The ironic demise of the mid-size Ford and how to revive it
Outsold in equal measure by each of the Teutonic premium brands’ midfielders, Iain Robertson believes that, as long as Ford can grab the market sector by the scruff of its neck, Mondeo might have a chance to return victorious.
While motoring market-watchers and critics alike monitored the growth in sales of the German trio, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the former leadership by Ford UK of the important family car sector was squandered, as its US parent company disappeared into wild acquisition territory from the early to mid-1990s. It was a lesson from which Mercedes-Benz would have its corporate fingers well and truly burnt, with both Mitsubishi and the Chrysler Corporation partnerships now divested.
Audi always was part of the Volkswagen Group historically (at least, since Merc got rid of it in 1966), while BMW, with typical Schwabian guile, had managed a resurrection of miracle proportions in the late-1960s and only by very judicious sifting of the wheat from the chaff has it managed to survive stronger than ever, even with Mini and Rolls-Royce added more recently to its production line profile.
Yet, Ford of Great Britain, while remaining the UK’s Number One car brand, snaffled up Mazda (now independent again), Jaguar-Land Rover (sold first by HM Government to BMW, then Ford, now Indian-owned), Aston Martin (now owned by an Italian conglomerate) and Volvo (now Chinese-owned), as part of an ill-founded ’world dominating’ exercise that broke its financial back in 2006. It is worth highlighting that its ’big spender’ attitude was also responsible for hiring some of the most impressive and singularly wasteful senior executives in the company’s history, including German Wolfgang Reitzle and Lebanese-born Australian Jac Nasser, both, fortunately for Ford, now working elsewhere.
While Ford might be on firmer financial ground of late, its true days of greatness have been lost. Remember that the once ubiquitous Cortina was the nation’s biggest selling car through four generations from 1967 to 1982. The replacement Sierra ran it close in sales terms but was never as popular. The downwards spiral was commencing and, while the Escort/Focus and Fiesta lines would become best-sellers at various times, the Mondeo, while a much appreciated model, has never scaled the peaks of the Cortina.
The latest version of the firm’s world car that is produced for several markets (without manufacturing in the UK any longer) is a most impressive model in hatchback and estate car forms. Spacious, modern, technologically advanced, well-equipped, accessible and promising affordable medium sector motoring, the Mondeo presents a worthy model range. Prices start from £19,995, which pitches it into an arena alongside the occasionally clunky Vauxhall Insignia, but below the premium A4, 3-Series and C-Class, all of which versions outsell the Mondeo by a marked percentage.
Do they deserve to perform as well in showroom terms? The answer is no. Yet, they do, because it would appear that the all-important company car sector in the UK took the up-market branding of the German rivals to its heart, in the process leaving the ‘everyman’ Ford offering to navel-watch from the sidelines. Ford’s most recent attempt to inveigle its way back into a competitive advantage has been to reintroduce the Vignale brand (the name arising from an Italian styling house that the company acquired in 1973, although the name was dropped). I shall leave the Vignale connection for another story in the future.
However, one stand-out model from the latest Mondeo line-up is also the only four-door saloon variant. Looking slightly less elegant than the hatchback, thanks to its stubby boot, the car also sits on 16-inch alloy wheels that appear ‘lost’ within its wheel arches in a space that 18-inch diameter alternatives also fail to fill. It is a ‘one-spec’ model (although a Vignale version is also on Ford’s price list), finished in familiar Titanium trim, powered by a 2.0-litre petrol-injection engine, accompanied by an electric engine that drives through an optimised constantly variable transmission. It is immensely clever stuff but should be familiar to hybrid users of other brands. I shall come to the technicalities in a moment but, first, the detailing.
Earlier this year, the Mondeo came in for a round of internal and external trim and mechanical enhancements. One of the most beneficial to end-users is the reduction of dashboard buttons, relegating most of the functions to a touch-screen in the centre console. Controlling four primary areas, it is now much easier to set-up the sat-nav, Bluetooth-link to a mobile phone, listen to your sounds of choice, manage the in-cabin conditions and generate information on the car. Using interior space more proficiently (significantly more accessible than Volvo), a useful rubber-lined tray is now located ahead of the transmission selector but ‘behind’ the centre console.
Ford pioneered the use of thumb switches on the steering wheel spokes several years ago and their logical operation links the driver to a pair of information grids, located on either side of the speedometer. Among the several settings is a ‘vine-leaf’ graphic, the more prolific the ‘growth’ of which, the kinder the driver is being to the environment (sic) and to his back pocket. However, a rev-counter can also be drawn-up, as well as 90% of the rest of the car’s electronic functions, all without a technophobe’s greatest fears being realised.
The rest of the cockpit is typical Ford fayre, with multi-adjustable (manual) seats and steering column, while there is an abundance of space fore and aft for occupants. The driving position is excellent and very comfortable. Access to the cabin is via electronic fob and starting the car demands the use of the ‘Ford Power’ starter (and stop) button. Interestingly, the four air-vents cannot be switched off individually.
Outside, the latest styling revisions have softened the Aston Martin-esque chromed radiator grille, which is flanked below by a pair of fog lamps and above by the latest slim-line headlight units. Past the ‘Hybrid’ badges on the lower front doors to the tail and the latest LED tail-lamp arrays set-off the slightly bulbous tail, which has been optimised for airflow, with a hint of a tail spoiler on the boot lid and a splitter below the back bumper unit. Cracking open the boot, which opens remotely, reveals a minor demerit in the amount of carpeted space occupied by the on-board rechargeable battery pack, which reduces luggage accommodation by around a third over the hatchback model (seats up). The space is usable but features some odd dimensions that will favour squashy, rather than hard suitcases.
The Mondeo’s petrol engine delivers an electric motor combined power output of 184bhp, although the torque figure is 221lbs ft, which is more than enough to propel what is a fairly heavy car from 0-60mph in 8.9 seconds, topping out at around 116mph. While top speed in a car like this is purely academic, I have witnessed 122mph on the Hybrid’s speedometer in an earlier ‘closed circuit’ test. Whether you will be able to tolerate the muted but still present full throttle rumble of the engine, during acceleration, is open to question, as it is one of the less pleasant aspects of CVT transmissions, which are smooth in operation but sound ‘odd’, because the car always seems to be catching-up with its gearbox. Driven at normal speeds, there should be no problem and the car operates in Electric Vehicle (EV) mode virtually across all aspects of its performance delivery.
As a result, against the Official Combined fuel return of 67.3mpg, I consider that my 54mpg result for a week’s worth of motoring was verging on respectable, considering the footprint of the car, its relative ‘bulk’ and the broad mix of town, country and motorway driving entailed. It also compares favourably with the 210bhp 2.0TDCi diesel (62.8mpg Official), although the 240bhp 2.0T Ecoboost petrol unit is somewhat thirstier (38.7mpg). However, even with a posted CO2 emissions rating of just 99g/km, at least there is a slight reduction in list price over the conventional petrol (£750) and the same value of increase over the equivalent 180bhp TDCi model. This helps to amortise the hybrid model’s value-for-money within the range. Thanks to the EV mode, in which the Mondeo can run for several miles before the petrol engine kicks into play, its Urban Fuel consumption is stated as 100.9mpg and it could be significantly more, if driven with care.
I should state that making the vines grow and maintaining progress within the blue bands of the various efficiency graphs that can be dialled into the dashboard can be immense fun and progress around town is not just silent but quite stately. Yet, I did feel frequently that the increased weight of the batteries over the rear axle line combined with the electric engine up-front add so much to the weight of the car that the Mondeo’s normally excellent chassis dynamics are affected negatively. It can be felt through increased understeer, when powering through bends, or circulating roundabouts, but it also afflicts the ride quality by demanding additional time for the car to settle over undulating road surfaces. Even smart dampers will not resolve those issues. The steering, which has a ‘city’ mode, is quite weighty and the brakes, which aid battery recharging, can grab in a difficult to avoid but typical hybrid manner.
Conclusion: If the eco-warrior within you is determined to reduce your vehicle’s environmental impact, the Mondeo Hybrid will more than meet muster. It is a pleasant car to drive, being both refined and exceptionally comfortable. It presents a strong ‘feel-good’ factor that makes ‘playing with its EV potential’ immensely engaging. Its quality of build and detailing is well up to premium class levels, even though it does not fall under that classification. It also represents excellent value-for-money, which is great for the company car sector and equally ideal for the private buyer.