Medium-sized passenger cars, like many other ‘traditional’ segments, are on the nose with Aussie buyers as SUVs continue to star in the sales charts.
That makes buyers of cars like the Ford Mondeo and Mazda 6 real winners, with once humdrum medium sedans pushing into near-premium territory as a play to gain buyer attention.
Upmarket features and finishes, punchy engines, big wheels and lashings of chrome give these mid-sizers real presence. Now with the introduction of a turbocharged petrol engine, the Mazda 6 Atenza has the grunt to match the Ford Mondeo Titanium and its EcoBoost turbo petrol engine.
Neither of these two is at the young end of its projected model cycle, but a constant rollout of updated trims and technologies keeps these two top-tier models fighting fit. Not just against each other, but against proper prestige competitors as well.
Pricing and specs
Both the Mazda 6 Atenza sedan and Ford Mondeo Titanium hatch are the flagships of their respective ranges in Australia, and accordingly both are packed to the rafters with equipment.
At list price, the Mondeo Titanium begins with an advantage starting at $44,790 before on-road costs against the more expensive 6 Atenza, which kicks off from $47,690 plus on-roads.
Both feature long lists of standard inclusions like dual-zone climate control, proximity key and push-button start, adaptive LED headlights, distance-keeping cruise control and speed limiter, 19-inch alloy wheels and much more.
The two also feature 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment systems, but whereas Ford adds in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, right now Mazda doesn’t. Sat-nav is standard on both, as is DAB+, with sound reproduction courtesy of nine Sony speakers in the Mondeo and 11 Bose-branded speakers in the 6.
Mazda also includes a console-mounted rotary controller to make on-the-go adjustments simpler and easier (with the touchcreen inputs disabled while moving), while Ford uses direct screen inputs or voice commands with a decent, but still not perfect, grasp of Aussie accents.
On the all-important safety front, both cars carry five-star ANCAP ratings, though Ford’s is from 2015 while Mazda’s hails from 2012, meaning neither carries a rating based on current, more stringent assessment criteria.
The safety roll-call for both includes autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, driver-attention monitoring, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, plus the usual ABS brakes and electronic traction and stability control.
Unique features to each include Mazda’s traffic sign recognition, which can identify speed signs and match the cruise control or speed limiter to changing limits, plus rear cross-traffic alert. The Ford features significantly more airbags, including a driver’s knee bag and a somewhat unusual rear seatbelt airbag for outboard occupants that's designed to spread impact forces across a larger area when triggered.
In the event of an accident, the Mondeo can contact emergency services via Bluetooth too.
|Model||Ford Mondeo||Mazda 6|
|Apple CarPlay/Android Auto||Y/Y||N/N|
|Model||Ford Mondeo||Mazda 6|
|Headlights||Adaptive LED||Adaptive LED|
Part of Mazda’s latest round of 6 updates puts the focus on creating a more upmarket look and feel to the interior. There are still plenty of familiar elements, and previous versions of the 6 Atenza weren’t exactly lacking in appeal, but nonetheless the new version goes further.
A redesigned dashboard ensures Mazda has been able to integrate contemporary details and inclusions, like real wood trim, to create an aspirational environment. Climate controls have been renewed with a tweaked but familiar look, with a lovely solid feel to the rotary knobs.
Ahead of the driver, Mazda’s previous pop-up head-up display has made way for a unit that projects onto the windscreen glass, giving both a larger viewing area and a more integrated appearance. That’s now backed up by a 7.0-inch partial TFT display in the instrument cluster that offers expanded info display options.
Above and in all sets: Ford Mondeo top, Mazda 6 bottom.
As an Atenza-exclusive feature, Mazda trims its top-spec model in Nappa leather – offered in a choice of Pure White (which could be the least practical interior choice on the planet) or Walnut Brown, which depending on the light almost throws a khaki-like hue.
Walnut Brown (as fitted here) is certainly an interesting look, but not to all tastes. There’s no basic black either, while something like a deep burgundy would show some prestige potential or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
Step into the Mondeo and the interior just doesn’t look or feel as fresh. Ford has made a similar play at dressing the Titanium model to look somewhat premium, but whereas Mazda uses convincing brushed-metal effects, Ford employs satin plastics and goes without the wood or Alcantara touches of the Atenza.
Front seat passengers are faced with a towering block of essential controls for audio and climate, but the styling (and feel) seems more fleet-focussed. Dull black and grey plastics and a seemingly unplanned mass of buttons (Why do HVAC controls border the volume knob?) just don’t seem ‘right’.
Ford is at least a little more adventurous with its TFT instruments, which tie in with their surrounding physical dials in a more integrated way while offering a wider choice of info display options.
Leather is again the order of the day, though it’s not as soft and supple as that of the Mazda. Similar power-adjustable front seats and front and rear seat heating supply the required plushness. Front seats miss out on ventilation (unlike the Atenza), but only the Mondeo comes with a powered steering column.
Even with similar roof profiles, space inside the two is vastly different. Ford has paid attention to rear head room by keeping the Mondeo’s roof line higher and fitting the roller mechanism for its fixed panoramic roof at the front of the car instead of the rear.
Mazda, on the other hand, has focussed on a dramatic coupe-like roof line, which pares down head room to a barely acceptable level for rear seat occupants. The Mazda 6 sits on a 20mm shorter wheelbase too, but space in the rear feels much more limited with tighter leg room and reduced foot space under the front seats.
Up front, the Mondeo’s driver’s seat feels much, much higher, placing the driver closer to the roof, while the Mazda 6 has a sportier seating position that feels more natural. Mondeo drivers also benefit from more interior storage space, while the 6 somehow manages to downsize almost every available space.
At the rear, the Mondeo’s massive tailgate is assisted by power operation and opens up to reveal a huge, easy to access area with a low load lip that should be a cinch to load and unload. Mazda, on the other hand, offers no power closing for its smaller boot lid, but squeezes the boot aperture down to a narrow slot that requires more careful loading.
Numbers themselves suggest the 474L boot of the Mazda edges out Ford’s 458L attempt, but both companies use different measurement standards (VDA vs ISO respectively), while the need to Tetris-load the Mazda gives the Mondeo’s wide-open access the liveability edge.
|Model||Ford Mondeo||Mazda 6|
|Cargo space||458L ISO||474L VDA|
|Towing capacity, braked||1200kg||1600kg|
|Towing capacity, unbraked||750kg||750kg|
Ford has always offered a turbo petrol engine in this generation of Mondeo, but Mazda is late to the party having only just added a turbo petrol variant to the range this year, despite the current 6 launching at the end of 2012.
The two have selected very different approaches, however, and a back-to-back drive reveals just how vast those differences are.
Ford has opted for a more ‘traditional' approach with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with maximum outputs of 177kW at 5300rpm and peak torque of 345Nm from 2300 to 4500rpm. It sounds and performs like so many other petrol engines within its competitive set and follows a fairly common blueprint.
Mazda, meanwhile, has done something a little different. Already Mazda’s so-called SkyActiv engineering kit includes numerous innovative engineering solutions in an attempt to keep emissions (and production costs) down. Avoiding turbocharging has, until recently, been key to the SkyActiv program.
With the introduction of the latest CX-9 SUV, Mazda needed a bigger engine but simply didn’t have one. So, instead of developing a new V6, the Japanese company instead created a high-torque petrol engine that drives much like a diesel, but without the usual noise and vibration characteristics.
As a result, the Mazda 6 runs a larger 2.5-litre engine with a somewhat conservative 170kW of power at a lowish 5000rpm, but a much more impressive 420Nm at 2000rpm. The result is an engine that’s much more relaxed in its approach to building revs, but accelerates with an unrelenting surge nonetheless.[/caption]
It really is like a diesel. There’s no rush or surge of power as revs rise, rather a long and strong push. Those hoping for a modern interpretation of Mazda’s mid-2000s 6 MPS sports sedan won’t find it here – this one’s far more cultured.
Both cars deliver their engine outputs via six-speed torque converter automatics to the front wheels, with no all-wheel-drive availability.
While you’d hardly call it raucous in any way, amongst this pairing the Ford stands out as the more vocal car when under load. Prod the accelerator and there’s more engine noise and vibration across the board, rising the harder you drive.
Mazda, meanwhile, delivers one of the most hushed drivetrains in its class – hard to believe given how Mazda’s NVH shortcomings were once the centrepiece of reviews a few years earlier. But apart from a distant rising hum high in the rev range, the new turbo engine in the 6 is surprisingly (at last) smooth and quiet.
It’s no match for the athletic way in which the Mondeo piles on speed, though. While the 2.5T is no slouch, everything it does feels wrapped in cotton wool with a lower rev ceiling, slower gear changes, and none of the pinned-to-your seat urgency of the Mondeo.
Disappointingly, neither car can escape grip issues during urgent acceleration, with the Ford more prone to tugging the steering wheel from your hands, while the Mazda will buck and tramp the front axle – symptoms that are amplified in low-grip conditions.
|Model||Ford Mondeo||Mazda 6|
Ride and handling
Poised as near-luxury sedans that might distract you from entry-level prestige cars, the focus of both the Mondeo and 6 is less on sporty ride and handling, and skewed more towards all-round comfort and driveability.
With both rolling on 19-inch rims, it’s hard to believe either could be entirely comfortable, but Mazda does a fantastic job of balancing ride comfort. Over rough paved roads, the 6 never fell sharply over surface changes and maintained smooth control traversing bigger bumps.
All the while, the front end of the 6 Atenza felt more alert and engaging. Fluent steering makes it easy to enjoy winding roads backed up by stability and grip from each end of the car. It’s no performance set-up, but still maintains a light-footed and lively feel for the driver without neglecting passenger comfort.
Try as it might, the Mondeo just can’t match Mazda’s sporting elan. More time is spent making tiny corrections at highway speeds, with a less settled ride – though the difference is ever so slight.
Turn up the heat a little and the Titanium isn’t as enthusiastic about winding roads, with a front end that turns soggy and lacks confidence as you thread from corner to corner. That’s a shame too, considering the Mondeo has the responsive engine of the pair.
The result is a driving experience that comes across somewhat muddled: neither sporty nor plush, but a little of both at times in competing ways. Even with adaptive dampers, which can be firmed up at the push of a button, the Mondeo never quite finds its sweet spot.
Mazda’s recent refinement work edges out that of the Mondeo. On the open road and Australia’s notoriously coarse bitumen, neither car is totally hushed, but be it the newly thickened rear panels or the properly separated boot (versus the Mondeo’s hatch), the 6 creates far less road roar.
You’ll need to front up to your dealer every 12 months or 10,000km in a current Mazda 6, whereas the Mondeo stretches that out to 12-month and 15,000km intervals. Both brands offer capped-price servicing, and after five years the Mazda 6 turbo will tally $1894 in standard service fees compared to $2385 in the Mondeo EcoBoost (including extra charges for brake fluid every two years, which isn’t included in the basic service price of either car).
Officially, the Mondeo claims 8.5L/100km, but on test that translated to 9.5L/100km in real-world conditions. The Mazda 6 is more frugal on official figures at 7.6L/100km and reflected in the real world with an as-tested 7.8L/100km result.
Outside of those costs, Ford now offers a standard five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and provides five years’ roadside assist. Mazda, meanwhile, sticks with a three-year term, also with no kilometre limit, but charges $99 per year for basic roadside assist.
Scoring this comparison has been a much longer and more difficult process than I’d first imagined.
No matter how I run the numbers, the Ford Mondeo Titanium outscores the Mazda 6 Atenza. Although each has its pluses and minuses, the Mondeo comes with more safety tech, a more spacious interior, a much more practical boot, and a cheaper list price.
While the Mazda 6 is likely to become the choice of handling anoraks, its low-RPM nature makes it hard to get excited about from a performance perspective. All the torque in the world can’t match the more enthusiastic EcoBoost engine in the Mondeo.
It seems as though Mazda has made something of a conditional car. One that’s ideal for couples or empty-nesters. One that appeals to traditional diesel buyers who are perhaps starting to shy away from compression ignition, now that diesel on the whole has suffered a bruised reputation.
Certainly, the Mazda’s interior feels more like what you might expect to find in a prestige Euro showroom, with softer leather and more fastidious attention to detail, but calling the rear seat into use, or trying to stuff the boot full of luggage or golf clubs, reveals a serious shortfall.
Though it may not be as charming on the inside, with a more dated dash design and interior materials of a more mainstream nature, the Mondeo Titanium is simply better at day-to-day life. Chalk that up to features you can genuinely use, like smartphone mirroring, a more spacious rear seat, and the convenience of a powered tailgate that reveals a much easier to load boot.
That’s on top of features you hope you’ll never have to use, like rear seatbelt airbags and emergency call assist should the unthinkable occur.
For many, the heart may lean towards the more svelte and sensuous Mazda, but in this case the head wins – putting the Mondeo Titanium atop the podium in a hard-won (and closely fought) battle.