While premium family car ranges from BMW, Audi and Mercedes sell in ever greater numbers, sales of cheaper rivals from Ford and Vauxhall have been finding ever fewer buyers. But that doesn’t stop these brands from having repeated cracks at this shrinking market. The numbers are worth chasing if the investment is spread across multiple models and you can tempt premium buyers by offering well kitted cars developed to the point of offering irresistible value.
That’s the theory, at least. The new Ford Mondeo instantly offers value by providing more metal than your BMW 3-series as well as a level of finish, kit and sophistication that gets closer to what a BMW offers, for thousands less. It’s a combination that Ford hopes will at least allow the Mondeo to maintain its sales momentum, if not build on it.
The original Mondeo replaced Ford’s Sierra, whose Citroën-esque styling initially proved a sales deterrent. The Sierra’s advanced looks hid rear-drive underpinnings that Ford abandoned with the front-drive Mondeo, which was also intended as a world car.
It succeeded in Europe but not the US, despite gathering a fine reputation for handling, sophistication and convenience, if not style. The 2000 version was better looking and still more sophisticated, but never crossed the Atlantic, and neither will this 2007 edition, despite its greater size.
This is the third all-new Mondeo iteration since the model’s birth in 1993, and in principle its mechanical make-up is much the same: transverse, front-drive powertrains, MacPherson strut front suspension, something multi-linked at the rear and a level of functional development that enables this Ford to offer more than might be expected in the areas of handling, steering, ride comfort, refinement and convenience.
All of this is underpinned by attention to the economic realities of insurance groups, cost of service and repair, safety, theft-proofing and low fuel consumption that can win or lose the big fleet orders that make or break models like these.
In fact, there are few truly fresh engineering features to be found in this car, which instead rides a contemporary innovation wave largely generated by its suppliers. You can have your Mondeo with adaptive cruise control, a hill-holder and various levels of voice-activated infotainment system, as well as collision mitigation systems, adaptive damping, climate control, trick headlights and so forth.
What gives it a potential edge is the thoroughness with which these systems have been developed and integrated into the car, and the sheer scope of safety and convenience features being offered in a model whose prices start at £15,000.
All this is built into a car that has grown, particularly in terms of its width, which has swollen by almost five inches. This Mondeo is also slightly longer and taller, with the result that it weighs, model for model, up to 175kg more than the outgoing car.
Still, it’s also stiffer; the torsional rigidity of this five-door is improved by 130 per cent. It’s significantly roomier than the old model and safer, too, what with seven airbags, active front head restraints and a steering wheel and pedals that move away from passengers in an impact.
On the Road
Solid, quiet power delivery characterises the 138bhp 2.0-litre TDCi engine sampled here; it musters 236lb ft of torque between 1750 and 2240rpm, though up to 251lb ft of overboost is momentarily available. It's soft, civilised, and revs smoothly to the red line.
Our acceleration runs were recorded in damp conditions, explaining the discrepancy between our 10.0sec 0-60mph and Ford’s claimed 0-62mph time of 9.5sec. But this number fails to reveal the thrusting in-gear punch that this engine can deliver.
However, you'll often need to call upon that thrust because the Mondeo's gear ratios are tall, and the engine a little weak before the turbo kicks in; the engine starts to grumble a little if you ask it to amble at 30mph in fourth, for example. That tall gearing almost eliminates engine noise when you’re in sixth on the motorway, though.
It only takes one bend to reveal the excellence of the Mondeo’s chassis. It turns in with swift confidence, and the body comes after it without any of the heave and flop that you might expect. Body composure is impressive, then, but not as striking as the Mondeo’s resistance to understeer, which is emphatic, and your confidence is only heightened by well judged steering that delivers consistent weighting and decent precision.
On the sports suspension and 18in alloys that this test car came with, you’ll have a ride that is just pliant enough to avoid any jostling or jarring, but we’d recommend the standard suspension and wheel size. With this set-up you lose almost nothing in body composure, and gain a ride that often teeters on the exceptional.
ESP is standard, and there’s an optional electronic, adaptive damper set-up called CCD (continuously controlled damping) that functions in league with Interactive Vehicle Dynamics Control (IVDC).
The minor spoiler here is the braking. There are no issues with stopping power, but the pedal feels over-servoed and we found it hard to heel and toe.
If you want to see where much of the graft – and money – has gone into this new Mondeo, take a look at the cabin, because its finish has been taken to a new level, as Ford chases after the standards set by industry leader Audi.
The Mondeo can't quite get there, because it costs thousands less than the equivalent A4. But you could hardly call this interior cheap. Pleasing soft-touch plastics skin much of the dashboard and doors. Tasteful aluminium décor features extensively, as do piano-black lacquer inserts.
The instrumentation looks appealing and the seat fabrics, the steering wheel and the design of the subsidiary controls lend the cabin a sophisticated, high-quality aura that makes it a pleasing place to be. There are minor cheap moments, such as the glovebox lid and the extent of the Ghia’s veneer abuse, but on the whole it is an attractive piece of work.
At least as important is the spaciousness of this interior. We wouldn’t quite call it limousine-like (as Ford does), but there really is a lot of legroom in the back, besides a well shaped 60/40 split rear seat. The top models even come with B-pillar-mounted air vents, and there are optional seat heaters too.
The boot is huge and well shaped, the rear seats fold to form a flat floor and a protective bulkhead, and there are load hooks and tie-downs.
Ford will also be keeping service and repair costs low, though the use of a cambelt rather than a chain means eventual expense with this engine. The ‘sacrificial panel’ – a body-coloured plastic section of the tailgate that absorbs knocks to save the steel pressing – is an example of its attention to detail.
The 2.0 TDCi’s 156g/km of CO2 is competitive, as is its fuel consumption. Ford has less control over used values and the Mondeo’s (relatively) lowly branding, and its segment are all likely to condemn it average residuals. But that could make it a fine used buy.
Even in the £21,000 top-of-the-range form we test here, this Mondeo has the qualities to be a more-than-plausible competitor against similarly priced premium offerings. If it were a little more stylish, it might win over more brand obsessives than those already tempted by its impressive roster of qualities.
Not only are the basics right, such as packaging, comfort, convenience and economy of ownership, but the Mondeo also serves up plenty of the sophistication that premium buyers seek. Many premium buyers will ignore all this and remain unable to contemplate a Ford, despite its lower price — but that’s their loss.
Against its direct competitors, many shortly to be replaced, such as the Vauxhall Vectra and Renault Laguna, it is an easy winner. The only real disappointment is styling that’s less exciting than the hardware wrapped within.That apart, this is an excellent car.