In the old days, Ford would never have dreamed of calling the Mondeo a flagship. It was just too numerous and too ordinary.
Yet this is the bold label being placed on the all-new 2007 edition, due in Geneva in March, and on sale in the UK in June.
Why the rapid promotion? Because the family saloon market is nowhere near as mainstream as it used to be: for several years, buyers have been migrating in numbers to MPVs and premium saloons. These days more BMW 3-series are sold in big European markets than Mondeos and Vectras.
Ford has plenty of research to show that no one dislikes the current Mondeo. It’s just that too few people really desire it. This is the priority for the 2007 model: to offer styling that generates desire and back it with substance.
It’s a tough task but an important one: sales in this class still exceed 400,000-plus in Britain, and Ford believes it can carve itself a bigger slice.
The 2007 Mondeo comes in three versions — a four-door saloon, five-door hatch, and an estate — and is closely based on the underpinnings of the S-Max and Galaxy MPVs introduced in 2006.
The major elements of its styling were shown both as concepts at last year’s Paris show and in the opening scenes of the most recent James Bond film, so they’re already quite familiar.
Less obvious is the new size: the car is around 30mm taller, 50mm longer and 60mm wider than its predecessor. However, the tautness of its rakish, high-booted shape disguises the extra size well. Also helpful here is an increase of 100mm in wheelbase, which gives the car compact overhangs.
The new Mondeo’s engine range is comprehensive, but mostly familiar from the S-Max and Galaxy.
The range-topper is a turbocharged 218bhp five-cylinder petrol unit closely based on the Focus ST’s powerplant and driving through a standard six-speed gearbox.
There is also a 2.0-litre 143bhp four-cylinder, plus two versions of Ford’s 1.6-litre variable valve timing engine, producing either 109 or 123bhp, all with five-speed manual gearboxes.
Later in 2007 Ford will launch a 2.3-litre four with 160bhp on tap, driving through a new six-speed auto, called Durashift and offering a Sport mode.
There are four diesels, but only two capacities: the 1.8-litre four comes with either 99bhp or 124bhp, and the 2.0-litre four with either 129 or 138bhp.
The lowest-powered diesel gets a five-speed manual gearbox, but the rest have six-speeders. There's no automatic diesel option.
No radical departures here. The major chassis and suspension parts have already been seen in the S‑Max and Galaxy (the three models are made on flexible manufacturing lines in Genk, Belgium).
The rack and pinion power steering and MacPherson strut front suspension are both further tuned, but at the rear there is an all-new multi-link independent system that continues the cost-cutting “control blade” pioneered in the original Focus.
The system is carried on a new rubber-isolated subframe, and the car has wider front and rear tracks than its predecessor.
Martin Smith’s designers have worked hard to improve the Mondeo's ergonomics to match those of BMW and Audi rivals.
The car’s high dash and wraparound instruments, plus the through-flow console and luxurious seats, all give the cabin an impressive intimacy.
But the main story is about equipment: there are four trim levels (with extra “X” and “Sport” options on several of them).
Standard equipment includes air-con, ESP, a new Easyfuel capless refuelling system that prevents filling up with the wrong fuel, a trip computer, an MP3 connector, plus knee and full curtain airbags.
Optional kit includes voice-activated audio, hill launch assist, tyre pressure monitoring, radar cruise control and more.
The Mondeo range at a glance
1.8 TDCi 5spd man 123bhp, 250lb ft £16,495
2.0 TDCi 6spd man 138bhp, 250lb ft £17,000
1.6 Ti 5spd man 123bhp, 114lb ft £15,995
2.0 HE 5spd man 143bhp, 114lb ft £16,495
2.3 HE 6spd auto 160bhp, na £20,995
2.5 turbo 5spd man 218bhp, 238lb ft £23,500