Who’s the sexiest of them all? Ford Fusion vs. Mazda6

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Here’s an idea for “Punk’d,” MTV’s version of “Candid Camera.” Set up a fake Aston Martin auto dealership. Stock it with two dozen Ford Fusion Titaniums, strip off their “Ford” logos, and replace them with Aston’s winged badge. Then watch the buyers descend.

Whoa! When did Aston come out with a $38K midsize sedan? I’ll take two.

Yes, the 2016 Ford Fusion is that stunning. We’re jaded by now because there are 5 zillion of them on the road since Dearborn introduced its midsize beauty in 2013. It’s like a pill came out that could transform middle-aged men into Brad Pitt. Pitt’s looks would cease being remarkable. Ditto the Fusion. It lacks an Aston’s exclusivity, but it’s made midsize sedans stylish again.

Ford’s bold design has raised the bar for the segment, forcing everyone to play catch-up. The elegant Chrysler 200, handsome Hyundai Sonata, svelte Subaru Legacy. Heck, even the usually somnolent Chevy Malibu and Toyota Camry have gone back for extreme makeovers. The 2016 Malibu is stylish and the Camry’s look is improved — though when the Ford is better looking than your luxury Lexus entry, you know Toyota still has work to do.

Despite these efforts, however, only one other midsize sedan belongs on the same runway with Fusion. The Mazda6.

Call it the Mazda666. It’s devilish fun. Cruise through the country club in a Soul Red Metallic or Titanium Flash Mica (my tester’s color) wardrobe and this sexpot will embarrass richer makes. The 6 has more curves than Elizabeth Hurley in “Bedazzled.” And you only have to sell your soul — er, wallet — for $30,000 to afford it.

Ford and Mazda aren’t strangers to cutting-edge sedan fashion. The original, 1986 Ford Taurus revolutionized styling with its aerodynamic, “soap bar” shape and driver-centric interior (alas, Taurus’s looks couldn’t hide lousy transmissions with the reliability of Andre Drummond). I lusted after Mazda’s 1992 929 which was years ahead of its time in looks and handling. Recently both brands have taken detours down Ugly Alley — Ford with its three-bar grilles; Mazda with faces taken off Halloween jack o’ lanterns.

Goodbye to all that. Sexy is back. But which date to you take to the ball?

Fusion’s grille is unmistakable. But at $38,820 my loaded Titanium tester isn’t just a pretty face. Its trim flanks and arse are Son of Audi A8. The Ford only lacks 20-inch wheels to give it world-class luxe proportions.

Like Fusion, the Mazda’s curb appeal begins with an anthropomorphic, full-lipped face. If the Ford is slender, pout-mouthed English supermodel Kate Moss, the Mazda’s swollen front wheel arches and full lips recall the vivacious Sofia Vergara. Not a flaw in the lot.

From behind, these yoga-toned bodies are hard to tell apart. Curved hip lines sweep upward under coupe-like greenhouses — then taper into round, high-decked trunks. Only the exhausts differ as the Mazda goes for a twin-pipe sports car look while the Fusion wears elegant, flush chrome-tips.

Surprisingly, the coupe styling doesn’t sacrifice rear passengers to muscle cramps. I easily folded my 6-foot-5-inch frame into both cars — “sitting behind myself” with headroom to spare. These cars offer interior room that ranks with the best in class.

Inside, the Mazda gets Euro-envy. Push the starter and a Bimmer-like heads-up display rotates dramatically into place. Wrap-around interior. Pop-up nav screen. Even a console-mounted infotainment dial are oh-so-German — and oh-so-distracting in the case of the controller. So distracting that I went straight for the voice commands rather than fool with its rotary idiosyncrasies. I wasn’t disappointed. My every command was expertly followed — by a sexy female voice, natch — for radio and navigation. “760 AM” I’d bark, and she’d respond immediately.

Ford mimics Aston outside, but blazes its own trail inside. Detroit automakers boast autodom’s most intuitive interiors these days — reflecting a driving culture where Americans live in their vehicles. Touchscreen infotainment package. Space for XXL smart phones. Console storage with a toolbox-full of audio jacks, USB ports, and a 12V charger.

Fusion answers the question — why do modern automatics bother with a tac? — by locating the speedo front and center in a digital instrument display and shoving RPM off to the side with the fuel gauge. Only the rubberized button overlay seems dated — sure to be upgraded when the Fusion gets its mid-cycle refresh next year. Cupholders abound. Park assist, heated/cooled seats, heated steering wheel. All for $38K? Pinch me, I’m dreaming.

The quality and quantity of the safety and comfort systems — on par with luxury cars costing $10K more — in these mainstream beauties begs another question: What defines luxe anymore?

Oh, yeah. The drivetrain.

Washington’s nannies are determined to neuter mainstream sedan performance to save us from our carbon sins. Which means only the monied will be able to afford fun accessories like multiple cylinders, turbochargers, and battery-assist.

Credit Ford with bucking this trend despite a chairman who sounds like Green High Priest Al Gore. While Mazda6 surrenders to the scolds, the Fusion matches its looks with power.

To be sure the 6 is the best-handling car in segment while delivering an impressive 32 mpg. Sharing DNA with its Miata MX-5 sibling, it’s tight, even throwable — a word usually not in the same dictionary with “midsize sedan.” But stomp on it and the lone, four-banger option hesitates as if contemplating the plight of the polar bear. ZOOM ZOOM goes HUM DRUM.

The base $23,425 Fusion brings a similar four-holer, but also offers coach class first-class upgrades with two turbo fours (a 181-horsepower 1.5-liter and a 240-horse 2.0-liter) and a hybrid. Brand snobs eat your heart out. The 2.0L turbo cranks out 25 percent more power than the Mazda and is on par with a $50,000 all-wheel-drive, 2.0-liter turbo BMW 328i X-drive.

Speaking of all-wheel-drive (in Detroit winters, Mrs. Payne speaks of little else as in “The plow didn’t come again! Thank goodness my car has AWD!”), the Fusion offers it. The Mazda does not.

It’s a gift that keeps giving even after the snows have melted. Though the Fusion won’t bite in corners like the 6, its AWD gives a handy assist to the inevitable front-wheel-drive push.

So note the early 21st century for two related trends: As SUVs displace family sedans, so have midsize sedans like the sexy Fusion and 6 become the equal of pricier chariots. All they lack is the luxe badge. If it’s a big problem for you, just replace the Blue Oval with Aston wings.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at hpayne@detroitnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne. See all his work at HenryPayne.com

2016 Ford Fusion

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front or all-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: $23,425 base ($38,820 as tested)

Power plant: 2.5-liter, inline 4-cylinder; 1.5-liter, turbo 4-cylinder; 2.0-liter, turbo 4-cylinder; 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder paired with AC electric motor and lithium-ion battery (hybrid)

Power: 175 horsepower, 170 pound-feet of torque (2.5L 4); 181 horsepower, 185 pound-feet of torque (1.5L 4); 240 horsepower, 270 pound-feet of torque (2.0-L 4); 188 horsepower (hybrid)

Transmission: Six-speed automatic (with steering-mounted paddle shifters as tested); Electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (hybrid)

Performance: 0-60 mph: 7.3 seconds (Car & Driver); top speed: 124 mph (governed)

Weight: 3,461 pounds, base; (3,821 pounds AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 22 mpg city/34 highway mpg/26 mpg combined (2.5L 4); 24 mpg city/36 highway mpg/28 mpg combined (1.5L turbo-4); EPA 22 mpg city/31 highway mpg/25 mpg combined (2.0L turbo-4); 44 mpg city/41 mpg highway/42 mpg combined (hybrid)

Report card

Highs: Liveable interior; buffet of drivetrain choices

Lows: Options push price close to $40k; outdated rubberized buttons


Grading scale

Excellent ★★★★

Good ★★★

Fair ★★



Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: $22,315 base ($33,395 as tested)

Power plant: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder

Power: 184 horsepower, 185 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Six-speed manual transmission (base); Six-speed automatic (with steering-mounted paddle shifters as tested)

Performance: 0-60 mph: 7.9 seconds (Car & Driver); top speed: 130 mph

Weight: 3,232 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 28 mpg city/40 mpg highway/32 combined

Report card

Highs: Smorgasbord of standard features; quick handling

Lows: Rotary-dial infotainment controller; more engine options, please


Grading scale

Excellent ★★★★

Good ★★★

Fair ★★