Yeah, a BIG one.
The Fusion was ALREADY a larger car than the 1st-gen. Despite the shared chassis, the Fusion was 3.8" longer, 2.1" wider, with a 2.1" longer wheelbase, not to mention 250+ pounds HEAVIER. These sizes are reflected in the larger interior measurements of the Fusion. Sit in the 1st-gen 6 and the Fusion, both in the front and back, and you see the difference.
The 2nd-gen simply caught up. In fact, it's now 3.1" longer, 0.2" wider, and a 2.4" longer wheelbase than the Fusion (yet somehow, it's also 27 pounds LIGHTER), with a larger interior and trunk to match.
Having owned a '04 6, driven a '10 Fusion extensively (both rentals and test-drives), and bought a '10 6, I've seen the difference.
That's why the 1st-gen was "a little small" compared to the Fusion. Because it was.
As for sales, despite the looks (which are purely subjective and can't be argued fairly), the 6 suffers from two big problems:
1. Advertising (or lack of) - I see ads for the Fusion all the time, including their win as MT COTY, as well as "special" financing. The 6? MAYBE an ad a week, and virtually NONE on TV or the internet. If Mazda has maybe HALF the Fusion ad budget, IMO sales would be improved.
2. Packaging (or lack of, again) - Ford has three different engines, a hybrid, and a myriad of different packages, colors, and options, in order to cater to a larger chunk of the car-buying public. Mazda? Two engines, fewer packages, and even fewer options. Plus, when you do decide on options, colors, etc., it's very difficult (at least in Upstate NY) to find and obtain the car. Both of my 6 vehicles were brought in from other dealers for the sale (my '04 was shipped from Buffalo, my '10 from Albany).
Lets also remember the saturation of Ford dealers across the country, while Mazda dealers are merely a fraction of them.
And as much as the 1st-gen "sold well", in truth, it didn't. It still was a weak seller compared to the big-time players in the midsize market (including the Camry, Accord, Fusion, Malibu, etc.), and offering a 5-door and wagon did next to nothing to improve them.
Thanks for the response! You have some very salient points here. I did take the liberty of looking up the interior volume of a 2010 Ford Fusion and a 2004 Mazda 6 (thanks to Yahoo Autos and Internet Auto Guide respectively)
Interesting enough the interior dimensions don't differ all that much and in some cases such as hip room the Gen 1 M6 has more than the Fusion.
2004 Mazda 6
front headroom (inches): 38.7,
rear headroom (inches): 37.1,
front hip room (inches): 54.7
rear hip room (inches): 54.1
front leg room (inches): 42.3,
rear leg room (inches): 36.5,
front shoulder room (inches): 56.1,
rear shoulder room (inches): 54.9
2010 Ford Fusion
Headroom (Front) 38.7
Headroom (Row 2) 37.8
Hiproom (Front) 54.0
Hiproom (Row 2) 53.3
Legroom (Front) 42.3
Legroom (Row 2) 37.1
Shoulder Room (Front) 57.4
Shoulder Room (Row 2) 56.5
Based on this I think your impressions about advertising, saturation of Ford dealers and packaging are correct. Plus I think that if given a choice most Americans would prefer to purchase a car from the "home team", who wouldn't (I know, I know the M6 is produced in a UAW Ford Plant in Flint MI, part of the reason I felt good buying mine).
As far as the first Gen 1 not selling well, I'm not privy to numbers but in Northeastern Illinois I see many more Gen 1 Mazda 6es out on the roads. True the first Gen 1 had 5 years of sales to account for but in 2003 and 2004 I was in the market for a new 6 and was keenly aware of the numbers of them on the road versus what I see with the Gen 2 today. I admit, it's not all that scientific but its an observation that I have made.
Also I think that Mazda with the Gen 1, went after a more niche market. The first generation 6 was designed to put Mazda back on the enthusiast credibility map and it did just that. It appealed to car enthusiasts, the ones that needed something besides their track Miata to drive to work. The ones that were "stepping up" from their ricey hatchbacks, The ones that would have bought a fast hatch or coupe but had 2 kids to take to school and lumber to haul from the hardware store on weekends (guilty as charged).
Mazda's mistake with the Gen 2 was to wrestle the 800 lbs gorillas on their own turf (Toyota Camry and Honda Accord) with the Gen 2. We all know that a vast majority of Camry and Accord buyers see their cars as appliances; something to get them from point A to point B. To them their cars are similar to a washing machine or a stove and they treat them as such, not a passionate form of self expression that most of us here feel a car should provide. They buy Camrys and Accords because
they are Hondas and Toyotas not because they are great driving cars. Therefore, they are extremely brand loyal and getting them to switch to a Mazda which is seen as an "also ran" brand by the unwashed masses.
By competing with the Camry and Accord with the Gen 2 Mazda broke the cardinal sin of marketing, "don't alienate your core market, work to retain the core market and THEN expand market share." As a International Marketing MBA I could go on and on on this one! Long story short, Mazda with its limited capacity and finances cannot go head to head with companies like Honda and Toyota or GM. They should have followed the model that Subaru has pursued of being a niche builder and look at the success Subaru has experienced as the only manufacturer earning a profit through these "darkest days" of the auto industry. Mazda could have been seen as the company that produces cut rate BMWs and sell to an evangelical following (enthusiasts are a valuable part of the consumer audience, as they are the automotive evangelists, people come to them for advice and listen as they are the "car experts" in the office, the family, the group of friends. Think about all the people that come to YOU for advice every time they go to buy a new car! If the enthusiasts favor you, they will evangelize your praises to the unwashed car masses!) but instead they decided to become Toyota. Bad decision!
I'll stop now as I have digressed beyond the original topic of this thread! Thanks for your feedback!