When a monumentally important new car, like the medium-sized Mondeo, whisks into consumer view, a lot of preconditions are swept aside, states Iain Robertson, although the market reality is actually quite crowded.


When you consider the origins of Mondeo, which can be tracked back clearly to Ford’s record-breaking Cortina of the early-1960s, you start to appreciate the impact of the market segment and why Ford remains the number one brand in the UK, most of which it instigated personally. Ironically, buying trends, which can be affected by fashion but are mostly financially and environmentally-biased, now place the Ford Fiesta on top of the sales tree, followed closely by the Focus model line-up. Small is better currently in many eyes.


Yet, to understate the value of Mondeo is to make a cardinal error. After all, the UK’s permanent pendulum of the company car spectre, ensures that its place (with almost 90% of the total volume of models headed in that direction) is a moderately permanent fixture. It is the business scene that shaped the Cortina and its follow-on models, including the jelly-mould Sierra, to create the fourth generation Mondeo of today.


However, it is a very good car that is now being challenged majorly by the pre-eminent Peugeot 508 (which was first to sell in the ‘bling’ generation), the stalwart Vauxhall Insignia, the all-new Volkswagen Passat (see the recent test in these files) and the yet-to-arrive Skoda Superb, which, apart from causing some confusion in the VW Group camp, is sure to build on its desirable status as a cut-price ‘limo’. Yet, I have already read elsewhere that this version of the Mondeo is some three years out-of-sync…which makes me wonder what some critics expect of Ford, a company that has shouldered many of the worst effects of crumbling western economies, without receiving international government benefits (unlike both Chrysler and GM, the other components of the US ‘Big Three’ carmakers, which were ‘on the take’).


While it might be ‘long-awaited’, which is probably a fairer descript, it has been worthwhile, because the new Mondeo is a real ‘bobby-dazzler’, in the words of a certain, sepia-toned, TV antiques proponent. Packed with enticing new technology (not all of which I find personal agreement with) and a raft of new engines, transmissions and even a hybrid variant, its body has been stretched, lowered and looks stunning, from its optional, multi-functional LED headlamps, to its beautifully tapered back-end, in saloon, hatchback, or estate car forms.


Before I lace into the hybrid (saloon only), I should highlight that the cabin is ‘technically’ more spacious, although the 4cm roof lowering aspect has robbed me of some essential dome clearance. Getting into and alighting from the cockpit has also been compromised slightly, not enough that regular sized people would notice but, when you stand (as I do) two metres tall without shoes, it is more than just noticeable. Seat height has a lot to do with it and as nifty and multi-adjustable as the bases are, they sit too high off the floor to improve the position. The new Mondeo needs some work in this vital area, not merely for my access issues. Incidentally, the boot is simply cavernous (even in the hybrid), regardless of which body-style, or engine/trim options you decide upon.


Ford has a great repute in North America for its hybrids. Any cityscape images you see on the television, or in magazines, especially of the City of New York, will feature innumerable yellow Explorers, being used as taxis. The majority of them are hybrids. While leading with the SUV, the Fusion (Ford USA’s version of the Mondeo) is also already a biggish seller in that territory, beaten only, in volume terms, by the vast number of Toyota hybrids represented there. Ford expects a mere three per cent of its total European market sales to be of the hybrid, a figure that I believe is someway wide of the actual mark. Demand should increase that number, even though the four-door saloon variant sells for a modest £24,995, which is the same price as a 2.0-litre diesel Mondeo Titanium Powershift (twin-clutch automated gearbox) five-door equivalent.


To be fair to Ford’s slightly shy expectations, hybrids tend to be expensive to produce and most of the costs are underwritten by the various brands possessing hybrids in their ranges. Therefore, it takes longer to amortise against costs the shallower profit margins available to the manufacturer. However, residual, or trade-in, values are now significantly better for this class of car than they used to be and it is consumer desirability that will increase the expectations on the sales’ front.


I was delighted to see 120mph on the speedometer during one stretch of the driving route, while with its 0-60mph time of around 8.9 seconds and a stated maximum of 116mph, the Mondeo hybrid combines strong on-road performance with an electric vehicle (EV) potential to drive at speeds of up to 85mph, without interruption from the much-modified Atkinson Cycle 2.0-litre petrol engine. The unit develops a decent 187bhp combined potency but emits a mere 99g/km of CO2 emissions, to warrant its zero-VED status and a free welcome into Congestion Charge zones.


It is mated to an electronically-controlled CVT transmission (constantly variable), which only rears its ‘revvy’ head, should you be indulging in full-throttle acceleration. I feel that it might benefit from a ‘manual step-off’ in its speed ranges (there are no gears present) but Ford has determined not to introduce that complication to this lesser selling model. While its Official Combined fuel figure is given as 67.3mpg, with an Urban consumption of a remarkable 100.9mpg (thanks to its EV mode), it needs to be remembered that these are ‘laboratory results’ and that actual on-road performance can knock them both sideways with consummate ease. I recorded up to 56.9mpg on the first section of my drive, although that figure tumbled to 48.2mpg during a cross-country section, when I indulged in the car’s relatively strong mid-range urge.


The Mondeo hybrid’s handling envelope is pretty good, although the platform does feel a little ‘leaden’, which is as much to do with its inevitable, heavy battery pack, as any reluctance to encourage any boy-racerish driving tactics on the open road….after all, it is a hybrid, dear boy! The long-wheelbase ride quality is firm but forgiving and cornering is generally flat, while anti-dive and squat are features of the car’s reworked suspension, which has to accommodate the additional bulk of the 1.4kWh Lithium-ion battery pack and hybrid system. The all-new part-analogue, a-lot-electronics instrument pack is initially confusing to eyes unfamiliar but, thanks to the intuitive steering wheel-mounted switchgear, I became more used to it during the driving exercise. A longer time spent with the car will breed the necessary knowledge.


The technology is clearly ingenious, with brake energy recovery featuring heavily in its non-plug-in engineering stance. While I find the car fascinating, there are just as many Mondeo buyers, who will ponder over its CO2 figure, as the 1.6-litre Duratorq diesel emits a ‘mere’ 94g/km, while the 2.0-litre alternative is only 107g/km. An air of antipathy towards diesel engines, although VW has embraced them totally for its Passat range, which might be a key error in the present and near future environments, might lead to greater petrol engine sales for Ford.


Although I did not drive either the new 1.5 (157bhp), or 2.0-litre (236bhp) Ecoboost petrol variants, I am aware that the 1.0-litre, turbocharged three cylinder unit from the Fiesta and Focus is also to feature soon in the new Mondeo. I truly feel that it will feel sorely outclassed, working on the premise that engine size in a large and spacious family car can be crucial, but I remain open to changing my view. The only other model I tested was the estate car powered by the 147bhp turbo-diesel engine (non-hybrid) and with a 6-speed manual transmission (0-60mph in 9.2 secs; 130mph top speed; 109g/km CO2), which was smooth, linear in its handling and a clear winner in overall practicality.


As mentioned earlier, the new Mondeo is packed with standard technology. It has to be, in order to compete in the market these days. Its 5-Star Euro-NCAP crash rating is one of the positive upshots of its judiciously designed body. However, advanced crash and collision protection, inflatable rear safety belts, dynamic headlamps, a programmable ignition key, active city-stop, the introduction of hydro-formed high-strength steel for greater crash resistance, parking assist and much more constitute a consumer pleasing package that will curry much favour with business users and private buyers alike. Of course, there is the customary rash of accessories and options to tailor the car to whatever level might be desired on a range with a market entry price tag of just £20,795.


Conclusion:   In many ways, I hope that the new, built-in-Spain Mondeo maintains its market lead for Ford. It is very user-friendly, deals proficiently with noise, vibration and harshness, is keenly priced and it truly looks excellent. The comprehensively revised interior is very clean and attractive, without the plethora of confusing pushbuttons, for which the previous generation cars were renowned. Good account is taken of storage spaces and the seats are exceedingly comfortable. It is a lighter car than before, which is reflected in its (non-hybrid) levels of agility and excellent responses to driver input. Of course, the market will need to settle, as part of generating a fascination for the sophisticated new model, but I believe that Ford will succeed, after all, it has worked very hard on this new car and unlike some of the company’s marketing-led offerings of the past, this one delivers in realistic spades.