Mountain Wheels: Fusion, Mazda6 compete for mid-size crown
2013 Ford Fusion SE
MSRP: $23,830; as tested, $31,385
Powertrain: 178-HP 1.6-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder; six-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 28 combined; 24 city, 37 highway
2014 Mazda6 Touring
MSRP: $23,445; as tested, $25,010
Powertrain: 184-HP 2.5-liter 4-cylinder; six-speed manual transmission
EPA figures: 29 combined; 25 city, 37 highway
How serendipitous it was to get a return visit with the no-longer-necessarily interchangeable Ford Fusion and Mazda6, the once mechanically interconnected masters of the now very crowded midsize sedan segment. And two very classy, futuristic vehicles, no less.
Now is a good time to check in with both of these well-received, well-built vehicles and see what’s in store for 2014.
Since its debut, the new Fusion — the one with the Aston Martin-inspired nose and grille — has dangled a bewildering range of engine and hybrid/electric options. This year, you get a sense of how international the car business has really become as you see that Ford’s four gasoline engines are made in Mexico, Romania, Spain and the U.K. — those including three different four-cylinder models each producing about 175-178 horsepower, and the punchier 2.0-liter turbo version and its 240 HP.
The newest of that bunch is a 1.5-liter EcoBoost that promises all the power and less weight. In my recent revisit, I had a 2013 SE equipped with a ton of options and the slightly larger 1.6-liter turbo; I got mileage in the high 30s, enjoyed lots of power and encourage you to do your research, as that’s almost too many choices to make.
The perks I enjoyed on my ride included some improvements to the MyFord Touch/Sync system, with more predictable outcomes from the haptic surface controls and the navigation system itself (and even XM Radio song titles on the instrument display, a long-awaited feature that GM recently unveiled). My optioned-out ride had heated and cooled seats, a heated steering wheel and the neo-hybrid start-stop system you find nowadays in all the German cars that kills the engine when you’re stopped at a light (though it may not do so if you’re cruising on a very cold day in Blue River — as there are no lights in Blue River, naturally).
Fusion’s got comfortable size, even in the back seat, and tons of safety features — from the self-parking assist to cross-traffic alerts. You just find that you can move away from the $22,700 base price in a great hurry.
The 2014 Mazda6, meanwhile, is an equally spiffy variation on what used to be the lamest segment in the market. The car really does have Europeanesque handling — a friend who’s a hardcore BMW enthusiast gushes about the 6’s feedback and its overall feel — and while you don’t get quite as many bells and whistles as I found in the Ford, the $25,010 Touring edition I enjoyed had most of the bases covered.
To that end, 6 does feel sportier — stiffer seats, a more racing-styled driving position — though it’s also got a perfectly gigantic rear seat and decent trunk storage, for the pedestrian duties it will be facing in the real world. A larger, non-turbo 2.5-liter four-cylinder (the car’s sole choice) makes 184 HP at sea level and may vex you slightly at higher climes.
And while the Mazda’s current engine can still get you 37 mpg on the highway, the company has come up with i-ELOOP, basically a hybrid-derived regenerative braking system designed to eke some extra oomph (and mileage) out of the existing system.
Oddly, the 6’s new automatic transmission actually gets better mileage than the six-speed manual version I drove — these are strange times we’re living in — but the manual is still a lot of fun, and the car will indeed go like the blazes, tautly supported on 19-inch wheels.
The car’s overly black interior can seem a little austere but … some people like that, you know? I also got a model with the interface for navigation but no navigation system actually present; the 6’s standard stereo system largely made up for that loss.
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