in at an as-tested price of $27,985. The 2013 Ford Fusion is a front-drive SE model with the optional 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine and 6-speed automatic. This package has a base price of $24,625, but quickly escalates to $29,105 after options and destination charges are added.
The all-new 2014 Mazda6 is the latest vehicle to wear the company’s new Kodo design language. Like the CX-5 released last year, the 6 looks great and rivals the Fusion for the beauty crown in the mid-size sedan segment. These two sedans definitely stand out in a crowd of overly conservative designs like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Malibu.
Inside, however, it becomes a tail of two very different designs. The Fusion is the technology leader offering their latest version of MyFord Touch, two customizable 4.2-inch screens beside the odometer and a large touchscreen that handles most of the infotainment duties. As cool and high-tech as the various screens are, they can’t mask the fact that the rest of Fusion’s interior is bland and uninspiring. It looks like all the money and development resources went into the fancy technology.
The Mazda6 on the other hand may lack the large screens of the Fusion, but the rest of the interior is better designed and richly detailed. Nearly every surface of the Mazda is soft touch and those that are not feature properly used piano black trim. It not only out-classes the Fusion’s interior, but most others in the family sedan segment.
Like a slap to the face of current design wisdom, Mazda has created an infotainment unit with more redundancy built-in to the controls than a CVT automatic with paddle shifters. Want to control the radio by touch screen? Go ahead. Or, how about using the buttons beside the touch screen and on the steering wheel? Those work too. Not enough? Ok, there is also the BMW iDrive-wannabe knob and button system just north of the armrest in the center console. Finally, of course for safety’s sake, most operations can be controlled though voice commands as well.
And then there is the Fusion sporting the iron-maiden of automotive infotainment units, MyFord Touch (MFT). Improved over past versions in terms of simplicity, it continues to be buggy, freezing on regular intervals. Add in overly sensitive HVAC buttons and we were quickly longing for the Mazda6’s anyway-you-like-it controls.
But it’s not a total loss inside the Fusion. Front seat comfort, feel of the actual steering wheel and audio sound are a dead wash between the two vehicles. The Fusion’s sightlines trump those of the Mazda6 and the 16.0 cu-ft trunk beats the Mazda over a cubic foot. As well, despite giving up 0.4-inches of legroom to the 6, we found the Fusion’s backseat a more comfortable place to be. That said, neither are tops in this segment and the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry are better suited to those who will regularly transport adults in the rear.
A big marketing point for both of these vehicles is their efficiency. Mazda goes about this with a system they call SkyActiv. One aspect of SkyActiv is to reduce overall vehicle weight and this is evident in the Mazda6’s curb weight which, at 3,232 lbs. is nearly 200 lbs. lighter than the Fusion. Powering the Mazda6 is an all-new 2.5-liter four cylinder engine that produces 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque.
Ford aims at superior efficiency using their now ubiquitous family of EcoBoost engines. In a segment filled with 2.4-2.5-liter engines, Ford offers up a diminutive 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine strapped to a turbocharger. It produces 178 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Like the Mazda6, torque is sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Power delivery is more evident and more immediate in the Fusion thanks to the turbo. But, the power band feels narrow and after the initial thrust of torque, the engine begins to run out of steam. Around the city this engine is great, but take the 1.6-liter onto a country road or freeway and the power begins to tail off rapidly.
The Mazda6 behaves in quite the opposite fashion. Initial throttle tip in is delayed, in an obviously attempt to improve fuel efficiency , but once underway, it comes alive. The engine gets more powerful as the rpms increase and really moves the 6 above 5000 rpm. The 2.5-liter though, does not become buzzy at higher rpms and remains smooth and quiet no matter how hard it is being punished. It may be due to this quieter engine, or maybe the Mazda6 has fewer sound deadening materials, but more wind and road noise make their way into the Mazda’s cabin than the Fusion.
So exactly how fuel efficient are they? The Mazda6 is officially rated at 26 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. This bests the Ford Fusion’s 23/36 mpg rating.
But that’s just on paper. In the real world, after a week of testing, the gap widened further. The Mazda6 returned an average of 30.4 mpg of mixed driving while the Fusion could only muster 25.0 mpg, which continues a recent trend of Ford test vehicles lately not living up to their fuel efficiency ratings.[vs-comparsion-table]
On the road, vehicle dynamics tip slightly in favour of the Mazda6. It feels more tossable in the corners and agility is better than average. At the same time, despite weighing less than the Fusion, the 6’s ride feels more refined. The suspension is set up with a nice balance between sport and comfort. Not only is it one of the more engaging vehicles in the segment, but it features a ride comfort on par with the likes of the Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat. In fact, only the squishy soft-riding Malibu can beat it in this department.
Just like with the interior, the Fusion does have its own strong points when it comes to chassis dynamics. It has a more precise steering feel, better braking feel and also overall better brakes.
The Fusion was in tough during this comparison test. Not only is the Mazda6 cheaper to purchase, but also cheaper to fill up at the pumps. Add in a more attractive, easier to operate interior as well as a more rewarding driving experience, and the 6 is the clear winner of this comparison.
That’s no knock on the Ford either as the Mazda may just be the new benchmark for mid-size sedans. Yes, the Mazda6 is just that good.