At long last, a new Ford Mondeo. Ford insists the wait, although unwanted, has not been wasted. This, it claims, is the best looking, best equipped and best model to drive there has ever been.
Of course it’s been the America-based Fusion for quite some time already, but the manufacturer’s One Ford policy has not prohibited some fairly heavy-duty Europe-spec fettling.
For a start, there are more body styles. A five-door hatchback and estate largely supersede the saloon format this side of the pond, and are available with a broader engine lineup – encompassing the 1.0 and 1.5-litre Ecoboost petrol units for the first time.
More pertinently, 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesel motors are also offered, including the Econetic version that will emit just 107g/km CO2 and return 69.9mpg. There’s a hybrid, too, a new offering for the UK, but already in its third generation Stateside.
Underneath, its predecessor’s platform has been sufficiently recycled for Ford to consider it new, and the body shell incorporates hydro-formed high strength steel in the A- and B-pillars – an industry first. At the rear, the control blade rear suspension has been replaced by a new integral link design, which, mostly by virtue of its alternative mounting to the subframe, delivers a significant NVH advantage. In Europe, the Mondeo is offered with the option of adaptive dampers as well.
The pursuit of greater refinement – also apparent in the upgrade and addition of sound deadening material throughout the car – has been an obvious focus of the Mondeo’s development, as the manufacturer seeks to re-establish the model in a D segment now populated with far more premium options than ever before, and fundamentally squeezed by the rise of the compact SUV.
Its new look is a crucial part of that strategy, and it would be a harsh critic not to concede that Ford has made considerable progress here. Stroll around the new car, and its mass and proportions feel very familiar, but the look is quantifiably sleeker – its desirability elevated from airport taxi to credible gravel drive-filler in one impressive fell swoop.
While not quite at the same standard, its cabin continues the push upmarket. Hamstrung by its prolonged lifecycle, the previous model’s interior marked it out as primevally last-gen. In the latest car, eight-inches of dash-mounted touchscreen, powered by Ford’s SYNC2 system, confidently ushers the Mondeo into this decade. Around it, Ford has corralled a handsome, uncluttered dash design; somewhat reminiscent, in its look and material choices, of a Lexus-style architecture – which is definitely meant as a compliment.
As before, the roominess going backwards is generally excellent. Accommodating adult-sized children in the back remains very much part of the Mondeo brief, and while the estate in particular excels thanks to the extra headroom afforded by its taller roofline, all versions are old fashioned D-segment heavyweights. Naturally, that goes for the boot too, which, if you forgo a spare wheel, offers a massive 525 litres of loadspace in the hatchback. The estate, seats flat, puts close to 1700 litres at your disposal.
If that all sounds a little like the old Mondeo, albeit successfully renovated, rejigged and remodelled, then that’s much like it feels to sit in – but not entirely as it is to drive. Initially, whether aboard the hatch or estate, powered by petrol or diesel, the car’s across-the-board enhancement of comfort and quietness is its compelling feature.
More than ever, this feels like a machine to rack up the miles in. Even on passive springs, the bump absorption is generally excellent. Ford has engineered a real ‘breath’ into the chassis, it’s primary ride being far more supple than the segment standard and capable of smoothing out the long wave undulations typical of fast A roads. The sought-for surrounding hush only amplifies the effect, and claims that the rolling refinement experienced by rear passengers has also substantially improved are easily believable.
For the most part, all engines driven thus far chime with the charm offensive. The 178bhp 2.0-litre TDCi’s rumble is virtually extinguished at a cruise, and its torque band is generous enough to make the big Mondeo a suitably tractable affair. The 158bhp 1.5-litre Ecoboost feels a touch more overworked by the scale of the task – not helped by long, later ratios on its six-speed manual gearbox – but, by and large, it lives up to one’s expectations of a current generation downsized petrol engine.
The hybrid, which teams a 2.0-litre Atkinson cycle petrol motor with an 118bhp electric motor (the drive harmonised via a planetary gearset) is less satisfactory. The saloon-only version delivers 99g/km CO2 motoring for no more than the equivalent diesel model, but it proves a detached drive in the atypical mode; heavier inputs triggering the distant drone of an engine made to play generator, rather than tangible, biddable power source.
Nevertheless, it’s conceivable that for some Mondeo buyers, the lack of interactivity might not matter. Its predecessor was the last Ford passenger car to feature hydraulic power steering, and, predictably, its electric replacement doesn’t measure up to quite the same standard. Combined with the uprated plushness, this leaves you feeling less immediately keyed into the overall driving experience.
It therefore takes far longer to get under the thicker skin. The previous Mondeo, invested with the crisper steering and a tauter attitude, made brisk progress a default state of being; here, with its loping suppleness constantly taking the edge off, the new machine makes it easier – and seemingly more natural – to just go with the road’s meandering flow.
The sense of detachment then, is a two-way street. Apply a more forceful intent, and the car eventually responds in kind. Here the adaptive dampers come into their own, primarily because the Sport setting trims the suspension travel, keeping you neatly flatter right when required. True, there’s still a less satisfying relationship with the nose than before - but its linear grip and accuracy isn’t in question; nor is Ford’s enduring ability to plumb a neutral balance into a large front-drive chassis.
Tellingly, the Mondeo only gets more likeable the longer you sit in it. The difference Ford has harped on about for so long is still there; immediately recognisable in the car’s ability to cosset over longer distances and gradually convincing in the well-tuned control weights that mean you never tire of using them.
There is much more to come – not least all-wheel-drive, passive sports suspension and more powerful engines – but Ford is already off to a great start. At long last.