This is the all-new Ford Mondeo. The fleet favourite is new from the ground up, sharing most of its architecture and tech with the US-built Fusion saloon. However, the European Mondeo is arriving here a full three years after its American cousin went on sale, due to alterations to production plans.
It also arrives after what we’re told are significant revisions to make it palatable for a European audience. This ‘tailoring’ in Ford-speak includes substantial changes to the chassis, improvements to interior quality, new engine options and additional body styles.
It will go on sale in January as a five-door hatchback and estate. At launch we’ll have the choice of a 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine, in two outputs, plus 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre petrol turbo EcoBoost engines, all allied to either a six-speed manual gearbox or an optional six-speed automatic. There will also be a 2.0-litre petrol-electric hybrid, which will be the only Mondeo available as a four-door saloon. Shortly afterwards, more frugal and more powerful petrol and diesel engines will be added to the line-up, as will an all-wheel drive option.
Later in the year we’ll also have the novelty, for this class anyway, of a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged petrol option which will hardly be a fire breather but should be attractive option for anyone paying company car tax – hugely important for most Mondeo clientele, while a luxury lifestyle version of the Mondeo adorned as the Vignale will also be made available.
The Mondeo is the first Ford to use a new integral link rear suspension set-up, although it retains MacPherson struts up front. It’s also the first Mondeo to have electric power-assisted steering that can be adapted to match the adaptive damper system, which can be switched to Comfort, Normal or Sport for the first time.
Inside, it gets the latest generation of Ford’s Sync infotainment system and has a suite of optional safety technology to bring it in line with rivals, including pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist and rear seatbelt airbags.
Those pining for a Mondeo will have the choice of four trim levels – Style, Zetec, Titanium and the range-topping Titanium X, with the entry-level Style trim coming with Ford’s Sync 2 and 8in touchscreen infotainment system, DAB, hill assist, dual-zone climate control and 16in alloys. While the top of the range Titanium X equipment list includes 18in alloys, sports seats keyless entry and start, heated, electrically adjustable leather front seats, sat nav, LED adaptive headlights and TFT instrument cluster.
So it’s an attractive package, but it will have a tough time on its hands. The new Mondeo is arriving late to a party that will shortly include a brand new Volkswagen Passat, a refreshed Vauxhall Insignia with new engines and a revised Peugeot 508.
It is also centre stage in a class that is rapidly declining as private and company buyers alike are finding more favour in SUVs, small premium saloons and increasingly spacious cars from the class below.
This is a car well suited to chewing through large numbers of miles. At motorway speeds it’s impressively quiet, isolating you well from the twin irritations of road and wind noise.
The 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel hatchback is hushed even under heavy acceleration, and gives the substantial Mondeo an assertive turn of speed to match near-50mpg real-world economy. The car feels pacey and muscular rather than fast, but for those with an appetite for more performance, a twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre TDCI with 207bhp and 332lb ft launches later in 2015.
Completing the picture is high-speed ride quality that is supple, quiet and well-controlled in any of the three suspension settings offered by the adaptive dampers. Moreso, actually, than most of its more aggressively sprung German rivals.
Yes, around town you feel a few more thumps, but again they’re impressively muted. Opt for the standard passive dampers and you'll find the Mondeo comfortable-riding but still pleasingly taut on UK roads; it pulls off that impression of being compliant over long-wave undulations but also controlled when push comes to shove, which Fords have long been renowned for. Other saloons ride more softly over really bad surfaces, which is really the only price to be paid for the Mondeo's relatively sporty damping.
Predictably, the Mondeo's new-found high-speed plushness has taken a toll elsewhere. Successive Mondeos have lost sharpness and this one doesn't handle with quite the precision or alacrity of the last.
In truth you do feel the extra weight, but you also revel in just how such a large car can feel quite so nimble – helped through direct and well-weighted steering. You rarely derive huge enjoyment from pushing the Mondeo hard, which is a shame when you consider its lineage, but credit is due to Ford for producing a fully electromechanical power steering setup with decent consistency and feel, and overall a car that's that little bit more keen-handling than the norm.
The Mondeo's comfort carries through into the cabin. The new touchscreen infotainment system is among the best in the business. Seat comfort, too, is good, as is the fact that it’s feasible to accommodate five six-footers in the cabin and their luggage – one of the main benefits of the new car’s added width.
Great pains have also been taken to improve the quality of all the bits you touch and feel. It’s been a qualified success, with better attention-to-detail than we’ve seen in any Ford before.
Particularly jarring are the cheap-looking metallic-type plastic surrounding the centre console, the 8in touchscreen multimedia system that quickly gets covered in dirty fingerprints and shows them up in direct sunlight, and the heating and fan controls which are push buttons rather than the easier-to-use rotary knob variety.
Most of us are unlikely to be funding a new Mondeo with our own money, so this decision will be partially decided by the monthly contract hire payments and whether you can afford the company car tax. The early signs are that the Mondeo will be good value for fleet drivers, with improved residuals bringing contract hire and lease payments down particularly for high-end Titanium X versions.
Most of the car's long-standing selling points - practicality, usability and plain-old value-for-money - are as strong as ever, while key factors like comfort, refinement and costs of ownership have taken a big leap forward. It's just slightly regrettable that such progress comes at the cost of eroding the Mondeo's biggest distinguising quality: it's sporting handling.
Truth is, a Mazda 6 is probably a more enthusiatic steer than the big Ford now, and for all the Mondeo's newfound maturity, the VW Passat is still a much classier proposition.
However, while this may be more comfort-orientated than ever before, be in no doubt that it’s an excellent car.
Ford Mondeo TDCi 180 Titanium
Price £24,245; Engine 4 cyls, 1997cc, turbodiesel; Power 178bhp at 3500rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 2000-2500rpm; 0-62mph 8.3sec; Top speed 140mph; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1861kg; Economy 64.2mpg (combined); CO2 115g/km